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Retired FDNY firefighter on mission to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s, following wife’s early diagnosis

<i>WCBS</i><br/>Retired FDNY firefighter Jeff Ray is in the battle of his life. Despite working at ground zero on 9/11
Retired FDNY firefighter Jeff Ray is in the battle of his life. Despite working at ground zero on 9/11

By Jennifer McLogan

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    DEER PARK, New York (WCBS) — A retired New York City firefighter is in the battle of his life. Despite working at ground zero on 9/11, he says nothing prepared him for the personal tragedy of Alzheimer’s.

His wife was diagnosed at an early age and he recently told CBS2 he wants to raise awareness about emotional and financial hardships of the disease, which can break families apart.

“I went to the Home Depot. I got purple paint, which is the color for Alzheimer’s, and I said I’m going to put this up there,” Jeff Ray said.

From airplanes above, which often fly over their Deer Park home, Ray is hoping someone looking down will be inspired.

“I was just so frustrated with the disease. I had to do something,” Ray said.

Jeff’s wife, Bonnie, who is 58, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. She had been a math whiz and a baker.

“If anybody needed a cake for the school, the church, a charity, she would be there,” Ray said.

They are the proud parents of three sons, who initially began noticing their mother’s forgetfulness. Now, she barely walks or speaks.

Ray said he is worried for Alzheimer’s families broken by the financial hardship of unaffordable future full-time care facilities.

“I went out and did a tour of about 12 of them, and they are starting at $7,200 a month,” Ray said.

There are less costly alternatives.

“Here, for the adult day program, we are the step before that. So we try to lengthen the stay in their own home,” said Jeraldine Fedoriw Gurwin, chief adult day care officer for Gurwin Rehab in Commack, which offers daytime Alzheimer’s supervision and social activities.

The Ray family is pushing a worldwide effort to find better ways to treat Alzheimer’s, delay its onset, and even prevent it from developing.

“We educate, open the eyes and hearts of America,” Ray said.

Alzheimer’s patient numbers will swell to 7 million in America next year, with ages dropping into the 40s.

“It’s extremely difficult because your loss of love, the response, the hug, the hello, the kiss, the tenderness of getting an opinion back, and there’s emptiness,” Ray said.

Ray said he is searching for like-minded people to help him on his mission. He’s hoping a student-doctor might fly over his home and be inspired to switch from orthopedics to neurology.

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