Dr. Michael and Ellen McVay have chosen to be happy and work hard everyday with Ellen's early onset Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's Disease has left a tremendous impact on families around the world. Doctors and researchers with Avera continue to work towards finding a cure for this degenerative disease. But for one Yankton couple, they are refusing to let the Alzheimer's take away their happiness and their livelihood.
When Ellen McVay started having trouble with her memory, she thought it was just a part of getting older. Her doctor told her it was Alzheimer's.
"I felt like I was a young woman still and so I was just shocked I was given this diagnosis." Said Ellen.
Ellen's husband Dr. Michael McVay was equally surprised, and being a recently retired cardiologist from the Yankton Medical Clinic, P.C., his medical mind couldn't accept it.
"It just blew me away, I wasn't expecting this at all, it just caught me totally by surprise." Said Michael.
The news hit the McVays hard, Ellen especially. She says she couldn't eat and cried almost every single day, but after two years of depression the social worker in her was rekindled. She chose to be happy and not let this disease define her.
"It was lovingly aggressive for me to reactivate who Ellen really is, and I am Ellen, and I happen to have a wounded brain." Said Ellen.
Ellen says her husband Michael has been her strongest supporter every single day. He says his biggest struggle is trying not to help too much and let Ellen work things out on her own.
"Like heart disease, like cancer there's a daily reminder. It's a matter of trying to accept that and not push it away and deal with it the best you can." Said Michael.
Alzheimer's Disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States with 5.4 million Americans living with the disease. 200,000 of those are like Ellen and have been diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer's Disease.
"Alzheimer's is no longer a disease of old people, this is our parents, siblings, spouses, brothers, and sisters. The baby boomer generation is really facing this disease right now." Said Jane Aspaas, State Executive Director for the Alzheimer's Association.
The biggest challenges are funding for research and lack of participation in clinical trials, something the Alzheimer's Association is working to correct through the Walk to End Alzheimer's and other fundraiser's.
The McVay's are also advocates for the expanded research by being on the state Alzheimer's board. Michael knows the power of research funding and saw it first hand in his career.
"I saw what funding did for research in cardiovascular disease we've made such huge end roads and we're taking baby steps with Alzheimer's Disease and we really need to put a fire underneath it." Said Michael.
Right now there is no cure for Alzheimer's Disease. The McVay's stay grounded and optimistic about what the future may hold for Ellen and others suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.
But Ellen says until that day comes she will continue to rely on her faith and her best friend.
"I choose to be happy, I choose to pay attention to what my thoughts are telling me, that's where centering prayer has been such a gift because I notice my thoughts can be wild and sad and oh my God why did this happen to me? Or I can let go of those thoughts and just be glad I am alive today." Said Ellen.
The Walk to End Alzheimer's is coming up this Saturday at Sertoma Park in Sioux Falls. There will also be walks held in Aberdeen on September 22nd and in the Black Hills on September 29th.
To sign up you can call the Alzheimer's Association at 605-339-4543 or simply click here to electronically Sign Up!