Graham donation brings game-changing scanner closer to reality.

First comes understanding.

“It would have been so much easier for all of us if we had known what was happening, and had been able to actually see what was going on in my husband’s brain,” says Elizabeth Graham about her husband Tony, 80, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease four years ago.

In the beginning, when the family was confused by Tony’s behavioural changes, it was very difficult to understand why and what was happening to the husband, father and founder of Tony Graham Automotive Group. Once a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s was made — basic tests were employed, such as having Tony indicate a particular time on a clock and identify animals from pictures — the situation didn’t become any easier. “I had never had any experience with this disease before,” says Elizabeth.

The PET/MRI scanner, a relatively new hybrid imaging technology that has been an acquisition priority for The Royal, would have made things a bit easier for the family. It would have led to a speedier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s because of its ability to pick up the telltale plaques and tangles that predict the presence of the disease. It also would have helped the family understand what was physically happening inside Tony’s brain and how these physical changes were contributing to his changed behaviour.

“If I would have been able to take him to be diagnosed or use a machine like this to help diagnose what was happening, it would have cut out a lot of heartbreak,” says Elizabeth.

By combining two separate technologies, the $6.4-million scanner — a key piece of The Royal’s three-year fundraising campaign —researchers have the opportunity to peer inside the living brain, and understand what circuits are functioning well and what circuits aren’t, explains Dr. Zul Merali, president and CEO of the Royal's Institute of Mental Health Research. “By giving us an opportunity to understand the language of the brain, we can discover where something’s gone array, and ultimately come to a much better diagnosis.”

When the Graham family learned about The Royal’s fundraising campaign to bring the $6.4-million machine to Ottawa — it will be the first machine in Canada to be used for probing illnesses of the brain — they didn’t hesitate to jump onboard with a significant donation. Elizabeth personally donated $500,000, an amount that was matched by the family business with daughter Maureen, vice-president of Tony Graham Automotive Group at the helm.

As Elizabeth sees it, the donation is a way to pay it forward, “we wouldn’t have been able to do this if the community had not been so good to us,” explains Elizabeth.

And if the donation can bring the machine to Ottawa even faster, that’s good news for others who will be touched by this disease. Daughter Maureen says: “Guaranteed, everybody will be touched either by Alzheimer’s or depression. Because we have an aging population, Alzheimer’s is going to become more and more prevalent. It’s important that we have this piece of equipment here in Canada’s capital.”

The $1-million donation injects hope in The Royal’s campaign to acquire the scanner in the near future . “Understanding, diagnosis, treatment … thanks to the Graham’s generosity, we’re that much closer to shedding light on diseases of the brain like Alzheimer’s – and in doing so, making a substantial and positive difference in the lives of others” acknowledged Andree Steel, President and CEO of The Royal’s Foundation for Mental Health.

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