FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — There is little doubt that heroes enter our lives daily — the firefighter that runs into the burning building, the police officer who chases down the criminal.
But sometimes the strongest heroes are the familiar faces that provide day-to-day support that serves as a constant light during the dark days of a loved one's illness.
David Howard of Fremont is one such hero to his wife, Patricia.
The Fremont Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/18N2SWC ) the Howards have lived in Fremont since 1963. The couple was married in Wayne, Pat's hometown, in 1959. David worked at newspapers in Creighton and Madison before coming to work at the Fremont Tribune as a linotype operator and ad composer. After about a year at the Tribune he went to work for a printing company in downtown Fremont, and in 1981 became part owner of Nebraska Printing and Litho.
In 1987 David Howard was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and over the course of 25 years the disease progressively affected his mobility. He uses a walker for balance, everything he does is one-handed because he has to hold onto something. Howard's immobility is limited to his right side, however he's right handed.
Beginning in 2007, Howard and his sons, Tim and Bill, noticed Patricia was beginning to have memory problems. She was taken to the University of Nebraska Medical Center where the family learned she had dementia, but not Alzheimer's.
Lora Howard, David Howard's daughter-in-law, said the family had to learn about dementia in those first five years.
"It's a lot like you start living with someone who is less and less able to interact with you," she said. "It takes the person away completely — you sort of have to say goodbye to the way your loved one was and just help them as best you can."
Despite his challenges with MS, David Howard took care of his wife of more than 50 years — cooking and cleaning. But in the last six months her condition took a dramatic turn downward, and Howard became less and less able to care for his wife at home. Howard's biggest fear was that Patricia would wander off, and because of his difficulty with mobility, she could get hurt or lost.
The family made the decision to move Patricia to Providence Place, an assisted living memory care unit in Fremont. David Howard said it has been a good move, he is able to stay with her at night and get her ready for bed, and get her up in the morning just as he would at home.
Although he is able to care for his wife just as he would at home, Howard said Patricia's cognitive ability and reasoning has progressively deteriorated, creating further challenges. Patricia tends to repeat herself and conversation is more difficult.
"The patience part is probably the hardest," he said. "Even now there's times where you just kind of have to swallow hard and go on."
Still, Howard is at the facility every night and every morning at the side of his wife.
Lora Howard said through it all she has yet to hear her father-in-law complain.
"You sort of have to put all the other things in your life on hold — what you thought life was going to be like. He's never complained about how life turned out," she said "You have to be pretty strong in order to deal with that."
David Howard said he's seen dementia change his wife completely over a short period of time. Prior to the illness she was a veracious reader, finishing two books a week. Now she doesn't read, not because she can't understand the words, but because it is difficult to remember the last sentence she read.
Despite the changes, and knowing that his wife is in a safe place, Howard said he still prefers to spend the night with Patricia, even though it's not at home.
"I'm not sure she knows what home is anymore," he said. "I can't think of not (staying with her,) to me it's the natural thing to do. It's everything. I feel bad when I can't be there. You have a little bit of a guilty feeling if you're not there."
Howard said he finds his strength in his faith and family. Through that he finds the ability to cope with the changes that have come with his wife's dementia, and those still to come.
"There will come a time if it continues to progress, which I'm sure it will, that she won't recognize anybody or probably me either," he said. "And then if she doesn't recognize me I probably won't be sleeping out there because it'll be a scary situation for her — a foreign person in her room. But you take everything one day at a time and wait and see what happens."
Information from: Fremont Tribune, http://www.fremontneb.com