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Heroes

Her husband's disease isn't covered by the VA. So she's sharing his story.

Alzheimer's disease can be brutal. Here's how one woman says we can help.

“Everybody has to die, but I wanted to die after the kids grow up," Jim Garner says in a video from 2013.

That video, posted to the Daily Press website, was recorded three years after Jim was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. In the two years since, Jim's condition has continued to deteriorate, and he's lost the ability to speak or write.


The Garner family, Mother's Day 2015. All photos from Karen Garner, used with permission.

A 23-year veteran of the Air Force, Jim and his wife Karen hoped the VA would pay for the care he needs.

"And although Jim is a 23-year Air Force veteran and retiree, he does not qualify for any support from the VA that would pay for the care he needs," Karen wrote in a Facebook post about why her family was not celebrating Veterans Day this year.

Jim and Karen, December 2013.

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides care for Alzheimer's patients — but there are conditions.

Late last week, I spoke with Karen over the phone, and asked why the VA refused care for her husband.

After all, the VA website has this to say about Alzheimer's care:

"Care for Veterans with Alzheimer's or dementia is provided throughout the full range of VA health care services. Depending on the Veteran's needs, services may include home based primary care, homemaker and home health aide, respite, adult day health care, outpatient clinic, inpatient hospital, nursing home, or hospice care. Caregiver support is an essential part of all of these services."

Jim on his 50th birthday.

According to Karen, Jim was denied assistance because his diagnosis came after he retired in 2005.

Because Alzheimer's runs in Jim's family, it wasn't considered a service-related disease. And because Jim's diagnosis came after he'd retired in 2005 — and because their household income exceeded the threshold to receive assistance — Karen and Jim are on their own.

"When Jim and I got married 18 years ago, I envisioned a life of travel, raising our children, and eventually growing old together. Jim is the one growing old, right before my eyes, seemingly aging years in days."

And while that income threshold might make sense for someone without a family to care for, Jim and Karen have two children. Jim's care costs around $4,000 per month. He is no longer able to work, and Karen is in the uncomfortable position of trying to financially support their family and care for her husband at the same time. In a blog post from July 2015, Karen details her experience battling what she calls a "broken system."

The Garner family, December 2014.

Upworthy reached out to the VA for clarification on these requirements but have not heard back.

Karen is tired of fighting the VA, but she refuses to give up — for Jim or anyone else.

She wants to help others with Alzheimer's. It's why she's such an outspoken advocate for Alzheimer's care, having spoken to legislators, conferences, and the media about raising awareness and pushing for additional research around the disease.

Karen and Jim, 2008.

"When Jim and I got married 18 years ago, I envisioned a life of travel, raising our children, and eventually growing old together. Jim is the one growing old, right before my eyes, seemingly aging years in days. Our future life we dreamed of isn't going to happen," she wrote in her Facebook post on Veterans Day.

"Instead, I have spent our last few years fighting — fighting to get a diagnosis. Fighting to get disability. Fighting for research. Fighting for a cure. Fighting to get financial assistance. Fighting to get quality care from the VA or anyone else who offers it. Fighting to keep my family together and in peace. Fighting to pay for Jim's new home. It has been an exhausting war and I just try to win as many battles as I can while knowing we are far from being done."

Karen and Jim, 1998.

Stigma keeps a lot of people from opening up about Alzheimer's. Karen wants to change that.

It's part of the reason she's been tracking her family's journey at MissingJim.com over the past two and a half years.

"There are so many people who don't speak up about what it's like dealing with Alzheimer's, and I wanted to fight that stigma," she told me. To her, it's important to share her family's stories, even if they are sad.

The Garner family, Christmas Eve 2009.

Karen has four suggestions to change how we treat Alzheimer's patients.

First and foremost, we need to make sure family and caretakers have the resources they need. As mentioned above, Jim's care currently runs around $4,000 per month (nearly $50,000 per year). That's not something most families can realistically come up with.

Second, we need to simplify dealing with insurance companies or government agencies. Karen detailed the hours spent filling out paperwork and applying for assistance. This problem is not unique to Alzheimer's patients. As anyone who's had to navigate the bureaucracy involved with health care can confirm, it can all be discouraging — if not entirely overwhelming.

Third, we need to get serious about funding research. A report from the Alzheimer's Association paints a grim picture for the future of Alzheimer's research. As other diseases such as HIV, stroke, heart disease, breast cancer, and prostate cancer claim fewer lives, Alzheimer's deaths have been on the rise. It's the sixth-leading cause of death in America, and it receives just a fraction of research funding compared to cancer, heart disease, and HIV.

Finally, and this one comes from Jim, himself:

Jim, November 2015.

Let's start with that last one, OK? Let's share the stories of people like Jim and Karen. Let's fight stigma.

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Hold on, Frankie! Mama's coming!

How do you explain motherhood in a nutshell? Thanks to Cait Oakley, who stopped a preying bald eagle from capturing her pet goose as she breastfed her daughter, we have it summed up in one gloriously hilarious TikTok.

The now viral video shows the family’s pet goose, Frankie, frantically squawking as it gets dragged off the porch by a bald eagle—likely another mom taking care of her own kiddos.

Wearing nothing but her husband’s boxers while holding on to her newborn, Willow, Oakley dashes out of the house and successfully comes to Frankie's rescue while yelling “hey, hey hey!”

The video’s caption revealed that the Oakleys had already lost three chickens due to hungry birds of prey, so nothing was going to stop “Mama bear” from protecting “sweet Frankie.” Not even a breastfeeding session.

Oakley told TODAY Parents, “It was just a split second reaction ...There was nowhere to put Willow down at that point.” Sometimes being a mom means feeding your child and saving your pet all at the same time.

As for how she feels about running around topless in her underwear on camera, Oakley declared, “I could have been naked and I’m like, ‘whatever, I’m feeding my baby.’”

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