KITTANNING — Deanna Angello stood at the bottom of the Himalayas in Nepal last April and asked herself, "How am I going to do this?"
The 39-year-old Ford City native and 1991 Armstrong Central High School graduate accepted the challenge, overcame the physical and mental adversity facing her and climbed more than 17,000 feet above sea level to the base camp of Mount Everest.
"It's a process. You choose to do the difficult thing," she said. "I was surprised at how much the mental component affected me. It takes sheer determination to do this, and there were some difficult moments along the way where you can't believe you are actually doing this."
Climbing the world's most formidable peak seems to be a metaphor for the way Angello takes on all the challenges in her life.
"Everest is symbolic — the ultimate challenge," said Angello of what she considers to be an even greater challenge — her efforts to raise awareness and funding for research for treatment and ultimately a cure for frontotemporal dementia (FTD) — the disease that confronts her father who still lives in Ford City.
"It was an incredible feeling and an amazing tribute to my dad, Mike Angello," she said.
"For me, I thought of my dad as I kept perspective on why I was doing this. I did it to honor him and keep hopeful they'll find a cure. Having a parent with this disease is the hardest thing in my life."
Angello has started a campaign to raise dollars for the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration (AFTD) and has created her own website "Strong Body, Strong Mind" to fight FTD. She is looking for support from the community. Her fundraising site can be found at http://theaftd.givezooks.com/grassroots_fundraisers/memory-matters.
Her goal is to raise $50,000 for the disease.
Angello has participated in many other endurance events for her cause other than climbing Mount Everest. In March she ran the New York City half-marathon; in July, the New York City triathlon and in September in the Nation's triathlon in Washington, D.C. She plans to run the Army Ten-Miler this month and the New York City Marathon in November.
Angello received a bachelor of science degree in psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's of business degree in finance and strategy from Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.
She works for a pharmaceutical company in New York City and lives in Manhattan.
Angello grew up in Ford City. She attributes her athleticism and passion for the outdoors and sports to her dad and was inspired as a youngster by him to participate in all sorts of athletic endeavors.
"My dad was my mentor and hero," Angello said.
"Aside from the disease that will ultimately take his life, he was a very healthy and active individual — always on the go," Angello says on her website.
"Two-and-a-half years ago, I couldn't even speak about what was happening to him, even with my closest friends. Daily I questioned, 'How could this be happening to us?' I was so determined to tackle this on my own, thinking that with my experience and connections in pharmaceuticals, I could ultimately save my dad and others suffering from this horrific disease. Much to my dismay, while there is a tremendous amount of research being done, mainly on Alzheimer's disease, which is different than FTD, a cure does not exist today. Every new discovery brings us all closer, but there's so much more that needs to be done."
"Feeling helpless is hard — very hard, especially when it means losing a parent sooner than you thought you would in life. While I may not be able to ultimately help my father, I want to honor him and make a difference with others who will one day encounter a fight against this same disease."
She said that watching a loved one, especially parent in their early 60s, slip away into someone you no longer recognize, and who no longer knows who you are is extremely heartbreaking, and the hardest thing she's ever faced in her life.
"As my family and I struggled through the process of trying to get information on a disease that it seemed no one had heard of and get the best possible care for my father, I was often frustrated by the lack of resources available, issues with the health care system regarding a younger demographic suffering from dementia, and the lack of awareness regarding the disease. This is when I decided to take action."
According to Angello's site, FTD is a rare, but aggressive form, of dementia that affects people as early as 40, with no known cause or cure (www.theaftd.org). While many are quite familiar with Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, few know about FTD, which progresses through the stages of the disease much more rapidly than other dementias.
What differentiates the various types of dementias is what part of the brain is affected. Unfortunately, the result is all the same — it robs the patient of his dignity, quality of life, lifetime of memories, relationships with family and friends, the ability to enjoy the things that once bought so much happiness, and eventually the ability to recognize the ones he loves most.
"My biggest fear is the day when my dad no longer knows who I am," Angello said.
"One of my most favorite memories of him is waiting for him to come home from work, so that we could play "catch" in the backyard. I was one of three girls that played Little League, and I was determined to be as good as he was. He loved softball and was still a sought after player with the younger guys as we grew up."
"My hope is that one day, no family will have to endure what my family has."
Thinking back to climbing Everest, she's often asked: What was Everest like for her? "Life-changing," said Angello.