A Korean War veteran who earned two purple hearts, U.S. Sergeant First Class Francisco Muniz, was equally known for his fierce commitment to his family and quick-witted sense of humor. After serving eight years in the U.S. Army, Francisco became a mechanic for big rig diesel trucks as well as a truck driver until he retired in 2000.
“Grandpa was such a tall man,” recalls granddaughter Amy Muniz, project manager for the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce. “And he always claimed to be one of The Three Stooges while joking around with us at home.” Francisco enjoyed speaking nothing but Spanish to Amy and her three sisters. Amy laughs and says that even though they’re a Hispanic family, they primarily speak English, but her grandpa would intentionally speak Spanish rapidly just to tease them.
Sadly, Francisco was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease shortly after retiring in 2000. According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures report, older Hispanic Americans are disproportionately more likely than older whites to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Francisco had become very forgetful, easily confused and frequently losing his keys, so they took him to the doctor who made the official diagnosis. Amy says that her grandfather also had diabetes which made it even more important to make sure he was getting his insulin correctly and eating correctly.
Francisco and his wife Hazel were married for over 53 years. Hazel, Amy’s father, Frank, and other family members shared the responsibilities of caring for Francisco at home until he passed away in May 2007. Amy was 16 years old at the time of his death. “I’ll always remember the distressed look on my father’s face during the final years of my grandfather’s life,” offers Amy. “My sisters and I always consider our dad to be a superhero. It was very hard for me to see my dad making the tough decisions that were in the best interest of his father’s care.”
Amy was not familiar with the Alzheimer’s Association until she went to college. Earning a Psychology degree from Stephen F. Austin State University, provided her with the opportunity to learn more about the disease as well as the Association. She readily admits that her grandpa and family would have benefited from the care and support services that it offers, but that it is important to focus on the future which is another reason why she chose to get involved with the organization. Amy and her father’s passion for running as well as realizing walking was an activity they could do together served as the impetus for the Muniz family’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s team in Houston, Texas initially and now Amy’s team for Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Henderson County.
“The best part of walk day for me is just knowing you’re not alone,” says Amy. “I enjoy seeing the faces on the memory wall.” She believes that Walk day provides a safe haven for those who are struggling with the care of someone who is living with the disease and/or someone they recently lost. She offers that perhaps someone is just looking for another to lend their ear to listen to their story. She continues that each and every story is different and every journey with Alzheimer’s has its own route with its fair share of challenges along the way.
The Muniz family believes that research is one of the most important initiatives of the Alzheimer’s Association, and that additional studies on treatments to delay the progression of the disease, at a minimum, needs to be successfully developed. Amy discusses that from a psychological point of view, Alzheimer’s is an emotional journey for everyone involved. Touching on caregiver health, she suggests that she’d like to see more opportunities for families to check in and make sure that everyone is doing a good job in managing their own mental health. “When my grandpa had Alzheimer’s, my dad only received information [about it] through my grandpa’s doctor. That information was more focused on defining what a ‘good day’ would be like for grandpa.”
Amy believes that the Alzheimer’s Association does a great job of exemplifying the fact that one doesn’t have to experience the journey alone. There’s a huge support team of people who have lived through what others are currently going through. The Walks provide a venue in which advice is offered, and more importantly, it provides a conduit for those who simply need to share their stories in nonjudgmental fashion where everyone is on the same playing field. “I know it was hard for my grandmother after grandpa died,” states Amy. “She lost him twice. First when his memory faded, and then again when he actually passed away.” Amy reiterates that support for her back then would have been helpful.
The Muniz Family Walk Team is looking forward to this year’s Walk in Henderson County on September 24. They have sent their team fundraising goal at $2,000. Amy is actively fundraising through Facebook and Instagram. Her father Frank is a member of a car club who is networking among his club club fellow members, and there’s been some recent discussion of putting together a car show among these members with donations being made in memory of Grandpa Muniz. Additionally, Amy’s sister, who also lives nearby in N.C., and Amy’s fiancé have joined the ranks in supporting the fight to end Alzheimer’s.
“Remember that I love you, and make sure that the family knows that I love them.” These were the final words that Francisco shared with his wife, Hazel, before passing. This sentiment is now returned to him through the passion and perseverance displayed by the Muniz family’s efforts on behalf of all those impacted by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
LIKE AMY & THE MUNIZ FAMILY, WE ALL HAVE A REASON TO FIGHT FOR A WORLD WITHOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Join your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s today as an individual, team, or sponsor.
The Alzheimer’s Association hosts 17 walks across North Carolina. The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Since 1989, the Alzheimer’s Association® mobilized millions of Americans in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk®; now the Alzheimer’s Association is continuing to lead the way with Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Together, we can end Alzheimer’s. Your health and safety are our top priorities. We will continue to closely monitor CDC, state and local guidelines to ensure Walk events adhere to the latest recommendations.
|Unifour (formerly Hickory)||10/29/2022|