For walkers, dealing with Alzheimer's is a personal story

CROWN POINT — Julia Pina won’t remember walking around the Lake County Fairgrounds on Sunday afternoon.

But the some 50 members of her family who walked in the Lake County Walk to End Alzheimer’s will.

The East Chicago woman, 87, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease just over a year ago, said her son Noel Pina, of Hebron.

“She may not remember, but we won’t forget. We weren’t going to let her feel forgotten,” said Alma Pina, Noel’s wife and Julia’s daughter-in-law.

While Noel Pina pushed his mother around the course in her wheelchair, her children — including a daughter coming from Mexico — grandchildren and great-grandchildren came out to support her.

Team Pina also was the event’s top fundraising team, raising more than $10,000 for The Alzheimer’s Association. Noel Pina was the top individual fundraiser, bringing in about $7,500.

The devastating disease is personal for Anthony Hernandez, of Dyer, too. He and his wife Ariel walked for his grandfather and his uncle, both of whom died from Alzheimer’s disease.

“My uncle went from normal to passing away in three years. He was 63 years old,” Anthony Hernandez said. 

“I wanted to raise money. It was my mom’s brother and dad that passed. I just don’t want any other family to go through this. It is unbelievably hard.”

The walk was also a family affair for Stephanie Szmuc, of Merrillville, her son and daughter and daughter’s boyfriend.

Szmuc’s father-in-law died from the disease.

Zachary Szmuc, of Hammond, said his grandfather was in a car accident, then diagnosed with dementia two months later. He died in less than a year.

“We were close. Me and my dad hung out with him a lot,” he said, adding the rapid change in his grandfather from the onset of the disease until his death was like “night and day.”

Some 800 people turned out for the walk.

Some carried purple flowers, representing someone they’d lost to Alzheimer’s. Others carried orange, indicating support for finding a cure, or yellow, which stated they were a caregiver, or blue, to say they were living with Alzheimer’s.

Stephanie Arevalo, development specialist for the Greater Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said last year’s Lake County walk raised nearly $125,000. It is the largest annual fundraiser for the group.

Arevalo said the walk, however, is about more than just raising money.

“It is a time for people to come together. It allows people to connect,” she said, adding that many with the disease or their caregivers often feel alone. The event allows them to see there are others dealing with the disease.

It is also a chance, she said, for them to gather resources and learn what the Alzheimer’s Association can do for them.

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