Tony Knight’s Story
There are several reasons I am so passionate about doing something to help improve the quality of life for people living with Dementia, and one reason stands tall above the rest: my cousin Gus Thompson!
Gus has been my best friend for 59 years. We were next door neighbours in South Africa and did everything together: we played in our backyards, cycled our bikes to kindergarten and junior high school, and took the train to high school together.
We were inseparable.
Our paths diverged after high school with Gus going to the University of Cape Town to study law, and I to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to study Dentistry.
Even though we were a thousand miles apart we visited each other often. After university, we both got married, Gus moved back to Cape Town and I immigrated to Canada. Despite the distance, we remained close and saw each other regularly.
Gus was diagnosed with dementia in 2011. I did not really understand what this meant or believe it until my family and I visited Gus and his family in 2012: I was shocked to see Gus’s memory ‘going’. I asked myself how it could be possible that this fit, young, active, and well-educated man with a sharp brain and a really bad sense of humour, have dementia? “No, not Gus” I said to myself.
Now that it has been a few years later and “the writing is on the wall” we actually have fun with it and Gus makes constant jokes about his memory.
The surreal thing in all this is that Gus’s long-term memory is acute: he can recall all the naughty things that we did together, as youngsters and enjoys retelling these stories to my wife, Ariën.
As we go through this journey together, it becomes apparent that we are going to need help: Gigi, Gus’s wife, is going to need help, as is Gus. We all are going to need help. For the time being Gus is living at home and Gigi is able to look after him. She is a wonderful caregiver, and like Gus, has a really bad sense of humour: they laugh a lot and this, I believe, has been one of the things that is helping them. Gus is able to walk their dog daily, and is monitored with a GPS to make sure that he doesn’t get lost. He takes the same path every day and “so far so good”! So where am I going with this story? Well, it’s interesting how it often takes several things to line up to make something happen.
The Rotary Club that I belong to in Calgary – half a world away from Gus – was wanting to come up with a local community project. We wanted a project that could become a legacy: a project that would show others that “this is what we do at Calgary West”.
We went in search of ideas and projects, speaking to many people and brainstorming with other Rotary clubs in the city. The further we delved into this, the more connections I made between what I was hearing and Gus’s story and I realized that there is a growing need for seniors care in our city.
We toured Calgary looking at many of the existing facilities and meeting people that were involved in senior’s care. We came together as Rotarians and quickly realized that in order to make a difference in this field, we needed to partner with an expert, and the right expert for this partnership was Bethany Care Centre.
In 2015 Bethany Care was well underway with their plans to build a Dementia Care Village in southeast Calgary. The timing was perfect. We approached them at this time and asked it Rotary could, in some way, donate funds to add to this facility. They came back with a brilliant idea – an Atrium - a magnificent 3,000 square foot glass covered garden in the heart of the new Bethany Riverview facility.
The Atrium is going to be a light-filled, seasonally landscaped space that will serve as a year round recreational and gathering place where residents, family and friends can spend quality time together – and I can’t wait to be in there, volunteering.
It takes happy, well-educated and passionate people to really care for patients. I know this because I ran a dental clinic for forty years and over this time it became clear to me that the most important people in any organization are the staff. I want to work with staff that love coming to work, that love their fellow co-workers and that love caring for others.
The staff at Bethany are the right people for the job and this is no mean feat - all the care givers at Riverview have a tough task ahead of them – to care for the residents living with dementia. I believe that “The Atrium” will further enhance their work environment, as well as provide a safe place for the residents.
Construction started in early July 2016. The concrete structure is going up quickly and Riverview is starting to take shape. This is truly a dream coming true and I cannot wait to visit when construction is completed in late 2018.
Rotary and Bethany Care are building an extremely strong and binding partnership in our quest to serve seniors and those living with Dementia, and in some small way, I believe I am serving the man who was the catalyst for all of this: my dear friend Gus.