I am Gino Colombara and I have had the honor to be the Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Southeastern Virginia Chapter for the past 23 years. I walk each year for a very personal reason.
My journey with Alzheimer’s started over 30 years ago. It began with my father, John Colombara. While I was in the Navy stationed in Italy, he was living in Florida. I would call him every Sunday. One Sunday, he did not answer the phone. The same held true for Monday. I contacted the apartment manager to check on him. Apparently, neighbors saw my father leave with two suitcases in hand.
My father, who spent most of his adult life in New York, decided to head back home. He traveled by bus and train. He was missing for two months. I had a detective looking for him. This was the worst time of my life.
My father reached New York where he got mugged. He was brought to Bellevue Hospital without any identification. My father did not provide his real name and did not share that he had any family.
So how did I find him? He got on a pay phone in the hospital and called his bank in New York to get his pension check. I had contacted the bank earlier to request that if he should call to please contact the Red Cross.
At 2:00 one morning, military security officers came to my home in Italy and shared that my father was found. I immediately called him at the hospital. When I spoke with him, it was like nothing ever happened. By 8:00 that morning, I was on a flight to New York. And so began my Alzheimer’s journey in 1986. And so began my advocacy to make a difference.
Initially, my Alzheimer’s journey was extremely lonely. There was not much awareness of Alzheimer’s at that time. In fact, my father did not get a formal diagnosis of Alzheimer’s until 1989. My father passed away in 1993.
The tide has certainly changed since then. I feel proud to be part of that changing tide.
30 years ago…I could not imagine a day when everyone who needs care and support gets it as a result of our work…Today I can.
30 years ago…I could not imagine a day when research is funded at the proper level… Today I can.
30 years ago…I could not imagine a day when stigma would be eliminated… Today I can.
And 30 years ago, I could not imagine the day when everyone survives – the day our vision is realized. Today I can.
The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is one of the ways I pay tribute to my father. I hope you will join me at one of our walks. I look forward to seeing you!
Gino Colombara, Executive Director
Alzheimer’s Association – Southeastern Virginia Chapter
Join Gino at alz.org/walk!