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While there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to the coronavirus, 2021 has been a good year in terms of advances in containing another health threat, Alzheimer’s disease, including a promising drug coming to market.

“More people are becoming aware and more people are getting involved,” said Pamela Padgett, who helps lead Surry County’s efforts to combat the debilitating disease that affects 6.2 million Americans.

This included Padgett’s joint chairmanship of the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s, held on September 18 at Riverside Park in Mount Airy with Robin Portis, and other efforts to raise funds and raise awareness of the issue needed for the fight.

“As the year comes to an end and the last fundraiser to support our local walk ends, we are impressed with all the awareness and donations that have been raised,” added Padgett.

She is the Human Resources Director at Behavioral Services Inc. in Mount Airy and, like many people, lost someone to Alzheimer’s – a grandmother, Mae Holt, in 2018 – which motivated her to join the cure effort.

Although the walk was held in December as a major fundraiser for this purpose with the help of teams, funds continued to be generated through the end of 2021.

“Our final grand total for the year is $ 77,582,” reported Padgett on Wednesday, which she believes is a record amount.

“This sum speaks to the commitment to end Alzheimer’s,” she noted. “It’s phenomenal to still be in a pandemic and to be able to raise so much money.”

A real team effort

After the annual Walk to End, Alzheimer’s was carried out virtually in 2020 – due to COVID – but has returned to normal on a large scale.

“This year we had 66 teams, the most teams in the history of our local walk and 368 participants, which was also a record,” said Padgett of the event. It is held in conjunction with the Western Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Each team – from corporations, families, churches, and civil society groups – ran mini-campaigns that added up to the grand total, with one led by G&B Energy (led by Natalie Eidson) at $ 11,000.

Other top teams were created by the RidgeCrest Retirement Community, which, under the leadership of Jennifer Johnson-Brown, raised $ 9,468; The A-Team, led by Robin Portis, co-chair of the walk, which raised $ 6,003; Memories of Mae, led by Padgett, which generated $ 4,231; and Team Phil (led by Vickie Jordan), $ 3,170.

“All of the teams on our walk did a great job not only raising funds but also raising awareness,” Badgett said.

“Lots of people do Facebook fundraisers to raise money for their teams – it makes it so easy to participate and leads to a huge increase in the dollars donated.”

More than walking

As with any such campaign, it involves more than just a single event like a walk, it also involves disseminating the topic to the public in a number of ways.

This applied to local Alzheimer’s disease efforts in 2021, which included a “Paint the Town Purple” campaign in the summer. “Purple is the official color of Alzheimer’s,” explained Padgett.

Shops in downtown Mount Airy displayed purple decorated windows as part of an awareness competition, accompanied by some vendors launching fundraising drives.

First place went to F. Rees, the second The Spotted Moon, the third Fabric Menagerie and the fourth Mayberry Primitives.

“Although they weren’t on Main Street, Dr. John Gravitte did a phenomenal awareness raising move, had a team in motion and was also a sponsor (of this event), ”remarked Padgett.

RidgCrest also offers an illuminated Christmas exhibition every year as a fundraising event.

“The beauty of its lights sends a message of hope for anyone linked with Alzheimer’s, be it a patient, caregiver, family member or lawyer,” said Padgett.

“We are so grateful that they have chosen to do this every year.”

Meanwhile, local lawyers also had cars in both the July 4th and Christmas parades in downtown Mount Airy.

Breakthrough in drugs

The money raised is used for care, funding and research programs of the Alzheimer’s Association.

This includes a variety of services for sick people and their families, including the 24/7 helpline at https://www.alz.org/help-support/i-have-alz/programs-support#helpline, educational programs, self-help groups and more .

On the research side, Padgett said definitive strides had been made in 2021 in the form of a new drug that hit the market in June. The US Food and Drug Administration granted Aduhelm (aducanumab) accelerated approval for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Padgett said this was the first drug available to slow its progression.

“I think this has been a good result from all these years of research,” she said as evidence that financial support makes a difference. “I think that was the highlight of the year.”

In May, Padgett also videoconferenced members of Congress to advocate federal law to advance research and improve treatment and support services for Alzheimer’s patients and their carers.

She is encouraged by so many facets of this community who have come together to fight a terrible disease that affects everyone to some extent because it affects family members or friends.

This includes a growing number of sponsors: Behavioral Services, Surry Communications, Carolina West, Surry Insurance, Altec, Carport Central, First Presbyterian Church of Mount Airy, Home Instead, Northern Regional Hospital, Hugh Chatham Hospital, Kindred at Home, Cardinal CT, JG Coram Construction, Dr. John Gravitte, Hayco Construction, Nester Hosiery, Rogers Realty, SouthData, Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corp. and Wayne Farms.

“We are grateful to our community for their support,” concluded Padgett at the close of 2021, which she felt was a positive time both locally and for the Alzheimer’s Association as a whole.

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