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John Melster - Advancing Alzheimer's Research Through Brain Donation
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(left) John Melster, daughter Cathy Bellovary, and Florence Melster

Even after death, John Melster continued to give back.  Those sentiments were expressed by family, friends  and clergy at his celebration of life, and referred to the family’s decision to make the ultimate final gift – a brain donation.  “He always wanted to be an organ donor,” said John’s daughter, Cathy Bellovary.  “About a year before he died, my mom, my brother and I started having our first conversation on this topic.”


John passed away one month short of his 93rd birthday, and for most of his life was at the pinnacle of health.  He never took medication of any kind, was never hospitalized, and didn’t suffer from any of the common maladies that affect many seniors. It wasn’t until he was 86 that the family first suspected something was wrong.  Diagnostic testing revealed probable Alzheimer’s disease.


In her long career as Manager of the Waukesha County Aging & Disability Resource Center, Cathy Bellovary was exposed to a myriad of issues that affected seniors.  Alzheimer’s disease was one of them.  Through her collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Association, Cathy remembered hearing about the Wisconsin Brain Donor Program at the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Madison.  When the family started discussing the idea of brain donation, Cathy knew who to call for additional information.  “I had a wonderful conversation with Tom Hlavacek and Judy Gunkel at the Alzheimer’s Association,” she said.  “They explained the entire process and I was just very impressed with everything I heard.” 


Cathy was told upfront by the brain donor program, that there was no longer any grant money available to pay for the donation.  The $1000 cost for the autopsy, and  the $300 fee to have the funeral home transport her father to Madison,  would be the family’s responsibility.  She presented the information to her mother and brother, and they all agreed that this would be an excellent way for her Dad to continue giving back to mankind.  “The cost factor was not an issue, because we felt it was of paramount importance to find out what was going on in my father’s brain, and how that information might help other people with dementia in the future,” she said. 

According to the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, people with clinically diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease, memory concerns or those who are cognitively healthy are especially important to this type of research as scientists search for answers to what causes or could cure these devastating illnesses.  One brain donor tissue could be used in multiple research opportunities for the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s.   Jay Fruehling, Sr. Research Specialist & Manager, confirms that researchers at the center are currently working on studies  to assess mRNA and protein levels as well as the expression profile of ATase1 and ATase2 in the brain of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease patients and age-matched controls.  ATase1/ATase2 are potential targets to prevent Alzheimer's disease.  Researchers are also involved in identifying genotypes that predict plasma sex steroid concentration, as decreases in these steroids could contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  And of course, they are also working to identify genotypes that associate with Alzheimer's disease.


Donation to the Wisconsin Brain Donor program is completely voluntary and confidential.  Donors have the right to change their minds at any time.  The program reinforces that brain removal does not cause disfigurement, and does not interfere with funeral arrangements or viewing of the loved one. 


To this day, Cathy Bellovary continues to be an advocate for advancing research through brain tissue donation.  “I don’t feel that people know or understand enough about the process of brain donation,” she said.  “We are a society that also doesn’t want to talk about this subject.  It is very important for a family to have those conversations in advance, and make the appropriate plans ahead of time.  In fact, I would be happy to talk to anyone who is considering making a brain donation.  If through sharing my dad’s story, and my family’s positive experiences, I can get just one more family to consider this important donation, I will be extremely happy.”

Individuals who are interested in connecting personally with Cathy Bellovary to discuss brain donation may contact her through the Alzheimer’s Association at contact-sewi@alz.org  Or for more information on brain donation, contact the Wisconsin Brain Donor Program at 608-256-1901, ext. 11767 or email brainbank@medicine.wisc.edu

John Melster was a husband of 72 years to Florence, a father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend to many.  He was a manufacturer’s representative who worked until he was 89.  He was a Wisconsin Senior Olympian who played tennis until age 84 and ping pong until age 90.  He was an active member at St. Matthias Episcopal Church for 62 years.  And he served his beloved Waukesha County community until he was 86, raising funds for Carroll University, serving  on the board of directors of the Parents Place,  delivering Meals on Wheels,  campaigning for United Way, working with the Boy Scouts and acting as Treasurer for the Friends of the Waukesha Public Library.


 

Alzheimer's Association

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