Pearl's Memory Babies

A nursing home resident receives a baby doll from Pearl’s Memory Babies.

There’s something about being a mom that even Alzheimer’s disease can’t steal. 

Nothing seemed to break through the blank stare Shannon Blair saw whenever she visited her mother in an Alzheimer’s unit at a Louisville nursing home. She no longer spoke or got out of bed. Nothing amused or comforted her.

Blair usually left in tears after visits.

Alzheimer’s does that. It replaces joy and peace with fear, discontent, even panic.

When Blair told VisionFirst Eyecare co-worker Sandy Cambron about the sadness and frustration of those days, Cambron asked if it would be all right to give her mother a baby doll. Blair is a member of Southeast Christian Church. The two women often talk about faith and life.

Since nothing seemed to break through the fog of memory loss, Blair agreed.

But what happened next surprised her. When Blair walked into the room with the doll, her mother’s roommate held out her arms to take it. Her mother loved it, too, and held on to it night and day.

The doll seemed to revive memories of happier days when she cared for her own children.

It was all new to Blair, but Cambron and her husband Wayne had seen it many times before as they delivered dolls to area nursing home residents.

Outreach began in 2006 with one doll, a last ditch effort to comfort Wayne’s mother, Pearl, as she battled Alzheimer’s. That doll became her constant companion.

The Christmas after Pearl passed away, the Cambrons honored her life by giving everyone in the nursing home where she lived a doll or stuffed puppy—whichever they chose. It became a Christmas tradition.

On Valentine’s Day 2018, Blair and Cambron took dolls and puppies to all residents in Blair’s mother’s memory care unit. Photos of the outreach on Facebook went viral, and the story of Pearl’s Memory Babies appeared in local and national media. Outreach grew.

Cambron now volunteers fulltime with Pearl’s Memory Babies. In addition to providing dolls and puppies to those with memory loss, outreach also raises awareness of Alzheimer’s.

Every doll is unique. Cambron dresses the life-sized dolls in diapers, baby clothes, hats and soft blankets.

Deliveries bring tears and smiles. Sometimes seniors push their dolls around on their walkers as if they were strollers. Others hold them day and night, and still others begin talking about their own children. They touch toes and teeth. Sometimes men choose baby dolls over puppies. And sometimes moms choose puppies over dolls.

Southeast member Jeff Koier heard about Pearl’s Memory Babies from Southeast elder John Schmitt, who is CFO of VisionFirst. Koier’s mother battled Alzheimer’s in a facility 700 miles away.

“I could only visit two or three times a year,” Koier said. “I was anxious being so far away. I wondered if she would know me when I visited. She was anxious. But so was I. When John Schmitt told me about Pearl’s Memory Babies, my wife and I decided to buy a stuffed puppy dog for my mom before we went to visit the next time. I’ll never forget handing her that stuffed puppy. It calmed her down and gave her focus. In fact, it calmed us both down.”

Recently Cambron and Blair took dolls and puppies to Western Kentucky Veterans Center in Hanson, Kentucky. Since residents are veterans, dolls and puppies were dressed in patriotic red, white and blue.

Both women said it was an unforgettable day.

“These guys blessed us,” Blair said. “How can we ever thank these precious veterans enough for all they’ve done?”

Schmitt often tells others about Pearl’s Memory Babies.

“God never ceases to amaze me the way he uses humble people to show the love of Jesus Christ and to serve others,” he said. “This ministry ministers to those with Alzheimer’s and their family members who are affected. What a beautiful way to bring God glory.”

To learn more about Pearl’s Memory Babies, visit www.pearlsmemorybabies.com.