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Suman and Vasumati Sabnis - Love Across Continents and Alzheimer's
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It was love at first sight when Suman Sabnis and Vasumati Kulkarni first met in Mumbai in 1957 at the Atomic Energy Commission of India.  Suman was a young chemical engineer who had arrived for a job interview. His future wife, Vasu, was already an employee of the Commission who worked in the library.  That fateful day when their eyes met began a lifetime journey of love, family, and living with all of the challenges that life can bring – including Alzheimer’s disease.

While many marriages in India are arranged by custom, theirs was not.  “Ours was a love marriage” said Suman with a broad smile on his face.  “Dating in India was taboo at that time! It was like playing hide and seek.  Vasu and I met secretly and went somewhere together every weekend.”  Their secret courtship was interrupted briefly when Suman moved to the United States to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering.  Six months later, Vasu arrived in the States to earn a Master’s degree in library science.  On August 13, 1960 the couple was married.

Suman and Vasu lived most of their lives on the East coast, residing in Orange, Connecticut for 26 years.  Vasu led a very active life there.  She worked as a reference librarian in the public library in West Haven while raising their family of three children.  The Sabnis’s retired in 2000, and moved to Milwaukee to be close to their children and grandchildren who all had planted Midwestern roots.  Life was a bit different from what they had become used to in the East, but gradually Suman and Vasu embraced Milwaukee and all it had to offer.

Things changed in 2003.  Vasu underwent a medical procedure that would change their lives forever.  “She had a routine colonoscopy that went badly,” said Suman.  “She experienced a rupture and went through a major operation where she was under anesthesia for five or six hours.  Things were never quite the same.  I saw signs that something was coming.”  The signs became ever present for Suman.  The couple attended water aerobics class together, but Vasu couldn’t put on her swimsuit without Suman’s help.  Travel had always been their passion so for their 50th wedding anniversary, Suman and Vasu traveled back to India.  On the trip, Suman made another discovery.  “For her entire life, Vasu had worn the traditional Sari.  On the trip, I noticed she had forgotten how to wear a Sari,” he said. 

In 2011 Vasu saw a neurologist and went through batteries of diagnostic tests at several facilities.  The diagnosis was confirmed as Alzheimer’s disease.  Suman was thrust into the role of caregiver, a job that he had never quite pictured.  But Vasu was gentle, kind-hearted, and very easy to care for.  The couple connected with the Alzheimer’s Association and began attending an Early-Stage support group immediately.  Suman also became a member of the caregiver support group at Froedtert Hospital.  And then in August of 2013, there was a tragic accident.  Vasu, whose spatial relations had been compromised by her Alzheimer’s, took a very bad fall and suffered a compression fracture.  “What I discovered is that any time you have a trauma, the Alzheimer’s spikes,” said Suman.  “Vasu went downhill fast.  She became wheelchair bound and I had to arrange for in-home hospice.” Suman said his final goodbyes to Vasu on September 30, 2015, after 56 wonderful years of marriage.

 So what does an 81 year old man do when he loses the love of his life?  Suman grieved, of course. But he continued to live his life, staying busy with his family, going to exercise class, and playing bridge at the Four Aces Bridge Club several times a week. He has also remained connected to the Froedtert support group, attending monthly even after Vasu’s death.  Before Vasu’s death, Suman also became a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association.  He is a member of the Milwaukee Walk committee and specializes in “team retention”, taking the responsibility of making hundreds of phone calls to past walkers to thank them for their participation and secure their future support.  In June, during Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness month, he will join the Association during its outreach efforts in the LGBT community at Pride Parade. Suman also arranged for his bridge club to participate in The Longest Day on June 20.  On September 18, he will walk in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Henry Maier Festival Park.   “My whole family comes in and we will walk as Team Vasu,” said Suman.  “You have to be involved to help others and to put an end to this disease.” 

Vasumati Sabnis, the girl who grew up on the western coast of India, will not be forgotten.  “I see that smiling picture every day,” said Suman, referring to one of the many portraits of Vasu hanging on the walls of his condominium.  “All I can say is she’s in a better place.”

Vasu and Suman return to India for their 50th Anniversary

Vasu and her trademark smile


Alzheimer's Association

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