Brilliant Romanian Scholar Didn't Regret Losing His Mind

Ed Theodoru had been a true Renaissance man, as were many Europeans of his generation, but he stood out among them because his memory was phenomenal. It was his most distinguishing feature. He remembered everything he read, heard or saw. It was that simple.

We often refer to such people as "walking encyclopedias," but Ed was far more. Ed was a walking library.

Many times when my friends and I had academic discussions we'd get stumped by some question or other. I'd always say, "Let's call Ed. He'll know." And he did. Every time.

I was ever so proud that my Ed could delve into that stunning memory and within seconds retrieve the answers to our ridiculously obscure questions. He would eagerly shout them out as though on a TV game show, where the first contestant to answer correctly won.

Ed was cosmopolitan, too. He knew so many languages. Many highly educated people know multiple languages, of course, and Ed was no exception. In addition to his native Romanian, he spoke English, French and German fluently, and he read Italian, Spanish, Latin, Greek and Russian.

Ed had received a classic European education in Bucharest and subsequently earned a law degree there. He became a tenacious defense attorney, racking up an astounding number of acquittals for his clients.

Then he changed his professional focus to literature and philosophy, and studied further in France and the United States. He had read nearly all 1,200 books in his personal library -- "plus," as he once said to a friend admiring his collection, "a few more." The "few more" were, in fact, "hunnerds" if not "tousands" more.

But all that would fade into darkness when Alzheimer's overtook him. Fortunately, he didn't suffer because he never realized he'd lost anything. If anything, Alzheimer's actually made him happier.

When I arrived to visit him at the nursing home one day, he was in the TV room sitting on a folding chair playing balloon volleyball with Fred and two female residents I didn't know.

I never thought I'd see the day when Dr. Edward Theodoru would participate in any kind of sport. Nor would anyone else who ever knew him.

Not wanting to disrupt Ed's activity, I sat on the floor beside him to watch. He was really quite good. Of the four residents playing, he was the most coordinated and most enthusiastic.

Joan, one of the home's precious aides, was directing the game. Every time the big yellow balloon went flying toward Ed, he got a determined look on his face, joined his hands together and stretched out his arms. When the balloon got within striking range he hit it, or "beat it," as he said, sending it flying across the room.

Twice he hit it so hard it hurtled into the hallway.

"Good job, Ed!" Joan shouted, dashing out to get the balloon. "Extra points for you!"

"Oh. Marvelous!" he said. "Throw it here and I'll beat it again."

My heart ached seeing Ed so elated, sitting in a nursing home batting around a balloon. Just a year before he would have spit on anyone who dared suggest he engage in that type of game -- or any game, for that matter.

But I realized that, generally speaking, he was a lot happier than I'd seen him in years. That thought brought me comfort as he hit the balloon into the hall again, another big smile on his face.

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of 'Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy' and the co-author (with Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN) of 'Finding Joy in Alzheimer's: New Hope for Caregivers.' Her website, ComeBackEarlyToday.com, contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.