Alzheimer's is a debilitating disease that affects between 4.2 and 5.8 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. For Evans resident Laura Suppa, it was a disease she was determined to find out more about after it struck her family more than five years ago.
"I really had no idea what it was," said Laura, who chose to research the disease for her senior project. Four years ago, the 2005 Greenbrier High School graduate participated in the National Alzheimer's Walk at Riverwalk Augusta in memory of her grandmother, Carol Schwenger, who died two years ago and was diagnosed with the dementia-related disease in 1998.
The debilitating effects of the disease and the most recent technological advancements were the focus of Laura's paper. An Alzheimer's walk at her school in February, the product portion of the project, involved more than 90 participants and raised more than $900 for the Alzheimer's Association of Augusta.
"Many of the people I didn't even know," said Laura, the daughter of Patrick and Lisa Suppa. "I just distributed fliers and announced it on the school's morning show. I also went to classrooms and talked about it, and there was an article in the school newspaper."
In addition to the fundraiser, Laura job-shadowed at the local Alzheimer's office.
Greenbrier High School graduate Laura Suppa has done her senior project on Alzheimer's disease. She took part in the 2005 Alzheimer's Walk in memory of her grandmother.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"We have the highest regard of her," said Kimberly Ross-Malson, the administrative assistant at the Central Avenue office. "She is just mature beyond her years."
The money raised through the walk was used to provide a month's worth of supplies for the facility's "caring closet." The closet is stocked with bed sheets, adult diapers and other items that patients need. Laura said it costs an estimated $600 to stock the closet each month. The remaining money raised by Laura was used to purchase literature and books for caregivers.
"It was very exciting and humbling to have a young person take on this disease and then go above and beyond her senior project," said Carrie Valentine, the director of the Augusta regional office. "It thrilled us. Her financial donation was just an added bonus."
"Laura's product portion of the project, which required a minimum of 15 hours of hands-on work, went well beyond the basic expectations," said Amy Herndon, Laura's former English teacher at Greenbrier High.
Included in her research of Alzheimer's was an interview with Dr. Harry Hughes, of Neurological Associates of Augusta.
"I think it's very intriguing and after I had my interview with Dr. Hughes, I found it even more interesting," said Laura, who also is treasurer of the Watson Brown Foundation Junior Board in Thomson, which is granted money each year to restore historical structures in the area. "Our interview lasted for three hours. He's so nice and really good to deal with."
That interview is partly what has sparked Laura's interest in neurology. She will attend Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, where she plans to major in biology, and hopes to become a neurologist.
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