Colleen Pollon and Suzanne Dahl remember how their grandparents Mike and Nancy Czorny always liked to work the family garden.
Mike always wore a pressed white shirt – even when puttering around outside.
Nancy “made the best perogies,” recalls Pollon, while her older sister remembers having chicken noodle soup with Cheezies in it on weekends when the girls visited their grandparents in Chilliwack and Fort Langley in the 1960s.
Gradually, the Czorny family’s narrative turned to memory loss, as Mike’s behaviour began to change as the girls grew up – though for a time, they were too young to notice.
Their father and Mike’s son-in-law Donald “Chick” Stewart became convinced something was wrong as he and Mike returned to the Fraser Valley after a fishing trip.
Mike kept telling the same story over and over in the pick-up truck, says Chick, now 88 and still known primarily by his schoolyard nickname.
Over time, as Mike’s condition worsened, he was went missing repeatedly, and ended up forcibly confined and sedated for a then little-know disease: Alzheimer’s.
Photo: A family photo of Nancy and Mike Czorny.
Mike Czorny had the disease for 25 years until he died in 1985. His wife passed away in 1999.
It was his daughter, Marilyn Stewart, who took up the fight to provide better care – including love, dignity and respect – for those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.
“In those days, people with any form of dementia were often committed to psychiatric wards and were heavily sedated,” says Alzheimer Society advocate George Garrett, whose wife has Alzheimer’s. “Marilyn wanted Alzheimer patients to have dignity and as pleasant a life as possible in their final years.”
In 2007, 22 years after her father died, her vision came true.
The family opened the Czorny Alzheimer Centre in Cloverdale across the road from the Northview Golf Club, where Chick, a successful sawmill operator and land owner, is part-owner.
Home to 72 residents, Czorny features a one-level, multi-cottage design with outdoor gardens ringed with benches and flowers, with circular pathways so no one gets lost.
Inside are communal kitchens and living rooms, recreation halls, a hair salon, spa, an old-school coffee bar, post office and a Ford Model T in a side room.
Each resident has a memory box by their door with personal photos and mementos.
Meals are home-cooked and tailored to the needs of residents, who are tended to by more than 40 caregivers who offer occupational therapy, recreation, physiotherapy and other services.
Among the residents are two rabbits, Hopper and Spice.
Czorny is run by Fraser Health, but continues to have that special touch that Marilyn Stewart gave the facility.
Don Hickling, vice-president of leadership giving at the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre, calls Czorny “the largest gift to Alzheimer care in Canada,” and adds that although it is run by Fraser Health, it would never have been designed the way it is by ordinary bureaucrats.
Residents aren’t admitted, says clinical manager Louise Brown. They move in.
Photo: Marilyn Stwart
“Our parents became isolated from everyone but family,” Marilyn told The Leader when Czorny Alzheimer Centre opened in 2007. “We found it difficult to find a place for people with Alzheimer’s.”
Marilyn Stewart died in October 2014, but her contributions to those living with the disease will be honoured May 1 at the Investors Group Walk for Alzheimer’s: Make Memories Matter (formerly Walk for Memories), which takes place at Eaglequest Golf Coyote Creek, 7778 152 St.
“This is our one chance to honour her,” says Avalon Tournier, support and education coordinator at the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
Registration gets underway at 11:30 a.m., and individual and team walkers are welcome.
Funds raised through collected pledges support programs for people living with dementia and their families, as well as raise public awareness and education efforts.
Volunteers are also needed for the event; anyone interested can contact event chair Sue Lahti at 778-242-0751 or firstname.lastname@example.org
• Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and degenerative brain illness, which causes thinking and memory to become seriously impaired.
• As the disease advances and affects different areas of the brain, various abilities become impaired resulting in changes to abilities and/or behaviour.
• Warning signs include memory loss affecting day-to-day abilities, difficulty in performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation in time and space, impaired judgment, misplacing things and changes in mood and personality.
• The average lifespan for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is eight to 14 years.
• 70,000 people in B.C. are affected by Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. About 10,000 of those are under the age of 65.
• Fear and stigma continue to be huge barriers to seeking help.
• People with dementia can live meaningful and productive lives with early diagnosis.
• Early diagnosis is critical in getting proper medication, education, taking advantage of available support and resources, focusing on life’s priorities and helping to reduce stigma.
—Source: Alzheimer Society of B.C.