Throughout the hour that I visit with Ingrid Melhourn, her wife Laura Napolitano, and their son Christopher, Laura sits on the couch looking at an old family portrait. Every now and then she says, “Sue, Carol…” Her words are half statement, half question.
Two years ago, at the age of 51, Laura started having trouble completing basic tasks at home and work, and was diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. After spending her life helping others as a sharp minded HIV/AIDS researcher, this was a devastating diagnosis to receive at such a young age.
At the time of her diagnosis, Laura was the breadwinner in the household and happened to be between jobs. This made her ineligible for long-term disability, leaving the family in an extremely vulnerable financial situation.
Ingrid tells me that starting the YouCaring page was a friend’s idea. People kept asking, “What can we do to help?’” A lot of Laura’s friends don’t live in the area so the YouCaring campaign allowed them to help from afar. Their campaign has raised over $18,000 to date.
“What does this support mean to you?” I ask both Ingrid and Laura.
Ingrid reflects, “ The outpouring [of support] through YouCaring is amazing. It’s really cool to see, and [it] has been so helpful.” Laura adds, “I think I am lucky.”
A lot of the money raised through their campaign is allowing Ingrid and Laura to hire a lovely caregiver named Simone, who is sitting in a chair just five feet from Laura during our interview. “She keeps her laughing. She keeps her busy,“ Ingrid shares. “A lot of people with Alzheimer’s are a lot older and not active anymore, so they could go to an adult day care and be OK. But Laura is 53 and still very active so it’s not really an option for us.”
Hearing these words, Laura says, “Who? Simone? I don’t know who you are.” Then she smiles and says, “just teasing.”
As we conclude our interview Christopher puts on the electric piano. The song, “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees plays. Laura gets up and starts to dance and hum along, because as I learn, no matter how many simple things she forgets daily, she never forgets her favorite music.
I leave the family dancing around in their living room, sharing a moment I hope they’ll all remember for as long as possible.
To support Laura, please visit her YouCaring campaign here.