CAPE CORAL, Fla. — It turned out to be the story that pulled in the attention of so many people throughout Southwest Florida last week.
The disappearance of Margaret Gallaway from her East Naples home on Monday, October 16, kicked off a response that lasted for six days.
I've been at this long enough where, by the third day if someone is missing, you fear how it will end. A discovery. A somber news conference with law enforcement.
A family heartbroken.
Only this didn't happen.
Six days after she walked away from her home, Collier County deputies found Gallaway, 80 and living with Alzheimer's, alive inside of someone else's garage.
It's a story that is a salute to old-school detective work.
On Sunday, October 22, deputies went door-to-door on Piccadilly Circus, asking for surveillance video.
Not a bad idea as it turned up an image off in the distance from one neighbor, in front of an open garage.
The unfortunate situation for her as the garage closed on her and the people who lived here were unaware she was inside.
They left town for the week.
Somehow, Margaret Gallaway survived for six days in that garage.
There were so many things to find encouragement from this. Hundreds of people came out to volunteer to find this woman — a wife, mother and grandmother.
Perhaps each of these people who took the time to go sweat and help the rescue crews understood the urgency.
Perhaps they, too, have an older relative in the battle with this awful disease.
Gallaway's family was very thankful the day after her discovery, as we all could imagine.
Grateful and generous with their time and emotions with all of us who covered their ordeal for a week.
We all braced for the worst.
Instead, we got the best from so many — the best detective work, the best response, the best caliber of volunteers.
How can we move ahead?
Keep paying attention to Alzheimer's, the "long goodbye".
Let your neighbors know if there is a patient in your life so they can keep an eye out.
I saw this up close, living in Iowa for 14 years.
For a decade, there was a widow just two doors down. Her name was Blanche. She was in her late 70s and loved her walks. Physically fit.
Only I would see her, a couple times a year, when I was out on a run about a mile or even more from home. She was walking and, clearly, wandering.
"How do you know my name?" she would ask as I would approach, slowly and with a smile.
"I live two doors from you. Let's get you home."
We would make small talk until our cul-de-sac and then, like a switch, her memory of where she lived returned.
For those of us fortunate enough to live long enough, we'll all experience decline.
Physically, which I can attest to, as my knees are toast and I can't go on runs anymore.
Cognitively, which that decline can be less obvious. I'm a year from 50 and I don't have the immediate recall over obscure things anymore. Nothing major but it might be the title of a movie from 1985 or an actor. Again, the trivial stuff right now.
Many of us see this level of decline within ourselves.
Keep on top of it but also keep your empathy, especially with our older neighbors.
I once had someone who was 75 tell me, "once I turned about 60, I became invisible to the world. No one looks at me unless I'm in their way."
Let's open our minds a little more about Alzheimer's, especially for those who have a terrible battle happening inside of theirs.