A Marion County man and state senator has been awarded for his work for Alzheimer’s patients and families.

Roman Prezioso was one of two recipients of the 2006 Rockefeller Award, given at the sixth annual “Thanks for the Memories” event and bestowed by the Alzheimer’s Association, West Virginia Chapter. The other award winner was Joyce Bucklew of Morgantown.

As chair of the Health and Human Resources Committee, Prezioso said he considers all West Virginians to be his constituents.

As he spoke with families of Alzheimer’s patients “from every corner in the state ... I saw a different side of the disease,” he said.

He heard about the hardships families and caregivers face in the nonstop, never-ending care of Alzheimer’s patients.

“Dealing with an Alzheimer’s patient is a 24-hour-a-day job,” he said. “They bring things to your attention, and you see the human element. It really touches you.

“As chair of this committee, people tell me stories and I bond with them. I get to see firsthand the trials and tribulations they go through.”

His work as chair of the Health and Human Resources Committee helps provide resources and money for respite care to Alzheimer’s caregivers.

He was also very involved with Dr. Robert D’Alessandri of West Virginia University Hospitals in developing an Alzheimer’s registry that will help provide lawmakers the information they need to develop legislation to assist patients and their families.

“Alzheimer’s is a health-care issue that we need to take a strong look at,” Prezioso said. “Because people are living longer, more people will be afflicted. Subsequently, it will take more state resources to care for them, both medically and through respite care.

“I feel we can provide the resources we need and essentially, hopefully, as science develops, treat this illness.”

The association described Prezioso as being “a long-standing supporter of the Alzheimer’s Association and our mission (who) played an active role in legislative success for many years. He is a key figure on issues concerning Alzheimer’s individuals and their families, including the need for dementia specific training for long-term care staff, and funding for Alzheimer’s’ respite.”

The award is named for U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller for his work in spearheading the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute. The Morgantown facility is named for his late mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.

“I didn’t expect that I’d ever be recognized,” Prezioso said. “It was just the right thing to do to address this issue.”

What he thought would be just another luncheon turned out to be “one of the most remarkable recognition ceremonies” he’d ever seen.

“I was taken aback by the quality of organization and the number of people who came to support it.

“I was humbled. Sometimes as legislators, we never know the impact of our work. There are highs and lows, and this was definitely a high.

“Sometimes we get so involved with what we’re doing, in trying to put pieces together, that we forget some of the good that really comes out of it.

“I believe that I’m the first legislator to get this award,” he said, adding that past recipients included doctors and caregivers. “This is a genuine, sincere honor that I will cherish forever.”

Prezioso also serves on the Banking and Insurance, Economic Development, Labor, Natural Resources and Rules committees. He also chairs the Student Intern Program, the Legislative Oversight Commission Health and Human Resources, and the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education.

In 2002, he assisted the Alzheimer’s Association, WV Chapter, in establishing the line item in the WV Bureau of Senior Services budget for Alzheimer’s in-home respite programs. This allowed grants to be provided to eight counties to establish in-home respite programs for Alzheimer’s caregivers.

His “dedication and foresight” resulted in an increase to that line item in 2003 and 2005. The increase in funding in 2006 will allow the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services to work with the county aging programs to establish Alzheimer’s in-home respite funding for all 55 counties.

Locally, Prezioso is the administrative assistant for the Marion County Board of Education.

Once in a while, he’ll spruce up his yellow Lab Sonny, pack him in the car and go off to nursing homes. As a trained and certified therapy dog, Sonny strikes a chord with the residents, Prezioso said.

“It’s amazing. Their eyes just light up when they see him. So many different stories. It’s heart-warming to do that. And it’s fun for the dog.

“Actually, it’s as much therapy for me as it is for the residents.”

E-mail Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.

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