On Christmas Eve 1995, diabetic Dan Adragna was admitted to a clinic in Santa Cruz, California. Over the next few days, he would have double pneumonia, kidney failure, an emergency tracheotomy, and his heart would stop four times. After being in a coma seven weeks, he learned doctors had amputated both his legs mid-calf. Over time, he learned to walk using artificial legs while recuperating at his parents’ home.
Not long after, he was taking a college course in “abnormal psychology” and started noticing something wasn’t quite right with his mother.
“She liked taking hour-long walks,” said 56-year-old Adragna in a telephone interview. “Then her walks starting lasting 90 minutes and she’d explain it away as her taking a ‘detour.’ Then she began admitting she was getting lost. Then one day at the grocery store, she had to call home to say she couldn’t find her car. She was in tears.”
At first, Adragna’s family members attributed her behavior to age, but by 2000 a doctor had diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s disease. Seven years later, Adragna’s parents moved closer so he and his wife could help with care.
Today, his 78-year-old mom lives in a care facility. He said, “She has virtually no short-term memory and is almost nonverbal. It’s impossible to have a conversation with her. I can trigger maybe one word out of her when I’m there and maybe get her to smile, but only if I bring up something she thought was funny in the past.” His mother still walks unassisted and feeds herself with some prompting.
For work, Adragna is the Sacramento area director for Joni and Friends, a faith-based nonprofit helping families affected by disability. He gave advice to people whose parents have been recently diagnosed: “Be educated as much as possible about Alzheimers. For me, being educated helped remove the fear of the unknown and helped me know what to expect. Also be sure to visit with the (affected) person the first few years after diagnosis much as possible while that person is still aware and can have a conversation. One thing my mother really enjoyed was looking at old photographs and we cherished those times.”
As for his faith, he said, “It gives me an eternal perspective because I know I’ll be seeing my mother again (after she dies). That has helped me have an unexplained calm and peace.”