Pat Fiske’s brother, Kevin, was in the best shape of his life in 2010 when he was found to have Alzheimer’s disease at age 59. Kevin was a year-round athlete, a nationally ranked cyclist and an internationally ranked cross-country skier, a “bigger than life guy,” his brother said.

Just three years later, Kevin died.

Pat, who had cared for Kevin in his Stillwater home, wanted to know just what had taken his brother, his “hero,” so early. So, he sent Kevin’s brain to William H. Frey II’s team at the HealthPartners Center for Memory and Aging.

Since 1978, the Brain Autopsy Program at what is today Regions Hospital has studied more than 2,500 cases. For researchers, having organs with dementing illnesses made it possible to discover a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s. For families, a brain autopsy can identify which illness a person had when he or she died, providing closure.

“If you have a family history like I do, then you become interested in wanting to know what disease that your father and his brother have,” Frey said. “The only way to know for certain is to have an autopsy and neuropathology examination of the brain.”

Fiske, who is now on the Regions Hospital Foundation board of directors, wondered whether his brother had gotten Alzheimer’s so young because of an injury from playing sports. He also wondered whether he should be worried about getting the disease.

As soon as Kevin died, his brain was transferred to the neuropathology lab. Some weeks later, Frey called Pat with a full report.

“In spite of having pushed himself and being used to having injuries, Kevin just had Alzheimer’s disease and he got it early,” Pat learned.

He sent the results to his children. “Whatever information could be attained through an autopsy could be very important information later on to a doctor who was diagnosing my children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren.”

Sharyn Jackson

More information

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