Hallman aimed to help researchers
MOUNT PLEASANT -- For months, Brooke Hallman lived with her husband of 54 years not knowing for sure what was really wrong with him.
Mayor Harry M. Hallman Jr. had grown uncharacteristically moody and withdrawn. He misplaced things. He got lost driving a familiar route.
Doctors told her Hallman had symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease, a condition that eventually led to his resignation in 2009 from the post he held for nine years.
Hallman, 76, who collapsed and died at home Jan. 8 of an apparent heart attack, kept a do-not-resuscitate order at his bedside. He also stipulated that his brain be donated to the Carroll A. Campbell Jr. Neuropathology Laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina.
"He wanted people to know what was really wrong, and how they could maybe help others with research," Brooke Hallman said.
This week, she expects to be among the first to learn definitively the extent of his brain disease when she receives an autopsy report.
"Most forms of dementia can only be diagnosed or confirmed after death," said Nicholas Gregory, MUSC brain donation coordinator.
Campbell, diagnosed with Alzheimer's, died in 2005. He served two terms as governor from 1986-94.
Hallman, also a former state legislator, was eulogized Wednesday during a memorial service at Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church, where Mayor Billy Swails revealed that Hallman donated his brain for research. Swails cited Hallman's act as the final of countless examples of his spirit of giving.
Diseased brain tissue stored at the lab is essential for researchers, but healthy donated brains are critically needed, too, as a basis for comparison in the study of neurological illness, Gregory said.
On average, the lab receives two brain donations monthly, he said.
"There is a huge need for healthy brains," Gregory said. "We consider it to be a gift of hope. If we can understand why the diseases are occurring, maybe we can come up with better ways to treat them," he said.
The lab is a link between clinicians, scientists and pathologists involved in aging and dementia research throughout the state. A lack of brain tissue for study is one of the major barriers to advancing knowledge of terrible diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinsons and stroke, officials said.
A few weeks ago, Hallman told his wife that he wanted to donate his brain to MUSC. He had signed over power of attorney to her about a year ago during a trip to Las Vegas, she said. Although his death was a sad time, she felt relieved that her husband was spared a lingering death in a nursing home. The week before he died, he was out in the community visiting the senior center, getting a hair cut and having dinner at Gilligan's on Friday night. His physical therapy had been going well.
"I am so happy that he was able to do everything in a normal way," she said.
The disease was tough on her, too, as a caregiver. A former paramedic for more than a decade, she found solace in needle-and-thread work while looking after him.
She had a matron-of-honor dress to finish Thursday.
"Sewing was my absolute sanity saver. It is a God send," she said of her hobby-turned- business.