Yesterday's Dream is Today's Reality

April 17, 2019 - George Vradenburg

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Trish and I were married for 49 years.  April 17 marked the second anniversary of her passing -- from a heart attack.  I know, in her unique humor that animated our lives and in her writing for "Designing Women", "Family Ties" and "Kate and Allie", she is probably saying, "George, we picked the wrong disease." In truth, curing Alzheimer's was always her passion. Her fight -- our shared fight -- was for her mother.  We decided not to stand aside and leave this to somebody else but rather to challenge this disease ourselves.  So, in 2010, we founded UsAgainstAlzheimer’s (with Meryl Comer and John Dwyer).  Now with over 100 Alzheimer's-serving organizations in the LEAD Coalition we co-founded, we have lots of friends in this fight.


Trish proved to be a natural at public and political advocacy.


For starters, her relentless authenticity and humor were contagious. In one public meeting, a prominent Senator refused to support a special funding allocation for Alzheimer's research, leaving that decision to NIH.  Trish's very public response, with humor, "Didn't we elect you to make decisions?  Would you fund the DOD at $600 billion simply at the urging of the Joint Chiefs or would you ask some questions?" After a few rounds of that in successive public meetings, the Senator called our home one night and told her, "You've worn me down.  I'll support Alzheimer's funding."  That same senator called me the night of Trish's passing to tell me that Trish was the most effective advocate he'd ever met. On the Hill, Trish was not a Democrat or a Republican, but a fierce advocate for the "Alzheimer’s Party". “We have to start talking about Alzheimer’s,” Trish told the Washington Post in 2013. “We have to get people to come out of the closet and demand research, money, a cure, a vaccination, anything! We need more money, and I’m not going to stop asking for it.”  To those who questioned her sticking her neck out so far, she would say, "What can they do, fire me?"    


Trish would be thrilled to learn that funding for Alzheimer’s research at the National Institutes of Health has risen from $450 million to $2.3 billion. She would be elated at the reintroduction of the bipartisan-bicameral CHANGE Act, a bill encouraging early detection, assessment, and diagnosis. And she would have been proud of our standing clinical trial network optimized for Alzheimer's ...  and our annual action-packed conferences of global key opinion leaders in Tokyo and Lausanne ...  and our new women's Be Brain Powerful brain health campaign led by former First Lady Laura Bush. Accomplishments like these are a happy if bittersweet reminder that my late wife’s legacy is ever so alive and well.


Trish was never afraid of the truth. She would be honest about the fact that we’ve also faced bumps in the road: drug development has proved more challenging than predicted; communities of color are disproportionately impacted and are greatly unrepresented in clinical trials; sex-based research focusing on women is significantly underfunded.


Nevertheless, in tough times, Trish taught me and all of us to keep our humor and remain positive and purposeful.  


UsAgainstAlzheimer’s was born out of Trish’s love for her mother, and the resulting compassion for the millions of others whom she did not want consigned to the same fate. Trish’s life was an inspiring portrait of creativity and versatility, employing her gifts not only as a humorist, but as a selfless leader – leaving a tremendous mark on the world and on the lives of those experiencing this disease.  If we ever feel discouraged on our path, reflect on Trish’s optimism: “A cure for Alzheimer’s: a fantasy, a wish, an impossible dream; the same words that were said to Galileo, Edison, Curie, Salk and whoever dreamed up the internet. Yesterday’s dream is today’s reality.”


I miss her to my core ... every single day.