Diagnosis alters doctor’s path, but not his passion for helping

Dr. Dewayne Nash, diagnosed five years ago, has become a major voice for Alzheimer’s research while also serving the Liberty Hill area as a volunteer with Meals and Wheels and Habitat for Humanity. (Dana Delgado Photo)

Dr. Dewayne Nash, diagnosed five years ago, has become a major voice for Alzheimer’s research while also serving the Liberty Hill area as a volunteer with Meals and Wheels and Habitat for Humanity. (Dana Delgado Photo)

By Dana Delgado

When Dr. Dewayne Nash was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago, he promptly closed his family practice.

He had been seeing patients for 25 years, the last 10 years at Austin Regional Clinic in Cedar Park. First attracted to the medical field while in middle school, the native of rural Arkansas completely committed to the idea of becoming a doctor in high school when he worked at a local hospital as a medical assistant.

So, the decision was not easy but he knew what lay ahead. Alzheimer’s had already claimed his mother and younger brother a few years earlier and there were several cases among his extended family including aunts and uncles. Six months ago, his older brother was diagnosed.

Knowing his family history, Dr. Nash had volunteered for various research studies prior to his own diagnosis in hopes of learning more about the disease and to reassure himself of his own health and well-being. One study, eight years ago, cleared him completely. But a second study three years later, which he felt would be the same, revealed otherwise as he struggled with the memory test in which he was to be a normal subject.

“I knew there was a problem,” he said. “I remember feeling cold but sweaty as I was unable to answer the questions. I knew that my moment had arrived. My wife was with me that day and I discussed what it meant as we drove home that day from Dallas.”

After visiting with a neurologist and getting the diagnosis Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), Dr. Nash notified his two sons and moved quickly to close his practice out of concern for his patients.

“The precursor is short-term memory loss and I didn’t want to take that chance with my patients because as doctors we rely so much on our memories,” he said. “A chart can only tell you so much.”

Dr. Nash said he feels he has improved with medication, but added that it only slows down the effects.

“The short-term memory loss I have is so early and subtle that it doesn’t interfere with what I do every day,” he said.

Dr. Nash said that his memory loss is not readily noticeable, but it does show up when he does the lengthy memory tests each year.

“I do have a gene that increases the possibility of getting Alzheimer’s, but I’ve learned that lifestyle, especially stress, plays a major role,” he said. “I do the things I like to do. I don’t feel angry or sad. My main mission now is to stay healthy and educate people about Alzheimer’s and raise money for research.”

Despite closing his family practice five years ago, Dr. Nash continues to make his rounds. Only this time, instead of seeing his patients at his former Austin office, he is serving his community.

As a resident of nearby Mohamet in rural northeastern Burnet County since 2000, Dr. Nash is championing various causes including Meals on Wheels of Williamson County, Habitat for Humanity also of Williamson County, and the Alzheimer’s Association.

As a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association, Dr. Nash is an advocate and spokesperson for the association and serves on a committee that organizes fundraising walks. Currently, he is assisting in the coordination of five walks in five different cities. As a spokesperson, his presentations are not only informative but personal and powerful.

“I start with my story and talk about my family, research studies, and medication and its effects,” he explained. He said he also emphasizes early identification, a good work-up and provides some preventive measures. Current research information along with resourceful links and a question and answer session conclude his presentation.

In addition, Dr. Nash is also serving on a statewide committee developing what he calls an algorithm for doctors to use with patients with memory loss and writes regularly on his blog (organicgreendoctor.com) about Alzheimer’s, his life, gardening, and his journey.

As a volunteer with Meals on Wheels, he makes his rounds every Friday as he has for the last three years. The organization was of interest to him because his mother had been receiving meals from a program in Arkansas before her passing. Besides receiving sustenance, she was getting meaningful contacts with the individuals delivering the meals.

The immeasurable value of the program struck a personal chord with Dr. Nash so he sought out the organization.

It’s difficult to determine what impacts Dr. Nash more, the weary but thankful faces, faint voices behind restrained doors or those no longer answering their doors.

His 20-mile delivery route meanders throughout the Liberty Hill area and has given him an insight into the region’s infirm, disabled, and downtrodden.

“I forget how much poverty there is everywhere,” he said. “There is a man living in a house that should be condemned and an older lady who is no longer able to take care of herself. It’s sad. Some people need help and don’t ask. Funding cuts hurt, but now Meals on Wheels is looking for new clients.”

Dr. Nash further said drivers donate their gas and vehicles and that the organization is always looking for volunteer drivers.

“It’s my way of giving back,” he said.

As a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, the doctor has done a little bit everything. He said that watching people fulfill their dreams of home ownership is a moving experience for all involved. His focus with this organization has been on landscaping the constructed homes and other selected sites primarily because of his personal interest in organic gardening and native plants.

He has also assisted with school gardens in Round Rock, Leander, Georgetown and San Antonio. Last Saturday, he was coordinating a youth group in landscaping at a church in Andice.

Involved for the last three years, Dr. Nash said he’s lost count of all the houses he’s done, but added that donations for landscaping are always in short supply and readily welcomed.

“I feel I have helped a lot of people,” said Dr. Nash, who has never really stepped away from what he loves best — helping.

For further information on Alzheimer’s, Dr. Nash recommends the Alzheimer’s Association website, www.alz.org, along with the local chapter’s website at www.alz.org/texascapital for locally available assistance. Dr. Nash can be reached via Facebook through his blog.