Maureen Reagan, the outspoken presidential daughter who crusaded for Alzheimer's disease awareness after her beloved father fell ill, died Wednesday after a 5-year battle with cancer. She was 60.
Ms. Reagan, the oldest child from Ronald Reagan's first marriage to actress Jane Wyman, died peacefully at her Sacramento-area home, husband Dennis C. Revell said. After being diagnosed with melanoma in 1996, cancer spread to her hip and her brain and she'd spent much of the last 8 months hospitalized for chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
When her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1994, Maureen Reagan became a passionate advocate for the Alzheimer's Association, campaigning for funding, research, and public awareness.
Maureen Reagan's crusade carried her from her father's home to Capitol Hill. She was involved in his daily life and decisions about his care, but she was also a public advocate, repeatedly asking Congress to dedicate $100 million to Alzheimer's research.
In a Newsweek article published in January 2000, Reagan wrote about her father's struggle: "You start with a 600-acre ranch and wind up in the den." She wrote about her "click of awareness"--when she first knew her father was slipping. In this same article, she made an important analogy: We start testing for all sorts of diseases around 40--breast cancer, prostate cancer--but not Alzheimer's. Why not?
Maureen said that her father had always been her hero, but never more so than when he wrote his final letter to the American people. "He made it all right to talk about the disease."
She talks about the different "legs" of Alzheimer's research:
- Pharmaceutical research.
- NIH research into various potential preventive measures (vitamin E, gingko biloba, estrogen, ibuprofen).
- Alzheimer's Association support research.
One study she mentioned was a study of genetically engineered mice, which she hoped might lead to a vaccine.
Maureens Alzheimer's wish list:
- Money for clinical trials.
- Research into biological markers and reliable tests.
- Defining the epidemiology in populations according to gender, age, and race.
She often expressed publicly her admiration for Alzheimer's caregivers, in general, and Nancy Reagan in particular. When asked the most important lesson she's learned, Reagan said, "That we are not alone." This, according to her, was the most important message of the Alzheimer's Association.
Reagan was particularly proud that her father had set aside money in 1983 for Alzheimer's research, calling attention to what was then a virtually unknown disease. In a 1983 proclamation, he said, "The emotional, financial, and social consequences of Alzheimer's disease are so devastating that it deserves special attention."
She became a national spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Association after her father announced in 1994 that he had the disease and was bginning "the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life."
Ms. Reagan traveled the nation to spread the word about Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers. She testified before Congress to get more funds for Alzheimer's research and family support.
"Maureen has been one of the Alzheimer's Association's most effective and passionate spokespeople," said Orien Reid, the association's board chairwoman. "She seemed to be driven by her love and devotion to her father."
Along with Alzheimer's disease, she was dedicated to raising public awareness of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, and promoting the importance of skin examinations.
Last fall, it was discovered that her disease had spread and she underwent a new round of chemotherapy and other treatments. But she was stricken with mild seizures on the Fourth of July, and tests showed the cancer had spread to her brain. She received radiation treatment and was released from the hospital July 23.
The Alzheimer's Association 919 North Michigan Ave. Chicago, ILL. 60611 1-800-272-3900 Maureen Reagan Tribute Fund www.alz.org
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919 North Michigan Ave.
Chicago, ILL. 60611
Maureen Reagan Tribute Fund