Summitt's diagnosis: The realities of the Long Goodbye - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Summitt's diagnosis: The realities of the Long Goodbye

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Dr. Jim Erwin was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at age 57. Dr. Jim Erwin was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at age 57.
Coach Pat Summitt sits with her son, Tyler Summitt. Coach Pat Summitt sits with her son, Tyler Summitt.

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - Former SAU Adjunct Professor, Dr. Jim Erwin was strong enough of mind to pass the qualifying test for MENSA, the social club for geniuses.

He preached mostly from notes in his 32 years as a pastor in the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

The shadow of early-onset Alzheimer's would fall, shortly after he turned 57.

"When it came to Jim's sermons, I decided something truly had gone wrong," his wife, Andi says.

"Short-term memory issues," Alzheimer's Association program manager, Amy French, explains.

"Knowing that his father had Alzheimer's andI felt it was hereditary, I sent him to a neurologist," Andi Erwin says.

"The neurologist had said, 'I'd never seen a brain, this early, this small.'"

Seven years later, Dr. Jim's soft smile is intact.

Speech is all but gone.

"As far as names, we haven't heard ours in two years," Andi Erwin says.

But is his journey, the road that Tennessee Lady Vols Coach, Pat Summitt, will travel?

"The saying around the Alzheimer's Association is, if you've seen one Alzheimer's patient, you've seen one Alzheimer's patient," French says.

Unlike basketball, French explains, Alzheimer' rules seem to be ever-changing.

"There is really no way to predict how long the disease will manifest itself, in that she will lose her total independence."

It's not gonna keep me from living my life," Summitt told reporters in an interview Tuesday. "It's not gonna keep me from coaching."

Andi Erwin hears more than determination in that declaration.

"Somebody trying to grab hold of what she has right now, and wanting to continue on."

"I feel better, just knowing what I'm dealing with," Summitt says.

"Eventually, yes, it will stop her from coaching," Erwin concedes."But no, it should not stop her from living her life!"

But certain realities are ugly. And unavoidable.

"The brain's ability to process information is increasingly impaired," French says.

"And as the disease progresses even further, the brain's ability to get the messages to all the bodily functions is impaired. And ultimately, that is what leads to death."

How long, for what many have called the long goodbye?

The average, for early onset Alzheimer's, French and Irwin agree, is seven to ten years.

"I've been called the Living Widow, but we like to go out and live life," Andi Erwin says. "Eventually, there might come a day when we can't do that. I know that's going to happen. But right now, don't put a stop sign in front of us!"

 

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