KEY LARGO WOMAN RAISES THOUSANDS FOR ALZHEIMER’S IN HONOR OF MOTHER

Kim Hamilton and her daughter Katie Bourne hold up a photo album of their loved one, the late Connie Gilson. Gilson passed away from Alzheimer's disease in 2020. KELLIE BUTLER FARRELL/Keys Weekly

It’s been more than two and a half years since Kim Hamilton’s mother passed away, but this Key Largo woman still gets choked up remembering the devastation caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s a horrible, horrible disease,” said Hamilton. “It’s heart-wrenching, when your mother looks at you and says ‘Who’s your mom and who are you?’ 

Hamilton’s mother, Connie Gilson, was 84 years old when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. 

“She wasn’t athletic, but she got out, she enjoyed life. She had friends, she played bingo, she led an active life,” recalled Hamilton of her mother before the degenerative disease struck.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older are living with the disease and that number is continuing to rise. Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. As of now, there is not a cure.

That’s why Hamilton, a retired Key Largo-based U.S. Postal Service employee of 23 years, and her family continue to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. Hamilton will walk at Florida International University on Nov. 19 during the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Joining Hamilton will be her husband, Jimmy, brother Joe, two grandchildren, Jordan and Kayla, and daughter Katie.

They call themselves Team Mammo; the name affectionately given to Gilson by her great grandchildren who were only 10 and 8 when she started to decline.

“It was tough on them going and seeing her while she was sick and not remembering, that was hard on them,” said their mother, Katie Bourne. 

“It’s hard for grownups to understand it, so let alone kids,” added Hamilton.

This will be Hamilton’s ninth walk to end Alzheimer’s; it will be the fifth walk for her daughter Katie.

Since she started walking in 2017, Hamilton has raised well over $3,000 for Alzheimer’s research. Watching a loved one slip away from dementia is a powerless feeling. For Hamilton, walking and raising money for a cure is a way of turning helplessness into effectiveness.

“You feel like you’re actually putting forth the effort to help find the cure,” she said.

During this interview, Hamilton and her daughter Katie peruse through old photo albums, even sharing a chuckle remembering Gilson, their feisty and often unpredictable loved one.

“She never really had a filter,” said Bourne.

“She used to take her dentures out, she didn’t care where she was, and that was when she was well,” laughed Hamilton.

Team Mammo is still looking for sponsors and no amount is too small.

“I just had somebody give me 200 dollars. To me that’s a lot of money, it’s a friend, but a dollar is appreciated,” said Hamilton.

If you’d like to sponsor Team Mammo, just scan the QR code. Donations for the walk will be accepted until the end of December. To learn more about future Walks to End Alzheimer’s you can also head over to alz.org.

“Someday we hope to have a cure,” said Hamilton.

Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.