Protecting her daughters’ generation from Alzheimer’s

By Alex Branch

Heath WebJanet Heath has a deeply personal interest in Alzheimer’s disease.

Her mother suffered from it, as did her grandmother. Heath spent the last 10 years of her mother’s life trying to coordinate high-quality care as the disease took its terrible toll.

That’s why Heath and her husband, Ralph, made a generous gift to UNT Health Science Center and faculty members Sid O’Bryant, PhD, and Janice Knebl, DO, MBA. Heath says she views their work as vital to one day preventing Alzheimer’s and improving care for those who have it.

Dr. O’Bryant, Professor of Pharmacology and Neuroscience, pursues novel ways to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Knebl, Professor of Geriatrics, prepares future health care professionals and caregivers to recognize early-stage cognitive issues and provide innovative, team-based care.

“I support Dr. O’Bryant’s research into the science of Alzheimer’s because I want to protect my daughters’ generation from this disease,” Heath said. “I support Dr. Knebl’s work because she is educating the kind of caregiver that would have made a world of difference to my mother and me.”

Heath’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she was 78. Heath, who lives in Fort Worth, made repeated trips to her parents’ home in Phoenix to help care for her mother.

It was a stressful and tiring experience, and Heath was unhappy with the outside care her mother received.

“We went through various groups of caregivers who would come in the house and check on my mother,” Heath said. “But they weren’t really trained on how to deal with people with dementia. They didn’t do flash cards like I did with her when I visited to stimulate her. They didn’t nurture her.

“Often times they would just plop her down in front of the TV,” she said.

Heath was already familiar with the Health Science Center. One of her two daughters graduated from the UNTHSC Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in 2006. Heath also has participated in aging research.

The gift was made through the Heath Family Foundation at the North Texas Community Foundation. Ralph Health, retired President of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, is a member of the North Texas Community Foundation Board of Directors.

The gift will support Dr. O’Bryant’s efforts to discover ways to detect cognitive loss in people earlier in life and develop personalized medicine models that target specific therapies for specific subsets of people. Dr. O’Bryant also is developing a simple blood test to screen for Alzheimer’s.

The gift will allow Dr. Knebl to fully develop training modules that follow a virtual geriatric patient through experiences in ambulatory care, hospital care, surgical interventions, nursing care and hospice. The programming emphasizes team-based, interprofessional care.

Additionally, the gift will allow the Center for Geriatrics Clinic to provide enhanced and innovative education and support for caregivers.

Both initiatives show enormous potential, Heath said.

“My goal is to help save the next generation from Alzheimer’s,” Heath said. “And to help create the type of caregiver that people with the disease truly need.”


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