At the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s, participants carry big pinwheel flowers in certain colors. This Saturday, Debbie Hunter will hold a purple flower to honor someone she lost to the disease — her husband, Chris, who died in April 2017.
Caregivers will have yellow flowers. Blue will honor those living with Alzheimer’s and orange flowers will support efforts to end the disease. And this year, a white flower will debut to show hope for the first survivor of the progressive brain disorder, which has no cure.
Chris Hunter’s grandson, born in December 2017 and named after his grandfather, will hold a white flower. He is the son of Braden and Courtney Hunter, who will participate along with Braden’s siblings Bethany and Austin Hunter.
“So far there is not (a survivor), but it represents hope,” said Debbie Hunter, who is chairperson of the walk.
The walk will take place at Franklin Park, 2101 Tieton Drive. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, followed by a short ceremony at 9:30 a.m. The walk begins at 10 a.m. Participants may walk a 2-mile route or a shorter version of less than a mile. It usually wraps up around 11 to 11:30 a.m., Hunter said.
Last year’s walk raised $26,574.53, she said. This year’s goal is $30,000. There is no cost to walk, but participants should still register and are encouraged to donate. Those who raise or donate $100 or more will receive a T-shirt and a flower, which they can personalize with a message, carry while walking and plant in the Promise Garden.
Hunter becomes emotional when thinking about her grandson holding a white flower. Though they never met, young Chris clearly has an attachment to his grandfather, who was only 54 when he died.
“Last year, I was holding a purple flower and little Chris, as the same time I mentioned (husband Chris), he reached over and put his hand on the flower,” she said. And the last portrait of Chris and Debbie Hunter with their children often catches her grandson’s attention.
“He loves that photo. He goes and points at it and jabbers,” Hunter said.
Chris Hunter was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s a week after his 46th birthday. Throughout his struggle with the disease, his wife and three children strove to do the right thing for him, the best thing. Most of the time, they learned through their own experience — often the hardest way to learn.
They think of him often, and Saturday will bring somber moments. But they also continue to support each other and are doing well, Debbie Hunter said.
“We’re all moving forward,” she said. “I think part of that is we’ve always been a strong family.”
The walk in Yakima is one of several hundred that happen throughout the United States every year. Held by the Alzheimer’s Association, they raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.
“You can specify where you want the money to go,” Hunter said.
Research has yielded promise in slowing the irreversible disease that is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Early this year, a report on a website that offers news on Alzheimer’s disease and brain health research said nearly all of the human patients participating in tests for a vaccine showed improved cognition and a lower level of beta-amyloid, the toxic plaque that accumulates in Alzheimer’s patients.
Hunter does what she can to help raise awareness and offer support for those struggling with the disease and their loved ones. She is part of the Dementia Action Collaborative, created in 2016 to prepare the state for the growth of the dementia population. It’s mostly professionals, such as neurologists, and meets once a month.
Her personal experience helped shape the Dementia Road Map, a guide for family and care partners. Hunter spends a lot of time volunteering on the issue of Alzheimer’s, but stressed that others can help in their own ways. More support is needed, she said.
“Everybody makes a difference,” Hunter said.