- Andres Martin, a 35-year-old father to a young daughter, has early-onset Alzheimer’s.
- He’s enrolled in a clinical trial, hoping to get answers about the disease for future generations.
- This is Martin’s story, as told to Christopher Mannino.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Andres Martin. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m a father and husband, and even though I’m only 35 years old, I have early-onset Alzheimer’s. It’s a shadow that hangs over my life and my family, but I’m not going to let it stop me from living.
In fact, Alzheimer’s has encouraged me to live more fully than ever before.
In 2011, my dad died from a mysterious disease that had affected generations of my family and is often misdiagnosed. He had a genetic mutation that he passed on to me: I tested positive for the Jalisco mutation, first discovered in the Los Altos de Jalisco region of Mexico. The gene affects Hispanics like me, who have ancestors that come from Jalisco. It leads to early-onset Alzheimer’s, which is Alzheimer’s symptoms before age 65.
At first, I was worried about everything I was going to miss
When I first received my genetic results in 2017, it took me time to process. I wondered what my life would look like moving forward. My daughter was only 1 at the time. Now, I was thinking that I wouldn’t be able to walk her down the aisle, teach her to drive a car, or see her graduate from high school. I wouldn’t be able to grow old with my wife. And I wondered what would this mean for her. She’d be left alone to raise our little girl. I also wondered what her caring for me as my health declined would look like.
In the end, I had a choice. I’ve seen people who, when they learn of a terminal illness, kind of give up. Even if they’re alive on the outside, they’ve stopped truly living. The illness takes over, and the shadow becomes all they know. I chose the opposite — to live. I wasn’t going to spend my time wallowing in self-pity. I wanted to grab what remained of my life and experience it to the fullest.
I joined a clinical trial
Soon after my test results, I learned that there were clinical trials to study early-onset Alzheimer’s. My hurdles started by not being properly diagnosed, since I was presymptomatic. I’d been in the Marine Corps for 10 years since I was 20. I made captain at age 30, and I was able to medically retire and focus on my health.
Now I’m able to enroll in medical trials and attend all required appointments. My new mission was clear — I wanted to recover and live every moment.
Later that same year, I enrolled in a study on genetically inherited Alzheimer’s conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. I’m hopeful that my clinical trials will help lead researchers to better understand and treat the disease, if not in my lifetime, at least for my daughter, who has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease.
Time is the only thing in life we can’t buy. There’s never enough of it — and for me, there’s a literal ticking clock.
So I ignore that clock. I’ve started traveling, skiing, and hiking. I don’t put off anything and always prioritize time with my family. If life throws you a shadow, look the other way and find some sun. Alzheimer’s isn’t a curse; it’s been a blessing. It’s refocused my priorities and expectations. I look at every day as a new opportunity now.