Meet Matt And Maria

Mike loved to sing.

His children, Matt Vucic and Maria Barkovic, say that once when their mother Veronika was asked how she knew Mike was the one for her, she said, “The second I heard his voice, it was game over.” And when Mike was asked the same of Veronika, he said, with his characteristic charm and humour, “She heard my voice and it was game over!”

Originally from Bosnia, Mike (Mirko) Vucic came to Canada at age 30 for a better life, an accomplishment his children say he was forever proud of.

It was his charismatic personality that began to fade slowly, as Mike suffered a series of devastating events over several decades, including grand mal seizures, hydrocephalus and finally an ischemic stroke. These eventually led to a diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia when Mike was in his late sixties.

“It was after his stroke in 2006 that we really saw a huge change,” says Maria. “He was tired, more isolated, more withdrawn. It was hard to watch.”

As Mike’s mobility deteriorated, they saw personality changes and short-term memory loss that progressed rapidly.

“Dad just kept saying something’s not right, my brain feels foggy,” says Maria. “That was really challenging for all of us.”

With their father a changed man, Maria and Matt scrambled to find help and resources, scouring Google for any information and assistance they could find. They quickly connected with local resources, including the Alzheimer Society of Calgary.

Maria attended two workshops put on by the Society to help her understand what her dad was going through and what might be in store in the future for both him and their family. Mike also began attending Club 36, an Adult Day Program for people living with dementia.

 “They would go on field trips to places like the Glenmore reservoir,” remembers Matt. “It was so important to get him out of the house and socializing with people.”

The siblings say the programs offered by the Alzheimer Society, especially Club 36, provided huge relief to them and their mother as caregivers.

“The staff became like family,” says Maria. “They would call once a month and we would talk about how Dad was doing, what issues they were seeing, and we could compare notes. It really took the weight off our shoulders sending him somewhere we trusted, where they cared so much about him. It also gave our mom a much-needed break.”

In spite of the many challenges they faced and the sacrifices they made, Matt and Maria feel blessed that he always remembered his family, right up until the end.

Mike passed away in March of 2014, but Matt and Maria are determined to carry on their father’s memory and give back. Both siblings have been involved in the Walk and Run and are proud to support the Alzheimer Society of Calgary.

As Matt and Maria reflect on their journey with their dad, they say it changed who they are as people.

“It’s a cruel disease,” says Maria. “But you have to adapt to your new normal. You just need to embrace it and do what you can do.”

Matt agrees. “I have a new appreciation for what’s important,” he admits. “And I also learned a lot about patience and determination. Just when you think you can’t do it, somehow you find a way.”

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