OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – “Our relationship kind of started with a humorous first date,” Herb Magley said.
And it never stopped.
“It just kind of evolved into our life that we tried to laugh a lot and look at the lighter side of life.”
Herb and Gail Magley later married and had three children, two boys and a girl, who are now grown.
In 2004, the couple moved to Oklahoma for Herb’s job in the oil and gas industry. Gail began working in the Crooked Oak School District as a speech pathologist.
“She came home after the first year and said, ‘I’m not going to sign my contract for next year.’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ And she said, ‘I can’t do the paperwork anymore.'”
As summer progressed so did Gail’s symptoms. The couple did not know at the time what was wrong. Two years and multiple doctor visits later – a diagnosis – Alzheimer’s. Gail was only 54 years old.
“The way they diagnosed it back then was you would go through all of the things with symptoms that mimic Alzheimer’s like untreated Lyme disease, untreated HIV Aids, brain infection. It was just once a month we went in for the tests, and at the end of that year he did a PET scan which was brand new at that time, and he said, ‘We can see the damage in the brain, and it’s consistent with Alzheimer’s,’” Herb said. “Unfortunately, it was kind of like that was the end of the process at that point in time. They did not refer us on to the Alzheimer’s Association, and they just said, ‘We’ve done everything we can. That’s it.'”
Now what? Herb stumbled upon an Alzheimer’s Association support group.
“That support group became our new set of friends and still are to this day,” he said.
At first, Gail was reluctant to join.
“It was about the fifth or sixth time we went when all of a sudden it just clicked with her,” Herb said. “Every day it was like ‘Tonight?’ That was the one word I’d get. ‘No, it’s not tonight, honey.’”
As the disease took hold, Gail clung tighter to the people who understood her most – her loving husband and now a family of supporters.
“She was one of those two or three percent. It hits the left side of their brain and they can’t talk,” Herb said. “She could be sitting here listening to you and I and understand everything and would not be able to respond to it. We went through about nine years of this disease with her just pointing or maybe saying one word.”
But support is not only important for the person suffering with ALZ, it is just as important to those who care for them. One out of every three ALZ caretakers dies before the person they are taking care of because of stress.
“The stress is watching this disease take little bits and pieces of your loved one every day. Every month it is a different person.”
But there is one thing that did not change.
“As she got further into the disease, the funnier I got,” Herb said. “Not by my standards, but she’d just laugh a lot. It didn’t take as much to make her laugh.”
Gail’s last years were spent doing what has kept the couple together since their very first date. Gail passed away in 2015. Since then, Herb continued the fight against Alzheimer’s in her honor, fundraising and traveling around the country speaking to support groups.
“I decided I was going to dedicate what life I have left to helping those, particularly caregivers, get through this disease.”
Herb is now teaching others how to navigate an incredibly heavy diagnosis. Sometimes humor can lighten the load, and in a way, he is still making Gail smile.
“If I could get her to laugh, the sun would shine,” he said. “For just that brief moment, everything was ok again.”