GLOUCESTER COUNTY, Va. — Valentine's Day is a day dedicated to celebrating love, and caregivers know all too well what it means to love someone unconditionally.
Don and Christy Talbott’s love story dates back to 1986 when the two fell in love in the small town of Gloucester.
"Many years ago today, I first laid eyes on the most beautiful maid," Don recited from a poem he wrote for his wife just a few years ago. "Slender, fair and golden hair, I knew at once this would be the one not to share."
It's clear Don loves his wife, and this love is what he tries hardest not to forget.
"I'm the luckiest man on earth because I can love the same woman every day that I'm married," Don explained. "She has to learn to love somebody new every single day.”
In 2006, at just 41 years old, Don was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
"They were saying when he was diagnosed at 41 that he probably wouldn't live four years," said Christy. "And mostly because of how young he was.”
Too young to qualify for clinical trials, Don’s future was grim. But Christy was determined to get her husband help for his disease. In fact, this was a battle she’d fought before.
"Right after we got married, I got really sick," Christy explained.
In 1989, Christy was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at 21 years old.
"There were no drug-altering medications," she noted. "And so that's where I learned to get involved in trials. I actually was put on the very first MS medication called Betaseron by lottery."
Don spent the first years of their marriage advocating and caring for Christy.
"Now the roles are reversed," said Don.
Medication has made Christy’s MS manageable, and when she learned about a Deep Brain Stimulation trial for Alzheimer’s at John Hopkins, she thought that may be her only shot to save her husband.
"We got a phone call, and they were in this big meeting," Christy explained. "They said for the first time ever, we are lowering the age and we will accept Don into the program. It really was like winning $100 million."
Doctors implanted a pacemaker-like device deep into Don’s brain.
“I felt like somebody had turned the lights on," Don tearfully explained.
Now almost 10 years post surgery and 15 years since his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Don has defied the odds.
"Doctors tell, you know, tell us whatever y'all are doing, keep it up, because there's no rhyme or reason he's alive other than y'all are living right," said Christy.
The couple manages to find the good in each day together.
“I've learned to let go of any expectations of him that I might have," Christy said. "If he gets up and gets dressed, it's a successful day."
When Don struggles to form sentences, there are always three words on the tip of his tongue.
"'I love you' is a good stand by a phrase," he laughed.
And Christy has letters from her husband to help her remember their love — a love no illness can take away.
"Hours and hours we sit and talk and never want to give up this walk, together forever, me and her, love," Don read.
The Talbotts encourage caregivers and those with early signs of Alzheimer’s to be their own best advocate. While it may be hard to accept, they said getting a diagnosis early can help work towards slowing the disease and also help with some treatment options.
Even though the couple said they can’t make plans for Valentine’s Day because they never know whether Don will be having a good or bad day with his disease, they love Croaker’s Spot. If all goes well, they hope to share a meal there together Monday night.
Visit alz.org to learn more about the disease and Alzheimer's Association programs in the Greater Richmond area.