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LeBlanc Recounts Alzheimer's Diagnosis; Life Before

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

As part of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, we are taking some time to get to know Brian LeBlanc of Pensacola, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in October of last year.

When we first met LeBlanc, he talked about why he wanted to share his story and the extensive outreach that he does - on twitterand through his blog - and in speaking to groups on behalf of the National Alzheimer’s Association and University of West Florida Center on Aging.

When asked about how he’s able to get in front of people to speak about his disease, LeBlanc’s response is that it comes naturally due to his career in public relations, marketing and advertising.

“I say no, it doesn’t make me nervous, I just go back to a time when I was talking about a marketing idea or promoting something,” LeBlanc says. “It’s just in me.”

Originally from New Orleans, music is also in LeBlanc, and was a big part of his life before his diagnosis.

“I used to be in a rock & roll band, and ironically, the name of the band was Mass Konfuzion,” he said with a laugh.

Brian played guitar and provided vocals.  (Here's a You Tube video of LeBlanc and the band performing on Pensacola Beach in 2010.) In his honor, the group played at the 2015 Walk to End Alzheimer's event in October.

He doesn’t play in the band anymore, but he still listens to music all the time, because it helps to take him back to happier times. It puts him in a happier place, which he says he needs now more than ever.

“If you concentrate on right now, what’s happening with you right now, that can take you to a very dark place,” said LeBlanc, noting that he’s experienced that a couple of times. “It’s just very, very lonely. It’s very desolate, because you know it’s the reality coming by to basically slap you in the face to say ‘hey, just remember where you are; remember what you got.”

Credit Alzheimer's Association: Alabama/Florida Panhandle
Alzheimer's Association: Alabama/Florida Panhandle
LeBlanc at Pensacola's 2015 Walk to End Alzheimer's event in October.

What Brian has is early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Some of the early warning signs include memory loss that disrupts daily life, difficulties with problem solving and completing familiar tasks. Another sign is confusion with time or place.

“I got lost going to my doctor’s office and I had been going to the same doctor for years,” LeBlanc said. “And, I didn’t just get lost, I—I got completely disoriented. Nothing looked familiar, landmarks, I couldn’t get anything.”

LeBlanc says he pulled off to the side of the road and called his wife Shannon in a  panic saying he had no idea where he was. She calmed him and guided him to where he was going. But the incident turned out to be the final straw for members of his family, who confronted him that night.

His wife asked him if he knew how many times this had happened before, and went on to point out that it had actually occurred six to seven times previously. “I said what do you mean this happened before? I had no idea” LeBlanc said.  

Adding to that, his daughter pointed out that for the past three-and-a-half years he had been repeating himself; telling the same stories. Plus, on trips to the store, he was constantly calling about what he was supposed to get and then he didn’t remember calling.

Brian says he can recall only because his wife told him and he often repeats it during his public appearances.

But, at that point he knew that, given his extensive family history with Alzheimer’s disease, it was time for him to know for sure.

And, so a neurologist put him through a battery of medical tests. LeBlanc explained how the follow up appointment went.

“We went in to get the results and he was explaining things and I just stopped him and said ‘look, I have a feeling I know where you’re getting and I said do I have Alzheimer’s?’ And, he stopped and he said yes.”

LeBlanc says things got pretty fuzzy after that. But, with emotion welling up, he recalled his wife’s response.

“I just remember her holding my hand, and her saying ‘I’m right here with you and you won’t go through this alone,’ he said. “That is unbelievably powerful. That’s what keeps me from giving in, because she doesn’t deserve it. The kids don’t deserve it. Nobody, nobody deserves this disease.”

But, LeBlanc says it’s here and he’s trying to make the best of it; each day trying to make something positive out of it. That’s why he’s all over social media, traveling the region to talk to different groups, and sharing his story with us. 

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.