RICHMOND, Va. – On a chilly, Saturday morning in October, Kim Beers and her family take pictures in the parking lot of the Innsbrook Markel Plaza as they wait for the walk to begin. They are wearing purple sweatshirts with “Team Sullivan” in pink letters that they decorated with rhinestones the Sunday before. For the first time they are walking in honor of her mother who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“It saddens me because my mom was a very strong woman, very independent, and a very giving person with her church and the community,” said Beers with tears in her eyes. “Seeing her go down like that has really brought us all down.”
Kim Beers’s mother, Shirley “Mema” Sullivan, is 80 years old and has been struggling with Alzheimer’s disease for over six years. She wanders off to anything that catches her eye and is accompanied to the bathroom. Frank Sullivan, 82, takes care of his wife although he works a full time job as a truck-driving supervisor for W&L Mail Service. He also works at an auto shop and does maintenance on cars.
“He’s very emotional and kind of in denial, thinks that she’s going to get better,” said Beers. “He works because he wants to stay strong for my mother and keep his life going.”
When Sullivan is not able to watch his wife, his granddaughter Kristin Beers steps in as caregiver and helps take care of her.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over five million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease and out of that number over 130,000 are Virginians. The organization projects that by 2025 the number of Virginians with the disease will increase to 190,000. Women over the age of 60 are at the highest risk of developing Alzheimer’s. 1 in 3 seniors die from the disease or another type of dementia a year.
Although family and friends walked for Shirley Sullivan, they also walked in memory of loved ones who died from the disease. Tina Staples, lost her mom “JoJo” to the illness a few years ago. She took care of her mother as long as she could before moving her into a nursing home. As the team gets ready to walk, walk organizers ask everyone who has lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s to raise a purple flower. She proudly raises her purple flower in memory of her mother.
Team Sullivan laughed as they walked in honor of those they love. Walking three miles instead of one mile was unexpected and a last minute decision. They stopped for water a few times and took several family photos along the way. Although Frank and Shirley Sullivan could not attend the walk, the family had fun and was happy to be together.
Once they made it to the end they celebrated with high fives and hugs. Melissa Vaughan, a close friend of the family, said walking for Team Sullivan made her feel good.
“I feel like I accomplished something for the Sullivan family,” said Vaughan.
Hungry and full of energy from their three mile accomplishment, Team Sullivan continued the celebration at Golden Corral. `
Beers walking for her mom was not just to raise awareness for the disease that is affecting her family, but also to raise awareness for everyone.
“We need to come together and get a cure,” said Beers. “Get something for our children, our grandchildren. Our future.”