February 14, 2018 7:15 pm
Updated: February 14, 2018 8:22 pm

Love-lock sculpture raises awareness about Calgarians living with dementia

WATCH: This Valentine's Day, a piece of interactive art in Calgary is shining the spotlight on dementia. As Tracy Nagai reports, love locks are helping couples make memories when they matter most.

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After more than 30 years together, John and Cindy McCaffery can still clearly remember the day they met — depending on who you talk to.

“The flight was quite empty but they put us together, and he said, ‘I’ll call you,’ and of course he didn’t for a week or 10 days,” Cindy mused.

“It was a fun flight, and it wasn’t 10 days before I called her, it was only about three,” John fired back laughing.

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In the end, all that mattered is that John did call Cindy and they fell in love and had two great children.

READ MORE: Woman with Alzheimer’s surprised every time she meets newborn granddaughter

Neither could imagine the life-changing event that was waiting for them just around the corner.

“It doesn’t jump out that something is immediately askew, but being over a period of time, you start to wonder what’s going on,” John said.

“One day he came home and he said ‘I just can’t figure it out anymore,'” Cindy said.

After countless blood tests, X-rays and MRIs, at the age of 48, John was diagnosed with young onset dementia.

“You get that feeling at the back of your throat where you can’t swallow and there’s so much to think about, like what if he can’t work?” Cindy said.

At the time Cindy and John’s children were only 12 and 17-years-old.

The couple decided to have a social worker with seniors health help them break the news to their children.

“He said, ‘Dad’s not stupid, it’s just that his brain isn’t working the way it’s supposed to,'” Cindy said. “‘That’s why it takes dad longer to think about things, because the connection isn’t quite working.'”

After 10 years of raising children, Cindy went back into the workforce and got a job.

“I was so focused with what was going on at home that I wasn’t concentrating as much as I should have been,” she said. “Luckily I found a couple of good employers and if I was having a rough day they were okay with me going home.”

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, more than half a million Canadians are living with dementia.

Among them, about 16,000 who are diagnosed before the age of 65 with young onset dementia.

“Young onset dementia is a real challenge because a lot of times the symptoms that people see are attributed to other things like depression or a brain injury,” Jill Petrovic with the Alzheimer Society of Calgary said.

Dementia leaves few lives untouched, like that of Calgary business owner Megan Szanik.

“I’ve always been really aware, I’d hear about my great grandma having Alzheimer’s,” Szanik said. “My mom’s always said to me, ‘Megan, when I lose my mind I like mashed potatoes and peas.”

READ MORE: Being unaware of memory loss may predict Alzheimer’s disease: Canadian study

Sanik’s personal experience inspired her to commission an interactive work of art that is on display in front of Espy Fashion Boutique in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood.

The giant red heart was built to hold people’s love locks, a symbol of unbreakable love meant to stand the test of time.

“We want them to lock a memory and a hope and a commitment to themselves on that sculpture,” Szanik said.

Cindy and John helped to unveil the sculpture on Tuesday and placed their own love lock on it.

“Our lives are so busy now that you forget about your relationships being so delicate,” Cindy said. “Being able to have something concrete and having it where everyone else can see, makes it permanent.”

The sculpture will be on display from February 14 to March 14. Afterward, Szanik hopes to find a permanent home for the work of art.

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