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Statesboro woman, whose husband suffers from Alzheimer’s, to participate in Saturday walk

Vernell Walker : ‘I don’t want other families to know this grief’

Statesboro woman, whose husband suffers from Alzheimer’s, to participate in Saturday walk

Statesboro woman, whose husband suffers from Alzheimer’s, to participate in Saturday walk

While sitting in the gazebo at Willow...


        On a recent Thursday afternoon, Julie Stone and Jo Ann Hickman are hunkered down at the end of a boardroom table dressed like twins.
        Purple shirts, purple buttons, purple watches and purple wrist bands.
        The two women look like royalty but, in reality, they have servant’s hearts and are tireless volunteers to co-chair the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. 
        Time is of the essence because the two only have five days left to plan the Sept. 21 walk. More importantly, they are on a race to raise funds to find a cure for Alzheimer’s.
       Three miles across town at Willow Pond’s Seasons Memory Care Alzheimer’s unit, Vernell Walker holds the hands of her husband of 63 years, R.L. Walker, who has been diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s.  R.L. Walker sits quietly in his suite as resident assistant caregivers move about taking care of him and seven other Alzheimer’s residents in the 11-suite wing.
        “R.L. was very slow in progressing with his Alzheimer’s. At first, he just did not want to go anywhere in our hometown of Jesup,” Vernell Walker said. “Looking back now, I believe he was trying to hide his dementia from our family. It was little things at first like being forgetful. I noticed he had a tremble in his left hand.  But then I realized he was no longer tending to important paperwork in his businesses.” 
        His disease then progressed to him staying in bed all day and only watching TV.  She became his sole caregiver for two years and became sick herself, having to be hospitalized for chronic back problems from lifting R.L. in and out of bed.  Their son, Lindsay Walker of Statesboro, hired 24/7 sitters, but R.L. was not happy with this arrangement. The family knew something had to give.
        Two months ago, Lindsay made the difficult decision to move his father to Willow Pond. 
        “It’s been hard because our Daddy was always so vibrant,” Lindsay Walker said. “He had a full life, had tons of friends and buddies. He’s an entrepreneur and has had his fingers in many pots, so to speak.”
        Vernell Walker agrees, remembering her husband’s vast businesses he operated during his 82 years. 
        “My husband has owned gas stations, a fuel oil business, a concrete plant, a carpet outlet. He even bought shrimp boats at some point in time, but one of the shrimp boats sunk so that was the end of that business,” she said, chuckling.
        To move through this chapter of his life is hard for the family to accept. Grieving has already begun for all of them. 
        “He speaks very little now,” Vernell Walker said with tears in her eyes. “It breaks my heart because I have lost R.L.” 
        Even in the midst of her daily challenges, she is still strong and resolute in looking at the bright side of their lives. 
        “For us, the Seasons Memory Care unit has been the most perfect place for R.L.,” she said. “I currently live with my son and daughter-in-law nearby, and I can come over here every chance I get and stay by his side. Everybody loves us here and it’s the nearest thing to home and heaven we could ask for.”
        On Saturday, Vernell Walker plans to participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s to raise money for a cure. 
        “I don’t want other families to know this grief,” she said. “R.L. and I have started dating when we were 14 and 15, and I just miss him.” 
        Recently, she sat beside her husband and put her hands to his cheeks and asked him, “Why did you marry me, R.L?”
        And he mustered a response so fitting for the race to find a cure for this disease.
        “So you could talk for me,” he said.

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