Steve Boryszczuk has spent the past few years raising awareness for early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease and simultaneously honoring his wife, who passed away from the disease when she was just 43. He’s done this by checking items off of her personal bucket list. He will complete the final item this October, when he and a friend will walk over 100 kilometers (62 miles) through the Himalayan mountain range.
Steve and his wife Michelle met when they were teenagers. They married and had children shortly afterwards. Since they started a family when they were so young, they had detailed plans to travel the world once their children became adults. But their plans never came to fruition as she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s when she was 38. She was one of the youngest people ever diagnosed with the disease in the United Kingdom.
Since then Steve has traveled the world raising awareness for the disease and completing the travels he and Michelle had planned to make. Every trip takes an emotional toll on him, because he leaves mementos of her life at every site he visits.
“In every place I go on Michelle’s bucket list, I get permission to lay a little brass plaque dedicated to her in her memory,” he said in an interview with the Grimsby Telegraph. He also saved her hair when she died, and leaves strands of it along with the plaques.
His travels have taken him all over the world, including the Great Wall of China, Peru, volcanoes in Costa Rica, Hadrian’s Wall, all 16 of London’s city bridges, and the Yorkshire Three Peaks. His final trek will take him across the Himalayas into Bhutan.
“In Costa Rica I left a plaque behind a waterfall in the rainforest, in Peru on a stone at over 10,000 feet above sea level, and this will be my final one to leave,” he said regarding the final trip. “Now it’s coming to an end…It signifies a time for me to move on, but I’ll never let her memory die. I’ll keep fighting for more awareness, and for the need for more research into this devastating disease.”
Alzheimer’s And The Deteriorating Mind
Michelle had both early-onset Alzheimer’s and the inherited form of the disease, known as Familial Alzheimer’s Disease (FAD). Less than one percent of Alzheimer’s patients have the familial version. Most people with early-onset Alzheimer’s also have FAD.
She began to show symptoms of the disease when she was 36. Steve would find her hiding their mail out of fear that people would steal it, and she wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood, appearing confused. Steve eventually quit his job and became her caregiver for four years before moving her into a care home. She passed away in 2013.
“It was absolutely devastating for me; it still is, I was distraught,” he said in the Grimsby Telegraph interview. “I’ll miss her for the rest of my life; she was my whole world. I just hope she’d be proud of everything I’m doing for her in her memory. I’m going to make the most of every wonderful second on that walk, because I know she would have done.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a frightening affliction that rocks families to their core, as in the case of Steve and Michelle. That their dreams of traveling the world were cut short due to the disease is heartbreaking. However, there is some solace in the fact that he’s been able to both honor her memory and raise awareness and research funding by completing his journeys.
“We can’t thank Steve enough for sharing his family’s heartbreaking experience to raise awareness of dementia and vital dementia research,” said Tim Parry, Director of Alzheimer’s Research U.K. “Michelle’s story is a perfect challenge to the prevailing misconception that dementia is just forgetfulness in old age. The condition is caused by brain diseases which turn lives and families upside down, and which no one currently survives.”
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