‘Run Outside’: How football is helping one Madison family find joy in battle with Alzheimer’s
MADISON, Wis. — Jes Jaspal immigrated from Punjab, India, to Madison, Wisconsin in 1963. He studied mechanical engineering at UW-Madison, married his wife Renu and had three children. He started his own company called Jaspal Engineering Services. Needless to say, he was living the American dream. He loved his job so much, he was a consultant with his company until he was 75 years old.
Jes loved football — watching Ron Dayne at Camp Randall on Saturdays and cheering on Brett Favre on Sundays.
“My dad would always yell ‘run outside!’ to the running backs and wide receivers,” said oldest daughter Naveena.
Then in 1983, Renu was diagnosed with breast cancer at 34 years old. She died 18 years later, when the cancer spread to her bones, brain and liver.
In 2011, Naveena moved back home from Denver after she felt like something wasn’t quite right with her dad.
“Even when he was driving,” she explained, “I remember he tried to take a left hand turn from not the left lane.”
In December 2011, Jes was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In 2012, doctors said he had Parkinson’s disease too.
“He would forget what he had,” Naveena explained, “If he was meeting friends for lunch, he would ask me to write it on a sheet of paper to say that he had Alzheimer’s disease.”
“He would ask, ‘what’s wrong with me?” she said.
In 2015, Jes lost the ability to walk and talk, entering what doctors call “end stage dementia.” But to Naveena, that didn’t change the fact that he was her dad.
“There are memories that I will keep for the rest of my life,” she said, “Where if I look at him and I say — I love you, dad — like sometimes he’ll struggle to say that he loves me.”
“For everyone out there, I think it’s so important to know that there’s still a person inside. Just because someone has dementia, doesn’t mean that they’re not still there,” Naveena explained.
The family’s season tickets to Badger football games have now been passed down to Naveena, and there is a brick outside Camp Randall in Jes’ honor.
“I think about him sitting next to me, yelling — ‘Run outside!'” she said, “It’s bittersweet for me to be there without him, but at the same time, I know he loved coming to games.”
For more information on how you can help fight the battle against Alzheimer’s disease at this year’s American Family Insurance Championship, head over to ww.birdiesforhealth.org.
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