The Perfect Match and a Perfect Team for Overcoming Alzheimer’s Care Barriers!

Six months ago prior to February 14th, 2022 the only thing I was familiar with about the pharmaceutical company Genentech was their tv commercials for various medicines. I had no idea that a connection made on that day would change the lives of everyone involved in an absolutely perfect way. The first email I received from Jenee Williams, the Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Advocacy Relations team for Genentech appeared in my inbox at 11am on Valentine’s Day. She introduced herself, expressed interest in my book and my work with LEGO bricks and requested an introductory Zoom meeting! There was something so warm about her email that I responded right away and we immediately set our first meeting for February 22nd. Before our initial meeting Jenee attended the LEGOs YES LEGOs workshop I delivered for Hilarity for Charity’s (HFC) CareCon on February 18th which would have been Mom’s 93rd birthday. Jenee didn’t have LEGO bricks that day but she LOVED it, enjoying my energy during my presentation on how LEGO Serious Play (LSP) sessions bring joy and hope to those with dementia and their care partners!

Our first meeting felt like Jenee and I had known each other for years! We talked about how LSP inspires teams and we began discussing dates for me to present LSP for her team! By then Jenee was soooo excited about me and LSP that she was sharing our story with other groups within Genentech! She was becoming a walking Loretta Veney Inspires Advertising Agent and I was thrilled!

My Genentech connections expanded on April 22nd when Jenee introduced me via Zoom to Ruchir Shah, the Principal Medical Science Director for Alzheimer’s Disease and Simon Eldred, the Marketing Director for Alzheimer’s Disease, who proposed a really cool idea for a Genentech Symposium session that was going to be held in San Diego in August at the Alzheimer’s Disease International Conference (AAIC), the largest Alzheimer’s Conference in the world. The plan was to bring together a multidisciplinary team made up of a neurologist, a nurse practitioner, an advocacy partner, a person with dementia, and me – the care partner to be part of a panel to discuss overcoming barriers to Alzheimer’s care through multidisciplinary teams. That title and subject matter may not sound very exciting, BUT the plan also included showing LEGO models representing ways to overcome barriers to Alzheimer’s care built by the team in an LEGO Serious Play event facilitated by me prior to the conference. During that introductory meeting, you could feel the excitement about how innovative this session could be with the inclusion of the LEGO models.

On May 5th I held the first LSP session for Jenee and the Alzheimer’s Disease team, which Simon and Ruchir also attended to get a feel for how the AAIC pre-event session would work! Everyone was so excited after the May 5th LSP session that they couldn’t wait until the AAIC conference pre-event Kickoff meeting scheduled for the next day.

As the Symposium Kickoff meeting began we could all truly feel the energy through the Zoom screen!! After three more planning meetings, the pre-event building session occurred on May 27th and it was a BLAST! All five participants had received a Lightbox (a box with a light to photograph the LEGO models we made), an IPhone to record our stories of what our LEGO models meant, and a huge ring light to ensure all participants had excellent lighting so all models looked the same in the photos and videos for the Symposium event. Once all of our equipment was confirmed to be set up correctly, I facilitated a regular LSP session using the questions about multidisciplinary teams that Genentech provided. It was such an inspiring and emotional session and we all felt the August live panel in San Diego would be a tremendous success!!

In July I also had the privilege of facilitating two additional LSP sessions, for Genentech’s Alzheimer’s Disease Marketing group and Jenee’s Patient Advocacy Group (PAR)! Prior to the PAR event I met Jenee in person for the first time and we spent almost 6 hours together in a LEGO store in Maryland building 20 individual LEGO minifigures for each of her team members with their names on them! What an incredible bonding time that was for us and to say that her team loved their minifigures is an understatement!!!

The PAR team with their personalized minifigures!

As July neared its end, I was getting more excited and nervous about the Symposium event and it was soooo hard to keep the secret that LEGO bricks were going to be featured in our panel event! I flew to San Diego on Saturday the 30th and spent the afternoon with my friends Bryan and Becca, a former coworker and his awesome wife who always come to meet me whenever I’m in California! On Sunday the 31st, I spent the day walking and enjoying San Diego, AND visiting the exhibit hall of AAIC!! I learned more than I can write from the different exhibits and research posters and I connected with social media connections I’d never met in person! The Genentech booth was incredibly popular, not only because of the great information they were sharing, but also because of the coffee they were serving that had a PHOTO of YOUR CHOOSING in the coffee! Does it get any better than that??? I was so proud to be part of their team! Jenee and I had a fabulous dinner and dessert in the Gaslamp Quarter and it was the perfect end to an amazing day!

On the day of the Symposium, Jenee and I walked more than 4 miles around the San Diego bay which really got our energy flowing! BUT when our panel rehearsal began I was really feeling the magnitude of being at a scientific conference and was drawing a blank on what I needed to say in spite of the fact that there was a script on large screens below the stage. After stumbling my way through my words for about 15 minutes, I left the stage to grab my handwritten notes and it was smooth sailing after that. In the 90 minutes between rehearsal and the start of the luncheon we made some quick changes to the script and the slides and I then felt ready to go! The ballroom was full of attendees and our panel was incredible – we were authentic, factual, fun, and had lots of energy as we talked about our individual perspectives of the barriers through our LEGO models! The audience enjoyed their lunches and were engaged in our presentation from beginning to end! At the end, we received a rousing applause and quite a few audience members gave us a standing ovation! Later in the evening we received information on the session evaluations that were submitted. The common themes were that the session was “inspiring”, “incredible”, “amazing”, “creative and unique”, “multidisciplinary” and “inclusive”. Genentech’s leadership thanked the panel members for taking the “creative leap of faith” to bring the LEGO model idea to fruition and for “inspiring the entire AAIC conference”. I wrote in my social media posts that it was a day I will never forget and I’m writing this blog post to ensure that I don’t forget! I could never in my wildest dreams imagine that my LEGO bricks would ever end up on any stage at AAIC, but it just goes to show you that anything is possible if you believe in it!