Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

June 18, 2012

What happens when one half of a happy couple becomes ill?

The next chapter

By Brenda L. Holmes

AVON — John and Nancy Munn met when they were in the first grade together in Avon. They’ve been life-long friends, husband and wife, partners, parents, and so much more.

“It really was truly a fairytale,” John said. “We were childhood friends and had our first date our freshman year. It didn’t work out that first time but we tried it again our sophomore year. I asked her to go with me as an escort to the athletic banquet.”

It was during their junior year at Avon High School that the couple started “going steady” and they’ve together since.

After graduation, John entered the military and served as a helicopter mechanic. Nancy attended Indiana University Dental School, graduating as a dental hygienist. They were married Feb. 14, 1965.

“My first real job was at Lake Central Airlines and eventually U.S. Airways,” John said. “Nancy worked for Dr. Leon Turner in Plainfield for 22 years. After he retired, she worked for Dr. Robert Hindman in Speedway for the last 16 or 17 years.”

John later attended college and went into the banking industry. He worked more than eight years for First National Bank of Danville and then spent more than six years with First National Bank and Trust of Plainfield. He returned to First National in Danville, becoming president in 1983. The bank eventually merged with Huntington Bank of Indiana and for the past several  years John has served as a consultant in the banking industry.

John said he grew up attending Faith Baptist Church in Avon but switched to Bartlett Chapel United Methodist Church once he got married.

“Nancy grew up at Bartlett Chapel,” he said. “I’m still a Baptist, but attend Bartlett since the marriage.”

The Munns have a daughter, Molly Hensley; a son-in-law, Darrell Hensley; and a 10 year old grandson, Jack Hensley.

“They all attended Avon schools as well,” John said. “They were also high school sweethearts.”

Nancy’s maiden name is McClain. Her father Adrian McClain died of Alzheimer’s disease.

“She also had a cousin, Dan McClain, that had Parkinson’s,” John added.

About four and a half years ago Nancy started having difficulty finding the proper words for what she wanted to say.

“We realized it was out of the ordinary and we went to a neurologist for an MRI,” John explained. “She has Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), which is a rare disease. It starts off low in the parietal lobe and affects the language skills and the translation of speech.”

Nancy still tries to communicate verbally, but can’t make the connection from what she’s trying to say to the words that come out.

PPA is a sister disease to Alzheimer’s, but normally has an earlier onset. It usually hits people in their mid 40s or 50s.

“Nancy is 69,” John said. “The disease has been progressing very, very quickly. She is still so loving, positive, and nice.”

The progress of the PPA has changed the couple’s lives, but they are working together to deal with it.

“It evolves,” John said. “I took over laundry for many different reasons. And food preparation. I do all of that. She gets lost in the process and it’s just safer and easier for me to do it.”

One of the daily chores the couple enjoy together is getting Nancy ready for her day.

“I help her bathe,” John said. “She can get in the shower but loses her place. So I do things like give her the shampoo and body wash. She can do her make up. It really is the sweetest time of our day.”

He said these times together are not a chore, but rather a time for them to have one on one time.

“Oh, and I do her hair,” he said. “I think I do a good job.”

He said helping select her clothing for the day was a difficult change for Nancy.

“I got a little push back from that, but she would choose winter clothes when it was warm,” he said. “She seems OK with it now.”

John took his new role as caregiver very seriously. He wanted their time together to remain happy and for Nancy to be as happy as she could be.

“I started doing a lot of research and attend a major workshop every year,” John said. “The caregiver workshops help you understand the disease and become a better caregiver.”

During his recent education on being a caregiver, John became involved in the Caregiver Workshops sponsored by the Hendricks County Senior Center in Danville. He has since gone from asking for help to offering it to others. He will soon be bringing his own experiences to the group in a series of workshops that he’ll present.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series on John Munn, who has become the caregiver for his wife, Nancy. The second story will focus on his care plan and how it works. The final article will focus on tips to being a better caregiver.