A Hull resident who has been deeply moved by his own experience and by the stories of others personally affected by Alzheimer’s is literally putting the pedal to the metal on behalf of those afflicted by the disease.
Tom Keegan, who moved to Hull in 2018, is participating in the annual “Ride to End ALZ” in June in remembrance of his mother, Marilyn Keegan, who succumbed to Alzheimer’s in December, just before her 91st birthday.
“I’m also riding for my Uncle Hank who passed on in 2019 and for the growing list of others I have become aware of during the course of my outreach for this fundraiser who are suffering from, or have been lost to, this disease,” Keegan told The Hull Times.
The “Ride” event is organized by the Massachusetts/New Hampshire chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and benefits Alzheimer’s research. All money raised benefits the association, with 90 percent of the funds going toward efforts to discover methods for the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
As of April 25, Keegan has raised more than $12,000, has increased his goal to $15,000, and plans to “keep on going.”
“I’ve started compiling a list of the names of all those who are suffering from this dreadful disease in my circle of personal and professional contacts,” he said. “This is what motivates me and why I work so hard to raise funds.”
Keegan heard about the fundraiser from his best “buddy,” Paul (“Sully”) Sullivan, who inspired him over many years with his “deep passion and can-do commitment” to raising funds for Alzheimer’s research in memory of his father, Frank Sullivan, who succumbed to the disease in 2009.
While not considering himself an avid biker at that time, Keegan dusted off his bicycle and joined Sully and other members of his family in the annual “Ride to End ALZ” a couple of years ago and has participated enthusiastically ever since. He will be riding again this year as part of the “Sully’s Buddies” team.
“I will bike with a heavy heart on the one hand, but it will also be lightened by a smile in my heart as I think of this beautiful lady who embraced every moment of her long life full of faith, family, and laughter,” Keegan said of his mother. “Boy, she knew how to have fun, and she made this world a better place for so many!”
He also recalled his mother, who lived in an assisted living/memory care facility in Weymouth, for her other personal qualities: service to others; zest for life; strength, courage, and love; devotion to her husband and her children; and a willingness “to seize the moment.”
Proceeds from the June charity event will be put toward funding “the many brilliant and creative minds that are working to seek out solutions to treat and ultimately eliminate this relentless disease,” Keegan said. “Funds are desperately needed for the more than six million Americans living with this disease, their 16 million caregivers, and millions more who have lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s.”
There are several factors to be considered when someone is fighting Alzheimer’s, he explained. “It’s tough emotionally for family members and others who are trying to help loved ones who are struggling with this disease,” he said. “Fortunately, there’s a lot of progress being made related to treatments and the potential for a cure. This may take years, but at least it’s within sight.”
Finding oneself in the position of being a caregiver for someone struggling with Alzheimer’s is like taking a “crash course,” he said. “You jump in without any kind of training and you just have to [find ways to] do it,” according to Keegan.
One of the biggest challenges for a caregiver is seeing a loved one unable to recognize family members and experiencing lost memories and feelings of confusion – and the accompanying fear and anger sometimes expressed in a manner that is “totally uncharacteristic” for them due to frustration or embarrassment.
“Mom was always on her game, always so lively, robust, and full of life, and it’s difficult losing our loved ones who are suffering from Alzheimer’s right before our eyes,” Keegan said. “It’s important to be patient and to not take things personally. You don’t want to react to their feelings of frustration and anger but rather to be understanding and love them every moment.”
Although Keegan moved to Hull only three years ago, he has deep roots in the town. “I have been coming here since I was a young boy to visit my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins living on Highland Avenue, out at the end of the peninsula,” he said. As a teenager he enjoyed Paragon Park and Nantasket Beach.
“My wife, Lisa, and I brought our kids back to Hull to continue the tradition since she also visited here as a child,” he said.
Once their children were grown, the Keegans decided to move to Hull to live out the next chapter of their lives and “to continue our enjoyment of this beautiful place but now as full-time residents.”
To make a donation in support of Keegan’s efforts, visit http://act.alz.org/goto/tomkeegan.