Alzheimer's Association CEO Celebrates 25 Years - NBC Bay Area

Alzheimer's Association CEO Celebrates 25 Years

For him the disease for which he has dedicated his life has become extremely personal.



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    Bill Fisher has been working with the Alzheimer's Association for a quarter century.

    For Bill Fisher, Alzheimer's disease is personal.

    Not only was the 63-year-old's grandmother diagnosed with the debilitating form of dementia, but his father has the disease as well.

    But the Cupertino resident's intimacy with the incurable disease that impacts more than 26 million people across the globe goes much deeper than his family.

    "My grandmother had Alzheimer's but that wasn't why I got involved," he said. Instead, he says, a life dealing with the disease chose him.

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    The Midwest native has dedicated his life to fighting the disease and making the lives of those suffering from it and those who care for them easier. He is the CEO of the Northern California Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

    This month, Fisher celebrates his 25th anniversary with the association. Despite a quarter century on the job, the charismatic leader has no plans of retiring.

    More than 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's Disease and about half will go to their grave never knowing they had it, according to Fisher.

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    For him the work is far from complete.

    Instead of retiring, he says he plans to further imprint his legacy on the fight against Alzheimer's. Fisher said he joined the association back in 1987 because he had experience in non-profit management and he needed a job.

    At the time, the job was nothing like it is today. In the 1980s there were no drugs to treat Alzheimer's and the Bay Area association office consisted of two people.

    "I remember taking my wife to dinner and I remember telling her this wouldn't last very long," he said. "But here we are."

    At the time, the Northern California chapter of the association had about $80,000 in the bank. That was barely enough to cover a small office in Palo Alto and two employees: Fisher and a part-time office manager. 

    Fast forward 25 years and the chapter now covers from the Oregon border to Fresno and parts of Nevada. Fisher manages a team of more than 70 employees across nine offices and a balances multi-million dollar budget.

    "We went from struggling to answer the phone to now we have a 24 hour support line," Fisher said. The chapter also has 120 volunteers who help both people struggling with Alzheimer's and the families trying to help them.

    The Northern California chapter of the Alzheimer's Association has also been honored as one of the top ten best places to work in the Silicon Valley over the past three years. An honor that is no accident, according to Fisher.

    He says he learned early on that he needed to make the organization as professional as possible and to make it look like a million bucks.

    On his first year on the job, Fisher said a donor came into the chapter's office and looked around the room and said, "You certainly don't spend money on your surroundings."

    He didn't make a donation but Fisher learned a valuable lesson. "The take away for me was maybe we should look like we are going to be in business next year," he said.

    For Fisher, although he has been on the job for a quarter of a century, he said he hopes he has several more years in him because the fight to eradicate Alzheimer's is long from over.

    As the baby boomer generation comes of age, the disease is expected to increase in numbers and health care costs are expected to skyrocket.  Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented or cured, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

    That makes the importance of the work Fisher and the Alzheimer's Association does critical. A wave of new patients is coming, and there is nothing that will stop it. Instead of dwelling on the daunting task ahead, Fisher says he clings to the hope that a cure will be discovered and the government will allot many more resources to the care of those impacted.

    Because Fisher's father has Alzheimer's, he sees the impact of the disease in real time.  He is part of the community he works to serve. His father is a patient, his mother is a full time caregiver and he is genetically pre-disposed to the disease. So the work not only hits close to home, but is home.