Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

TV's Sarah Travers: my brave father's poignant last gift

Exclusive: Star reveals how Alzheimer's took dad

Sarah Travers with her father Ian, who died three weeks ago
Sarah with father Ian, sister Jennifer and mother Mary.
Sarah Travers at work in the UTV studio

Television presenter Sarah Travers has spoken for the first time about the pain of losing her father to Alzheimer's disease.

The popular broadcaster, whose courageous dad Ian (67) died three weeks ago, revealed that her family donated his brain to science.

Their hope is it will help research into this form of dementia. In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Sarah spoke movingly of how she feels like she is mourning the loss of two fathers, from before and after the illness.

"I feel like I have lost two dads – the funny, handsome, brilliant dad and the vulnerable person who I became very close to." Explaining the decision to donate his brain to medical research, she said: "Dad had early onset Alzheimer's, which is much more aggressive. You just don't get many people donating brains and as my sister is a medic, we understood the need for organs for research. We donated it on dad's behalf."

My hope dad's brain can help cure cruel disease

Sarah spurred on by her father's efforts for Alzheimer's Society

TV presenter Sarah Travers says she feels like she is mourning the loss of two dads – the brilliant, handsome, funny man who was her rock and the tragic vulnerable man she was able to support in his last years.

Talking for the first time about the terrible pain of losing her 67-year-old dad Ian to Alzheimer's just three weeks ago, Sarah revealed that her family has taken the unusual step of donating his brain to science.

"Dad had early onset Alzheimer's, which is much more aggressive. You just don't get many people donating brains and as my sister is a medic, we had a better understanding of the need for organs for research," said Sarah

"We donated it on dad's behalf. He was passionate about carrying a donor card and now at least scientists can put his brain to good use and look at his brain now and hopefully something positive can come out of such a bad situation."

Sarah, who presents The Magazine show for UTV, lives in Portstewart with her husband Stephen Price, a writer and lecturer, and their two children Jack (16) and Evie (10).

She has one sister, Jennifer, who is a consultant haematologist in Glasgow. Sarah said that her dad Ian was well-known across Northern Ireland because of his job as a travelling salesman.

He was only 62 and approaching retirement when he was told he had Alzheimer's.

It took eight months from when the family first suspected all was not well until their growing fears were confirmed with the shattering diagnosis.

Tragically, it was an aggressive form of the disease and almost immediately, Sarah's dad needed round-the-clock care and for five years was nursed by his wife Mary (65).

He spent his last three months in Cornfield Nursing Home in Coleraine, where he died on Friday, October 4.

Cruel

In the early years of his illness he was a supporter of the Alzheimer's Society and his daughter is now determined to continue that good work and do what she can to raise awareness of this very cruel condition.

Sarah said: "It is so hard to get a diagnosis because it doesn't show up in scans.

"When dad was diagnosed it meant he had access to medication, which definitely helped. It buys you a little time.

"Dad did the memory walk for the Alzheimer's Society – he was passionate about giving people hope and showing that there was life after diagnosis.

"There were some quality moments. We became very close as a family and I have some lovely memories of our time."

Sarah said that her dad wanted to do what he could while he was able and now she is determined to continue his good work, with the emphasis on raising awareness of just how common Alzheimer's has become.

She continued: "For me it is all about raising awareness so other people will know that families need help. A lot of people don't know how to be around a person who has Alzheimer's.

"Just to remember that that person is still there somewhere is so important. Dad was a member of his local Lions Club and every Friday his friends from the club came and took him out for coffee and that just the meant the world to him and to my mum, who could have a half hour to herself and enjoy a cup of coffee.

"No two cases are the same. There are people who were diagnosed at the same time as my father and are still doing well and have their independence

"You don't know with this disease how long your journey is going to go on for or how difficult it is going to be.

"Unfortunately for dad it was a very rapid disease.

"Alzheimer's is huge and it's out there. It is the new cancer and there needs to be awareness as it affects so many people."

Sarah said that her dad loved his work and was approaching retirement when he took ill.

Ironically, his family had worried about how he would deal with having to slow down and take it easy when he had to retire, but sadly, he never got the chance.

After his diagnosis he was unable to drive and very quickly needed to have someone with him round-the-clock. For such an independent man it was a devastating blow.

Fearful

Sarah said: "Dad had the gift of the gab. He worked very hard and loved his job.

"In the months before his diagnosis he was struggling with little things. He loved technology and was Mr Gadget – we were always the first to have the latest video recorder or whatever. Suddenly he was struggling to work his mobile phone and computer. "At first we put it down to stress. When he was diagnosed he was devastated. He was very fearful about what it meant and became quite depressed.

"He was very lucky to have a wonderful wife who looked after him the whole time. Mum struggled on her own and a lot of the time he didn't know who she was and that was very hard.

"His communication went very quickly and there were days when he was just extremely puzzled for a long time. It was like life was a big jigsaw puzzle which was all mixed up.

"Up to the end he would have given us little smiles, although they became fewer and fewer, but they just meant the world."

Sarah paid tribute to the carers who came in to her parents' home to help her mum, describing them as angels, and also to the wonderful staff in Cornfield Nursing Home who nursed her dad during the last three months of his life.

Although for his last three weeks the family knew the end was approaching, when it did come it was heartrending for Sarah, sister Jennifer and their mum, Mary.

Sarah said: "We are all heartbroken, and we are all numb, it hasn't really sunk in yet.

"Christmas and all the first anniversaries are going to be very hard.

"I feel like I have lost two dads – the funny, handsome, brilliant dad and the vulnerable person who I became very, very close to in his final years.

"He was my rock and I was able to help him in the end. I'm just glad he is not suffering anymore."

Sarah described the disease which robbed her of her dad as "very, very cruel".

She added: "You get very angry about it. It really does rob you of an important person in your life.

"It is such an unknown. It's sad because you have this person who looks exactly the same as your dad but there is a different person in there.

"My hope is that they eventually find a cure and I hope dad's brain can help in that journey."

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