June 19, 2019

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Mother-daughter duo step up to honour the 'Walking Man'

Best foot forward at annual Alzheimer's fundraiser

Vanessa (left) and Sonja Romans are walking in the annual Alzheimer Society of Manitoba walk in honour of Vanessa's grandpa.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Vanessa (left) and Sonja Romans are walking in the annual Alzheimer Society of Manitoba walk in honour of Vanessa's grandpa.

Before he died in 2015, Lyle Romans walked a lot: from his home in West Kildonan to Garden City and back, 365 days a year.

“It was almost like a job to him,” daughter-in-law Sonja Romans said. “It didn’t matter the weather.”

When his cherished, only grandchild, Vanessa Romans, was looking for a way to honour the memory of her beloved grandpa, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008, the answer was simple.

“He walked everywhere,” Vanessa said.

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Before he died in 2015, Lyle Romans walked a lot: from his home in West Kildonan to Garden City and back, 365 days a year.

"It was almost like a job to him," daughter-in-law Sonja Romans said. "It didn’t matter the weather."

When his cherished, only grandchild, Vanessa Romans, was looking for a way to honour the memory of her beloved grandpa, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008, the answer was simple.

"He walked everywhere," Vanessa said.

"He had a car, but never used it."

On Thursday, she and her mother are taking part in the IG Wealth Management Walk for Alzheimer’s for the second consecutive year.

"What better thing to do in honour of the ‘Walking Man?’" as he was known to neighbours, Sonya said. "He’ll watch us walk — how great will that be?"

The annual walk at Assiniboine Park is the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba’s largest fundraiser. Thousands of walkers raise money to help support programs and services for people with dementia. Last year, walks held all over the province raised more than $330,000.

That includes the $300 or so raised by the mother-daughter duo during their first walk. "This year, we’re shooting for $1,000," Sonja said.

Lyle Romans with granddaughter Vanessa</p>

Lyle Romans with granddaughter Vanessa

In Manitoba, 23,000 people are living with the disease, and that number is expecting to rise to 40,000 by 2038 as the baby boom generation ages.

"The less people that have to go through what my grandpa and my family did, the better," Vanessa said, calling her grandfather a confidant and her best friend.

"He used to move the couch in front of the TV in the living room to make it seem like we were in a movie theatre, and we would watch Inspector Clouseau movies and eat puffy Cheezies all night long."

When dementia got hold of Romans, his family wasn’t aware of supports and services that could have helped them all, she said.

Sonja recalled worrying about her father-in-law, who was small in stature with a big heart, fiercely independent and determined to take his daily walks.

"Sometimes, he didn’t dress for the weather," she said. "We were always scared he would lose his way. We got terribly worried."

One time, the widower left the tap running in the bathtub, flooding the living room below. He spent a night in the garage because he forgot his house key.

"He was not cognizant enough to go to the neighbours and phone somebody for help," Sonja said.

Romans lived on his own for three years after being diagnosed with dementia, before his family could get him to leave. He spent a few months in hospital before moving into Extendicare Tuxedo Villa personal care home.

His granddaughter and her mom visited him regularly, right to the end, at age 81.

"He squeezed her hand before he took his last breath," Sonja recalled. "He knew she was there."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

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