A walk to remember

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 30, 2001

Features Editor

Ann Marie Hussey walked by a man who was locked into a wheelchair. His body was crumpled and his white head was bowed. She did not recognize him. He was her daddy.

Alzheimer’s had claimed him and she had lost him. That was the saddest day of her life.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

"I’ll never forget that day," Hussey said, with tears in her eyes. "It was in April 1995, less than two years after daddy had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. And, it was the worst time, the hardest time."

Ray Hickman had been a hardworking, outgoing, fun-loving man with many interests and much to give to his family and his community. But, Alzheimer’s made him an old man long before his time. And, it took his life away long before death claimed him.

"Looking back, we realized that daddy had been affected by the disease probably as early as 1986," Hussey said. "That’s when he went to National Guard camp and called home crying. That wasn’t like him at all. I told him to get a stiff upper lip and tough it out. I didn’t know that was the beginning of a terrible disease that would take him away from us in such a sad, troubling way."

Others noticed a change in Ray Hickman. His friends noticed it on the golf course. The

athletes at Pike Liberal Arts School noticed a difference in their trainer. His family, however, was so close to him they didn’t see the subtle changes in his behavior and his attitudes.

It wasn’t until Hickman began to exhibit extreme mood swings that his family knew something was wrong, seriously wrong.

And, it wasn’t until April 1995 when Hickman said, "I want to go to the hospital" that the reality of his situation really hit home.

"The hardest thing I ever did was put my daddy in a hospital psychiatric ward," Hussey said. "We left him that day beating on the door and screaming. It broke my heart."

The medication prescribed for Hickman caused him to be withdrawn and rendered him unable to walk.

"That’s the condition we found him in at the hospital that day that I didn’t even recognize my own daddy," Hussey said. "We insisted something had to be done, and when the doctors got his medication regulated, he was able to walk, but he was never himself again, except for one precious moment."

Hussey said her dad did not respond to "daddy" so she began to call him by name.

"One day I went in and said, ‘Ray,’ and he looked up at me and said, ‘Ann Marie, I’m your father and I demand your respect.’ That was my daddy talking that day."

That was the last time Ray Hickman acknowledged his daughter. He died in February 1996.

Out of the pain of her dad’s suffering and the sorrow of his loss, Ann Marie Hussey has found a blessing.

She has found that by helping others who are going through what she and her family experienced, she has found hope and healing.

"Alzheimer’s can be hereditary and my granddaddy suffered from it and died when he was in his 70s," she said. "Daddy was in his 50s. That’s reason for me to worry and reason for me to do all I can so that, maybe, one day soon a treatment can be found. But, most of all, working as the Alzheimer’s Support Group facilitator, I feel that I am doing something to honor my daddy and to help those whose lives are being torn apart by this disease."

Hussey said Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects everyone who is close to the victim.

"You lose someone, but they are still there," Hussey said. "They are with you and they aren’t with you. It’s so sad to see someone you love – someone you want to love you back – and they don’t even know who you are. It’s devastating to the family and they

need someone to help them through it – to tell them how, maybe, they can handle things. That’s what the Alzheimer’s Support Group does."

On Oct. 6 in Dothan, Ann Marie Hussey will join at least three teams from Troy that will participate in the annual "Alzheimer’s Walk to Remember." She will be walking in memory of her dad and in honor of caregivers. She will also be raising money to help families who are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

She invites anyone who has a loved one who is suffering from this disease or anyone who has compassion for victims of this incurable, degenerative disease and their families to form a team and participate in the "Walk to Remember."

"It’s good to sign up in advance, but you can just come and join the walk on Saturday," she said. "Each person is asked to raise or donate at least $10 and those who have $50 or more in donations will receive a tee shirt. We need the support of many people if we are to provide the help and support needed for victims and their families. Won’t you walk for someone you know and love or for someone’s loved one."