Major-league prospect Braden Bishop dedicates every Husky baseball game to battling the disease that afflicts his mother, early-onset Alzheimer’s. On Mother’s Day, his teammates and opponents will join him in honoring Suzy Bishop.
Suzy Bishop says proudly of her son, Braden,“ He never ceases to amaze me.”
Braden Bishop, a junior outfielder on Washington’s baseball team, says fondly of his mother, “We are closer than ever.”
This is a heartbreaking story, no way around it. Suzy Bishop, a vibrant woman who was a standout athlete as well as a mover-and-shaker in the film industry, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in September. She is just 54.
How to help
Early-onset Alzheimer’s affects people younger than age 65, including many in their 40s and 50s. It is estimated that about 200,000 people in the United States have the disease. Early-onset Alzheimer’s usually, but not always, runs in families.
Click here for more information and to learn about the Western and Central Washington State Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
But it’s also a story of hope and love. That devastating news prompted Bishop, facing the biggest season of his baseball career, to become a tireless advocate for raising Alzheimer’s awareness. His quest will reach a new level Sunday — Mother’s Day — when the Huskies play Arizona in Tucson.
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Before every game, and virtually every day, Braden takes a black Sharpie and writes the phrase, “4MOM’’ on his left forearm.
On Mother’s Day, every player on the Washington and Arizona baseball teams will do the same on their arms, shoes, wristbands and helmets for the finale of their Pac-12 Conference series in Tucson. While Suzy’s plight is the impetus, each player can use the gesture to also salute his own mom, or anyone else they want to honor.
Braden and Huskies publicist Brian Tom came up with the idea for a “4Mom” game. Coach Lindsay Meggs loved the concept, and so did Huskies teammates. Braden reached out to Arizona star Scott Kingery, a former teammate in the Cape Cod summer league. Kingery embraced it immediately and helped get the Wildcats involved.
“The slogan represents my mom, but at the same time, it represents all moms,’’ Braden said. “Everybody will be playing for their moms.”
“That definitely brings a tear to my eye,’’ Suzy Bishop said in a phone interview from her Bay Area home. “That is very special. My whole life has been sitting on (bleachers) for Braden and our other son, Hunter. Almost every single Mother’s Day, we had something going on. I’m really proud of Braden for initiating this. He pulled all his friends and teammates together. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Over the phone, you would never guess Suzy is suffering from the disease. She forgets a word or two, but so imperceptibly that it barely breaks the conversational flow. When it happens, her husband, Randy, steps in on speaker phone to help fill the gap.
“She continues to do pretty much everything,’’ said Randy Bishop. “Nothing stops her.”
Suzy still loves to run and hike and bike. The family likes to say that she has good days and bad days, and the goal is to make every day a good one.
“You know what? I move through the day as I always have,’’ she said. “I’m one of the most active people you’d ever know.”
Suzy ran track at UCLA, then had a long and successful career as a movie producer, interspersed with a stint as the head of the Vancouver Film School in Canada.
At one point, she was a vice president of production at NBC and had her hand in a long line of television movies. She won an Emmy for “Separate But Equal,” a movie about Thurgood Marshall. Bishop was involved in creating shows like “JAG” and “Law and Order.” The family still cringes at one of her credits found online: “Killer Klowns From Outer Space.”
“It’s a cult film,’’ she said, laughing. “I was so embarrassed to ever be doing it. At the same time, it turned out to be a real success.’’
The job took her globe-trotting around the world, and Bishop made sure her family, including her young sons, went with her as often as possible. So Braden found himself in places like Luxembourg, Prague, London and New York, hobnobbing with celebrities and watching his mom at work.
“She wanted to film these movies away from home, but she never wanted her family to be away,’’ Braden said.
Suzy had always suffered from migraines, so when she began experiencing troubling symptoms, they figured it must be related to that.
“Slowly, you could start to tell,’’ Braden said. “She’d get flustered and overwhelmed.”
Doctors were puzzled. After ruling out a variety of causes, including the migraines, they tested her for the Alzheimer’s gene and said she didn’t have it. But further tests eventually revealed early-onset Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 200,000 Americans — up to 5 percent of the more than 5 million Americans with the disease — have early-onset Alzheimer’s.
The family was devastated. Braden took the news so hard that Husky strength coach Dave Rak quickly sensed something was wrong.
“Braden wears his emotions on his sleeve sometimes,’’ Rak said. “He was quiet, withdrawn, moving a little slower than normal. He’s normally a guy that is very energetic, always positive.”
Braden confided in Rak, who came up with the idea of a fundraising dead lift competition to raise money for Alzheimer’s. Not only was the event in Renton a rousing success, raising more than $6,000, but it fueled an outlet for a son’s sadness.
First, however, Braden had to convince his mother to go public with a very private affliction. Though the Alzheimer’s is “at a standstill,’’ in Bishop’s words, there are times it manifests itself. Life can sometimes overwhelm her for short periods.
“It can be an embarrassing thing,’’ he said. “She looks healthy. She looks young. So when she has an episode, people can look at you like, what’s wrong with her? Is she crazy?
“This is a way to show her she can embrace it. She doesn’t have to be embarrassed by it. She’s not alone, and she has many hands in this fight with her.”
Bishop would love to do other Alzheimer-awareness events. He’s learning all he can about the disease through the Western Washington chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. He talks to his family every day, including his mom, who is excited about an Alzheimer’s documentary she is planning with a friend.
“I can’t say this disease is a positive,’’ Braden said, “but the way it’s brought my family together, not just my mom and I, but my dad and brother as well … that’s something we can carry on forever, regardless of the disease.”
Braden wants to use his platform as a college athlete to do all he can to find a cure. His hope is that his mom’s young enough to benefit when a breakthrough comes.
“I’m going to try to make this something you can be proud of, and we can raise awareness,’’ he told his mother. “Even if we don’t find a cure, we can fight for one.”
Braden’s stint with the Huskies will likely end in June when he is expected to be a high selection in the Major League Baseball draft. He enters Friday’s series opener in Tucson with a .286 batting average.
“He’ll play in the big leagues; I have no doubt about that,’’ said Meggs, Washington’s coach. “He’d tell you his numbers aren’t where he’d like them to be … if this were my son, I’d say under the circumstances, he’s having a great year.”
And Sunday’s “4Mom” event will be a highlight. There was talk about Suzy and an Arizona mom throwing out the first pitch, but it had already been booked.
“I was going to kick butt,’’ Suzy said with a laugh.
She added that it’s a little strange to be the focal point of a baseball game, “but at the same time, I didn’t want to hide behind it. I feel really good. I guess the biggest thing is, I don’t know what’s next. I’m literally going day by day.”
And Mother’s Day is going to be one of the good ones.