When Mathilda “Tiny” Eckman of Little Falls was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014, her great-granddaughter, Ella Pusc, was 8. Despite Ella’s young age, she stood by her great-grandmother until she passed away, April 8, 2015, at the age of 97.
Since Eckman’s memory had started failing, she mentally returned to a childhood age. That led to Eckman and Ella, in a sense, becoming best friends. Another trait they shared was that they were about the same height — about 4-feet, 2-inches tall.
Even though the manifestation of Alzheimer’s was at first a little bit scary for Ella, she chose to be brave for her great-grandmother, she said.
Ella and her mom, Sara, spent many days at the nursing home where Eckman was staying, visiting her. During those times, Ella often helped Eckman hold her cup so she could drink and helped to feed her.
She also put clips in and made up Eckman’s hair and painted her nails with a bright pink colored nail polish.
“She always liked bright colors,” Ella said.
The two spent a lot of time together where many memories were made and laughter was shared. When Ella and Sara went to leave the nursing home for the day, Eckman often asked them to take her with them. It was a heartbreaking moment, Sara said.
Eckman’s condition worsened over time. Eventually the time came when the Puscs sensed it wouldn’t be long before Eckman died. On April 8, 2015, Sara felt like she needed to pull Ella out of school. During the day, the two stayed in Eckman’s room.
“We were waiting for the inevitable,” Sara said.
Part of the time, Ella also laid down next to her great-grandmother and just cried, she said.
“I finally told Ella we had to go home. I just knew that grandma wouldn’t die with Ella there,” Sara said.
About 30 minutes after they left the nursing home, Sara received the call that her grandmother had died.
Wanting to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and for other families, who are affected by it, to receive help, Ella decided to raise funds herself. She was inspired, not only by what she had seen her great-grandmother go through, but also by her aunt, Brenda Jensen of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
As Jensen was involved in a walk for Alzheimer’s in Iowa, Ella and her mom decided to join the walk in Brainerd in memory of Eckman. They were “Team Tiny.”
In 2015, Ella, Sara and Jensen raised about $1,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Seeing how much other people had raised and seeing people who had Alzheimer’s spurred Ella to want to do even more.
Ella’s goal in 2016 was to raise $2,000, but she far exceeded the goal as she raised $5,400. That year, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Brainerd named her “top individual fundraiser.”
This year, Ella raised more than $7,500. Much of the fundraising has been done through her writing letters to friends, families and various businesses. She, with the help of her mom, has also held a silent auction, been on the radio and has gotten word out about what she’s doing to get as many donations as she can.
Her mom can’t help but see one of the values Eckman lived by come to fruition in her daughter.
“Grandma Tiny was always so caring. She cared for someone else before she cared for herself. She was always a helping person and was completely selfless,” Sara said.
Because of her efforts, Ella was selected by the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Brainerd Committee as this year’s “Honorary Chair Family.” She also gave a speech about Alzheimer’s at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Brainerd, Sept. 23 and is featured on two billboards in the Brainerd Area Lakes Area, Sara said.
“I really loved Grandma Tiny and it was cool she was so small. I do this walk so that other families don’t suffer,” Ella said.
Those who want to donate may visit Ella’s link at act.alz.org/goto/EllaPusc at the Alzheimer’s Association website.