Family turns tragedy into catalyst for helping others

The Omaha Half Marathon was a challenge in more ways than one for Brian ‘Bluey’ McClennan, centre, with sons Daniel, left, and Regan, right.

Since the death of Mike McClennan two months ago, his family has taken part in a walk for charity, raising almost $7000 for Dementia Auckland, and Mike’s granddaughter, Katie, has been appointed to a new role as the organisation’s first Youth Ambassador.

Mike – a 75-year-old former Kiwi league player, who had severe dementia – escaped from Milton Court Resthome in Orewa and after a massive manhunt, was found deceased in dense bush, a week later (HM November 6).

His son Brian (Bluey), also a former league player, and coach, says that the close-knit family wants to find ways to prevent something like this happening to other dementia patients and their families.

On December 1, they began by taking part in the Omaha Half Marathon to raise money for Dementia Auckland – donations on their Everyday Hero Walk for Da page so far come to almost $7000.

Bluey, his wife Julie and Mike’s three grandchildren Regan, 19 and twins Daniel and Katie, 17, all took part with Katie and Julie doing the 10km and the others the 21km.

It was the first time the three teenagers had done an event like this and Katie says her Da (Mike) would have been impressed. Daniel proved to be a natural runner, outpacing his older brother and father and completing the run in 1hr50m – 16 minutes ahead of Regan and 26 minutes ahead of Bluey.

“I struggled, to be honest,” Bluey says. “But doing it together was what was important. Although we were physically beat up, we felt good mentally that we had done something together to raise money to help other families.”

Bluey also used the family’s strong connections in rugby league to bring some key pieces – including a Tongan national league team jersey – to an online auction called Still Me that Dementia Auckland is running (see below).

Meanwhile, Katie has been recruited by Dementia Auckland. Dementia is associated with older people, but Dementia Auckland’s marketing and fundraising general manager Lisa Burns says having a teenage ambassador will enable the organisation to reach people in new and innovative ways.

“We are very excited about collaborating with the McClennan family, and having Katie as our first ever Youth Ambassador,” Lisa says. “Dementia doesn’t carry the same stigma for people in Katie’s age group as it does for older people. What was obvious from what happened to Mike was how forthright and honest Katie was in seeking help. She had a loving, caring relationship with her Da and came right out and said he has dementia and he will be lost and confused.”

Lisa says one area where Katie can potentially help is with people aged younger than 65 who have ‘young onset’ dementia and therefore different needs to older patients, as well as providing support for teenagers or younger children who may see changes in their relatives and wonder why they are repeating themselves, or getting confused.

Katie may also advocate for Dementia Auckland’s new identity bracelet. The bracelets, launched last month, are engraved with a name and phone number as well as identifying that the person has a cognitive impairment – useful in case they are found by the public when missing.

Bluey says that the way that Mike died has been hard for the family to accept but the projects they are doing to raise funds and awareness is helping as they grieve.

“I am trying to teach the kids that in the end you have to come out of even the toughest things with a positive mindset,” he says. “There are so many hurdles in life and you can’t hold onto grief and anger because you have to move on. We haven’t been able to visit the site where dad died as yet, but we are planning to do so and that will be a final farewell.”

Dementia Auckland’s Still Me auction is and closes at 11.30pm on Friday, December 20.

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