Camden's bestselling suspense author helps in fight against Alzheimer's
Rockland — Having seen her father wage a 20-year battle with Alzheimer's, bestselling author Tess Gerritsen of Camden decided more needs to be done to fight this disease.
"Clearly, we're not doing enough," she said during an interview at her home Aug. 21.
To raise money for a cure, Gerritsen offered a raffle online and the winners of the raffle get to name characters in her next suspense thriller novel. So far, she has helped raise $50,000 to fund research for a cure.
"Now it's a little scary for me because I have no idea what these names are going to be," she said and laughed.
The winners this year were Andrea Pearson from Lehi, Utah and Douglas Dorow from Minneapolis, Minn.
Gerritsen recalls watching her father, Ernest Brune Tom, gradually lose his memories and intellectual abilities. Tom, who worked long hours as the head chef in the family's waterfront restaurant in San Diego, even lost his ability to cook and enjoy good food toward the end. He died in 2007.
"All of America is facing this now," she said. "Baby boomers are getting older. The last statistic I saw, if you reach the age of 85, it's a one out of three chance you have Alzheimer's."
In addition to the emotional toll on those suffering from the illness and their loved ones, she said this is also a tremendous financial burden on our society.
"We're paying $200 billion a year to take care of Alzheimer's people," she said. "That's not just care and Medicaid, it's also lost income from caregivers, from family members who are probably taking the big burden on their own shoulders."
In contrast to this staggering cost, she said only $500 million per year is being raised for research.
Gerritsen added that due to sequestration, the National Institutes of Health has lost funding for this research. The National Institutes of Health is the nation’s medical research agency and the leading supporter of biomedical research in the world, its website states. On March 1, 2013, as required by statute, President Obama signed an order initiating sequestration. The sequestration requires NIH to cut 5 percent or $1.55 billion of its fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget.
Research institutions are strapped for cash now, she said.
She said that aside from lobbying Congress to fix this problem, the other thing people can do is help raise money to keep these institutions going.
Gerritsen decided to support The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. due to its status as a biomedical research facility and its reputation for using the funding it receives directly for research.
This is not the first time the writer has auctioned off character names for charity. In fact, one of her main characters, medical examiner Maura Isles, got her name this way.
Isles and Detective Jane Rizzoli are the leading characters in a series of Gerritsen novels, and have become household names due to the TV show "Rizzoli & Isles."
She said the person who won that contest asked her to name the character Maura after a real person, a relative of the winner.
The funds for Alzheimer's disease research were raised through gofundme.com and the author matched all the money raised.
Gerritsen argues it makes more sense to raise money for charities through online sites like gofundme.com so all the money goes to the charity, rather than having expensive charity balls where much of the money is spent on food and to rent the venue.
"Are you trying to support Alzheimer's research?" she said. "Well, give it to a scientist."
She argues this research is more vital than the government's funding for the military.
"Look at what's really hurting the country and it's going to be this disease," she said. "So instead of a race to the moon, or a fight against terrorism, or a war against drugs, this is really what we should be fighting for."
Her next book, the 11th in the Rizzoli & Isles series, is coming out in 2014, she said. The title has not been announced yet. Part of this novel will be set in Africa, inspired in part by her experience on a safari. Years after a safari in which people were killed, Rizzoli, working on a murder case in Boston will have to interview the lone survivor, the only one who has seen the killer's face, Gerritsen said.
Will she raise money by naming a character again?
"I might consider doing this again in possibly 2015 when I'm working on the next book," she said.
She is also working on a short story about an evil 3-year-old with the working title "Incendio," which means fire.
Gerritsen said she has been living in Camden for 23 years and is a year-round resident. She said the change of seasons and long winters are actually helpful to her as a writer.
"There's something about good, long, dark winters that helps creativity," she said. "It certainly helps me."
It is harder to write in the summer when she can be outside doing other things.
Those who want to help can donate to Scripps.edu, the Alzheimer's Society or other institutions conducting research. To learn more about Tess' War on Alzheimer's, visit gofundme.com/War-on-Alzheimers.
Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
207 594-4401 ext. 122
Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast for 15 years.
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