“I walked into the kitchen one day, about five years ago. My husband and daughter Janine were talking, and they stopped when I came in,” said Pat Bishara.
“Are you talking about me?” Pat asked.
“Well, we were wondering, do you think you’ve been forgetting things lately?” Janine asked.
Janine is the middle daughter and works as a physician assistant.
“So, they’ve noticed it, too,” Pat thought. “After that, I told my doctor I thought I should maybe see a neurologist.”
Receiving a dementia diagnosis
Pat reflects on the day she learned that she was one of an estimated 110,000 Hoosiers living with difficulties with memory that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
“The first thing that came to mind when the neurologist said I had mild cognitive impairment was, ‘I’m going to be forgetting the names of my daughters, husband and my grandchildren,’“ she said.
The diagnosis was life changing, but she has never asked, “Why me?”
“I’ve had so many blessings in my life,” she said. “I have a wonderful husband who has provided more than we ever expected to have. I have three daughters, all married, and 11 grandchildren. They all live in town, and they’re each other’s best friends. We get together all the time, and they practice their faith, which is important to me.”
“And I’m grateful I ended up in this community and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. If I would need anything, ANYTHING,” she stressed, “there are friends here who are ready to help me.”
Around the world and landing in Indiana
A world traveler, Patricia (Pat) Storch was born in 1945 on Long Island, N.Y. Her father, Chester Storch, met and married her Egyptian mother, Barbara Ackaoui, while stationed in Cairo, Egypt, during World War II. Following the war, they returned to his hometown of Bellerose, N.Y., where they had four children. Pat was their firstborn.
“Apparently, I still have a New York accent, people tell me, even though I left there when I was 10,” she said.
In 1955, Pat’s father, then a civil engineer, moved the family to Madrid, Spain, where he worked on the construction of a U.S. airbase. That’s where Pat learned Spanish.
In the summer of 1960 while still in high school, she and her brother traveled from Spain to Egypt to visit their aunts, uncles and cousins in Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo, and Ras el Bar, a small resort town on the Mediterranean Sea. That’s where she met a tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed Egyptian named Rafik Bishara.
At the end of the summer, Pat and Rafik became pen pals, a relationship that continued until their marriage in 1968. In the interim, Rafik immigrated in 1967 from Egypt to Indianapolis and lived with an uncle who worked for Mobil Oil. Rafik quickly landed a job as an analytical chemist at Eli Lilly. Pat also took a job at Lilly, working in the International Division as a bilingual secretary for a doctor from Guatemala.
While working at Lilly, Rafik completed his master’s degree in phytochemistry at Butler University, followed by a doctorate in bio-nucleonics/radiation biology at Purdue University. After 35 years at Lilly, he retired in 2004 as the Director of Quality, Knowledge Management and Technical Support. He remains actively engaged in technical advising of several organizations.
Becoming caregivers for parents with dementia
Among the couple’s shared values was respect for the aged and a commitment to caring for both their parents. After Pat’s parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, the Bisharas were referred to CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions.
A good quality of life with dementia
Following Pat’s diagnosis of cognitive impairment to early onset Alzheimer’s in 2018, she enrolled and was accepted in a Lilly double-blind clinical trial for the drug Donanemab. Pat receives an infusion monthly, but she won’t know until the end of the trial whether she received the drug or a placebo.
The family agrees Pat’s memory has been fairly stable over the past five years. She is fully independent and still able to be a Spanish interpreter when asked. She regularly babysits her youngest grandson. On Thursdays, she delivers Holy Communion to church members in a nursing home who can no longer attend Mass.
Despite the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease, Pat is very open about her diagnosis.
“A lot of people may not want to say anything about it, but I feel differently,” she said. “Dementia is not a normal part of aging; it’s a disease. But you can still have a good quality of life. I prefer to be open and to tell people I have memory issues, just in case I can’t remember their names or forget things I should have remembered.”
Pat is becoming an unofficial expert in sharing her knowledge and trying to help others with a similar condition. In response to a request from the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana chapter, Pat wrote an article, “There is Hope for Those Living with Alzheimer’s Disease,” which was published in the June 7, 2022 edition of Current in Carmel.
She realizes this journey will be harder on her family than on herself, but she is content and finds strength through prayer and faith in her Lord.
Advice for dementia caregivers
Rafik’s advice to caregivers is to learn as much as you can about dementia and the disease process.
“That woman you love, or that man that you love, is not the same. They are struggling, and it is not like when they were younger and healthier, so you need to be patient, understanding and sensitive. Let them know you still care,” he said.
“When this first happened, I told Pat, ‘No matter what, you have been loved, you are loved, and you will be loved. So don’t worry, I’m keeping you!’”
CICOA and the Dementia Friends Indiana program are changing the way people think, talk and act about dementia. Support this movement with a gift today and help Pat and other Hoosiers have a good quality of life with dementia.