MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – It started as a labor of love between Justin Kleidermacher and his sister Paige; a way to honor their grandfather who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease when Kleidermacher was barely in grade school.
“Basically, my grandfather was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 53 and most of my memories are from an Alzheimer’s caregiver perspective," he said. “I didn’t get to see him outside of it, I didn’t get to play tennis with him, which he loved. I was robbed of the memories I should have had with him because of the disease.”
Kleidermacher and his sister were inspired to start a company called PJ Pillows, to create lasting memories for both caregivers and their loved ones by making pillows personalized with images of family, friends and even pets.
“We wanted them to have something comforting to hold onto,” Kleidermacher said.
Fellow classmates from Miami Beach Senior High School volunteer their time and skills to help make the pillows and are taking part in this year’s walk to end Alzheimer’s.
“The walk to end Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest fundraiser in raising dollars for care, support and research programs,” said Tracey Wekar-Paige, Executive Director of the Southeast Chapter Alzheimer’s Association.
Even Kleidermacher’s other sister Lauren, now a college student in Pennsylvania, is part of the research effort.
“She’s researching genome sequencing to see what factors are more likely to cause Alzheimer’s and how you can make those less risky for people,” Kleidermacher said.
They may be young, but the siblings are leaving a lasting legacy in honor of their grandfather.
“I truly feel that when he looks down on me, or if he could look down on me, he would be super proud of what I’m doing, and I’m proud of what I’m doing because I think I’m truly making a difference,” he said.
So far, the PJ Pillows project has raised $10,000 for Alzheimer’s research.