CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was a game of sorts. Charlotte banker Steve Brady and his wife Kathryn would plan elaborate vacations without telling the other where the two love birds would end up. The goal, Steve says as he smiles, was to keep the secret as long as possible.
No easy task being married to Kathryn.
"One year, she planned, and we went to Hawaii. She got me to San Francisco and we had a slight layover. She had me off the plane, ran me all over the airport, I'm trying to figure out where were going, then finally we got on the plane and once we got on the plane, I knew where we were going," Brady said with a warm laugh.
Another vacation flew the couple to Miami. Kathryn was sure it was a cruise. Steve was determined to not give up the surprise so easy.
"The cruise line was standing there as you got off the airplane. Here we are, and I just blew right by them. On our way while flying, she kept telling me, 'We're going on a cruise, we're going on a cruise.' And I said to her, 'I don't know if we are!' So we went up a little bit and waited, and then we came back," Steve says with a grin. He adds, "We did that for years."
Planning events with many details came easy for Kathryn. College educated, Kathryn pursued a career as a computer programmer for one of Charlotte's largest banks. "She was a very detailed oriented type person. She was very organized," Brady said.
During the 1980s and 90s there were a lot of long weeks, and out-of-town travel days. Soon Kathryn would move into Human Resources and prove herself a leader. After taking a few years away from work to be there for her children, she was convinced by friends to go back into the work force. This time not for a bank, but a utility company. Kathryn was in charge of implementing HR protocols.
It was about that time that her husband Steve started noticing changes.
"It started before we really realized. I would notice she would ask me a question, and I would answer it. Maybe five minutes later, she asked me the exact same question, and I would answer it again, and a few minutes later she might ask one more time." He adds, "That started becoming more prevalent over time."
Eventually, the forgetting was getting more frequent, the woman once confident with hundreds of details, and organization, was suddenly having doubts and anxiety over work.
Steve said with concern, "All at once she started fretting about going to work and questioning whether she could do it. Her company was getting ready to implement a new benefits-type system. Her role was to create all of the test scripts. She did that for years with no problems," Brady said.
It was a phone call to Steve, from one of Kathryn's friends from work that would change everything.
"One of the people there called me one day. It was one of Kathryn's closest friends. She said, 'Have you noticed anything wrong about Kathryn?' I said, 'what do you mean?'
She said, 'Well, Kathryn's the one when we have these things... is the one comprehending it all. Guiding us. She's the person teaching the class, and 30 minutes later she was asking what was said,'" Steve recalls.
"The lady said, 'Something is wrong. This isn't her.'" Steve recalls.
Steve and Kathryn soon saw a neurologist, and after a series of tests, it was determined that Kathryn, at only 54 years old, had Alzheimer's disease.
"That was the conclusion." Brady said.
Steve was relieved it wasn't a brain tumor.
"We were surprised, I wasn't counting on that. You're upset about it but on the other hand, you're with the person and she's functioning well," Brady said.
Kathryn knew the prognosis, and in Steve's words, "moved on."
"She's aware that she's changing, how she's changing." Brady said.
One of the ways she moved on was to volunteer at "The Ivey." The Ivey is memory wellness day center that cares for families dealing with dementia. Kathryn knew that at some point she, herself would be cared for here.
The premiere of the motion picture "Still Alice" in Charlotte Friday will be a chance, Steve hopes, for other families dealing with Alzheimer's to see they are not alone. Steve sees the film as a way to bring awareness to a disease not enough people know about.
"It can only be beneficial to let people know what families are going through," Brady said.
The star of the movie, Julianne Moore, is nominated for an Academy Award. Moore won a Golden Globe for her performance earlier this year.
Based on a novel with the same title, it is the story of a successful professor, wife, and mother, who receives a devastating diagnosis. Alice, and her family then must deal with the aftermath.
"It's going to take things like Hollywood to bring attention to this disease, and to bring attention, and to take our heads out of the sand to embrace it," said Lynn Ivey.
Ivey is the founder of The Ivey. She, herself, lost her mother to memory loss and sees the film as a way to shed light into a dark time for many dealing with Alzheimer's.
Kathryn is in a class down the hall from where Steve and Lynn are speaking Thursday. She is with other "members" participating in therapies designed to help keep skills they can use at home.
Kathryn comes two days a week. On Fridays, Kathryn has lunch with lifelong friends.
"I love hearing that her friends are still around her and that she goes to lunch with her coworkers. Because I've seen so often that friends don't know what to do or to say and they shy away, and all of a sudden the patient becomes a bit isolated," Ivey said.
The Ivey is giving away tickets to "Still Alice" for anyone who comes by. Also included is the novel the movie is based on. The Ivey is located in the SouthPark Area at 6030 Park South Drive, Charlotte, N.C. 28210. The Ivey's website is www.theivey.com.
It has been three years now since the diagnosis, and like every Alzheimer's patient, the memory loss is worse, and everyday tasks are becoming more difficult, however Kathryn feels safe, and is happy.
For Steve, it means the world to know his wife is being taken care of, and others might receive comfort from their story.
"The more people can be aware of Alzheimer's, and how it affects people is the main thing," Brady said.