Health & Medicine

She’s walking for her father, then he’s walking her down the aisle

He doesn’t talk much now, only mumbling a few words here and there, maybe the occasional phrase. Most of the time, he doesn’t remember his daughter’s name.

“He just says, ‘That’s my baby,’” said Nicole Jenkins, 26.

But on Oct. 5, Michael Jenkins will walk his daughter Nicole down the aisle, only a few hours after she, other family members and her entire bridal party walk the annual Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s in his honor.

Now 64, Michael Jenkins – a Vietnam veteran and former Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department detective who retired a decade ago after 28 years with the department – was diagnosed with the illness in 2007.

The fundraising walk, which starts at the south steps of the state Capitol is expected to attract more than 3,000 participants, said an Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California spokeswoman. This is the fourth year Nicole Jenkins and her family have participated on her father’s behalf.

“I always say the roles are reversed now,” said Nicole Jenkins. “My father was always protective of me because I was the baby girl. Now I’m protective of him.

“We go out, and if somebody gives him the side eye because of the way he acts, I give them the stare of death.”

An assistant administrator at Sacramento Memorial Lawn, she’s marrying Philip Tepperman, a 28-year-old funds accountant who – Jenkins family members agree – dotes on Michael Jenkins.

Father and future son-in-law sit and watch football games together, said Nicole Jenkins’ mother, Tracy Miller-Jenkins, 59. They eat pizza together. When Miller-Jenkins, who is her husband’s sole caregiver, was ill, Tepperman took time off from work to help Michael bathe and change clothes in the Jenkins family’s south Sacramento home.

“He’ll make Mike’s plate and cut up his meat for him,” said Miller-Jenkins, who left her job as a pharmacist’s assistant to help care for her ailing mother and husband. “When Nicole and I have had to go places to plan for the wedding, Phil comes and takes care of him.”

Said Tepperman: “It doesn’t feel like work to me. I can do things for Mike that I’d be doing anyway.”

Maybe so, but the family understands how much Tepperman means to his future father-in-law, who always remembers Phil’s name.

When Tepperman and Jenkins told her parents they were engaged, Michael Jenkins lit up. And then he cried.

“I’d never seen him cry before,” said Nicole Jenkins. “He was bawling. He hugged Phil and grabbed my hand and looked at my ring again and cried more. When he saw me the first time in my wedding dress, he cried.”

“We all did,” said Miller-Jenkins.

Once, her father was stern, independent and analytical, a guy so athletic that he’d bike 80 miles round trip into the Delta just to stay in shape. And then came the day that he had to call his family to come pick up him: He’d forgotten the way home.

Now, said Miller-Jenkins, “It’s my time to take care of him, because I feel like he took care of me all my life while he was working.”

And Nicole tells people that two of her most important walks – walking for the Alzheimer’s Association and walking down the aisle – will happen on the same day.

“My father and mother will walk me down the aisle together,” she said. “It helps to do it that way. He wouldn’t be able to do it by himself.”