Our champions

Champion for Dementia – Bill Heibein

It has been more than ten years since Bill Heibein received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 55 years old, and was having a hard time in his job as a public accountant – missing meetings, forgetting names, and losing his train of thought. “I was angry”, says Bill of the diagnosis, “and I wasn’t looking forward to everything they said was supposed to happen with the disease. I was told that with my early diagnosis, based on average, I could expect maybe five good years left.”

At the time of his diagnosis, Bill and his wife Heather were already active in raising quarter horses. Bill remembers going into the barn after his diagnosis: “I told the horses ‘I have Alzheimer’s disease!’ and of course they weren’t too interested in anything but the hay. I figured if they didn’t care, I’d try not to either.”

Bill sought medical and pharmaceutical treatment; he opened up to all his friends and contacts about his condition; and he reached out to the Alzheimer Society of Thunder Bay for information and support. “Heather and I were too busy with the horses to dwell on things. But we did read everything we could about the disease”.

Bill remembers how he decided that Alzheimer’s disease “wasn’t going to stop me from doing what I wanted to do, for as long as I could do it.” A decade after being diagnosed, Bill is still busy raising, training, and showing horses, running Amethyst Farms, and playing the bass in the popular local band ‘the Bottom of the Barrel’. “I say, if there’s something you want to do, by George, you go out and do it. Heather and I decided we weren’t going to one day be sitting in our rocking chairs saying ‘I wish we did that’ – we want to be looking back at all the things we did do – and thinking ‘wasn’t that great?’”

It is important, Bill says, for families affected by Alzheimer’s disease to reach out to others for help. “I think some people are still reluctant to contact the Alzheimer Society,” he muses; “It’s that same old story of not wanting to acknowledge that there’s a problem.” But being open about the disease and reaching out can make a great difference, he reports. “I have strong support around me – I feel like a lucky man.”

Champion for Dementia – Janice Cox

At 55 years old Janice’s Husband Derry was diagnosed with Fronto-temporal Dementia (FTD) and four years later Progressive Aphasia. She was able to care for hime at home for 10 years, but she says, “ther comes a time when living at home, even with supports, is not possible”. Derry was admitted to hosiptal for six and a half months before he was able to transfer to new behavioral unit at Sheridan Villa in Mississauga.  Janice states, “Hospitals are not places for people with dementia. They tried to do their best under the very difficult situation presented to them, but active care is their top priority and they do not have many people trained in dementia issues.” Due to his behavioural symptoms, the staff at the hospital were forced to restrain him and did not have proper training on how best to respond to Derry’s behaviours. At Sheridan Villa, Janice explains that he was able to be more active again and given space and assistance that helped him begin to walk, eat and drink on his own again. She says, “The day that he was brought here was one of my happiest days.  It was like he had entered another world”.

Janice facilitates an FTD spousal support group with a friend to provide information, recommendations, and contacts for services.  Mostly they offer support.  ”I guess we all feel that finally we’ve found people who understand what we’re going through,” says Janice, and “we realized that more and more people were needing us.”
Janice became a Champion for Dementia because she sees a need for caregiver support, training for special behaviours, and early diagnosis.

“I feel strongly that there is help needed, and that dementia issues are not taken as seriously as other major illnesses so are not receiving the funding necessary.”

Champion for Dementia – Adrian Blake

I’m a professional freelance writer based in High Park. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than five years ago and I felt compelled to become a Champion in order to help create greater awareness about this terrible disease and push the provincial and federal governments to take immediate action to deal with it. As you know it will only get worse with the aging population which is all the more reason to do something now.



Champion for Dementia – Matthew Vorstermans

I chose to become a champion for dementia because this activity is an extension of the advocacy for Alzheimer’s that I’ve been doing for six years on behalf and in memory of my dear grandmother, who was a victim of the illness. Furthermore, also for the last six years, I’ve been volunteering at my local nursing home and observed the pain and discomfort that many of the residents are in and that the staff’s resources are stretched to the limit, and this opportunity is a chance to try and help change that.