People from the Hannibal area will get a chance to make an impact against Alzheimer's disease when the first Walk to End Alzheimer's begins at 8 a.m. Sept. 15 at the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center.

People from the Hannibal area will get a chance to make an impact against Alzheimer's disease when the first Walk to End Alzheimer's begins at 8 a.m. Sept. 15 at the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center.

Stephanie Orf, walk manager with the Alzheimer's Association, said she is looking forward to overseeing her first walk — saying she has “fallen in love” with Hannibal during visits with vendors, local organizations and volunteers like co-chair Julia Henderson, whose mother is living with Alzheimer's disease. It may be the first time that the Walk to End Alzheimer's has come to America's Hometown, but Orf said the response has been positive and steadfast over the past months.

So far, Henderson has raised $600 to help fund research and the quest for a cure.

Bella Erakko is eager to share stories with visitors about how she learned everyday from her mother, Elsie, who she lost to Alzheimer's in 2000. She has written two books, “Alzheimer's Transformed” and “Alzheimer's” Living Between Body and Spirit.”

Initial feelings of confusion and fear gave way to 10 things Erakko learned. For instance, she discovered that her mother experienced various stages of a “body-to-spirit journey, but you have to be observant as if you’re watching for a falling star,” she said. “People with Alzheimer's are making a very slow journey from body to spirit, as though they are experiencing an extended near-death experience. Their eyes are not 'lights out but lights elsewhere.'”

Erakko likened the disease's stages to peeling an onion. He mother possessed high levels of control and organization during her career as a U.S. Protocol Officer during the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations, but Erakko watched her mother’s cognitive capabilities diminish until she had forgotten about things as ubiquitous as pizza.

The realization scared Erakko, until she discovered the positive aspects of the experience. “Who wouldn't want to eat pizza, with its rich tomato sauce, crunchy crust, greasy cheese dripping down your chin for the first time — every time?” she said.

With the first Walk to End Alzheimer's coming soon, Orf encouraged everyone to come to the family-friendly event to visit, share stories and talk with vendors inside the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center. After a 9 a.m. ceremony, the walk will follow clearly-marked routes throughout the Sodalis Nature Preserve. A kid's zone will also be arranged inside with bounce houses and an inflatable obstacle course.

Early registration for the event will take place from 4-6:30 p.m. Sept. 11 at Commerce Bank in the Huck Finn Shopping Center.

Orf said she has received a strong outpouring of support through participants, donors and vendors in the area as she prepares for the first Walk to End Alzheimer's in America's Hometown. “Everybody has been very welcoming,” she said.

For more information about the Walk to End Alzheimer's, visit alz.org/walk or contact Orf at 314-304-3375 or srorf@alz.org.

Trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com