Jim & Sandee Cosman (1)

Sewickley, Pittsburgh, USA

Disease brings Sewickley couple closer to each other, God – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

By Kristina Serafini
Sunday, December 26, 2010

Jim Cosman walked into the PennDOT licensing center in Rochester and handed his driver’s license to a man behind the desk.

“I can’t drive,” he said.

The man appeared puzzled, because Cosman’s driving record was spotless. But Cosman insisted on relinquishing the license for an identification-only card. He knew he no longer was fit to drive; he’d veered off the road a few times.

This loss of freedom in 2009 was just another thing Alzheimer’s disease would take from Cosman, his wife, Sandee, said.

Yet, the Sewickley couple, married 47 years, remain thankful for their time together.

“We’re people of faith, so we don’t dwell on it. Alzheimer’s has driven us closer to God and our faith. If you allow yourself to go into that room, you will be miserable. We make the most of our days,” she said.


Sandee Cosman helps her husband, Jim, button his coat so he can take the dogs out to play. Because he can no longer safely walk alone, even in the backyard, Sandee Cosman sends their Labrador retrievers, Lady and Lucy, out with him.

Jim Cosman, 67, noticed something was wrong in 2002. Within three years, his visual fields began failing because his brain had difficulty processing what he saw. Doctors diagnosed and treated him for glaucoma for two years, before determining his problem was a visual variant of Alzheimer’s called posterior cortical atrophy.

Within five years, things progressed more rapidly. Jim no longer could operate his riding lawn mower — he loved cutting the grass at their ranch-style home — because he twice became confused and was found “mowing Blackburn Road,” he said. As the disease robbed him of aspects of his life, he gave up jogging, for fear he would stumble and fall.

“You let go of something every day or every week,” Sandee Cosman, 65, said. “Every day we are trying to make an adjustment here and there.”

The adjustments are significant for an active couple. They met in the summer of 1963, while he played baseball and her father was president of the Georgia-Florida League. They married a year later.

In 1965, Jim signed a Major League Baseball contract to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals. Their son, James Jr., was born during the team’s spring training. Cosman played for the club for two years, and later for the Chicago Cubs. Two more sons, Michael and Jeffrey, and daughter Andrea filled out their family.

After retiring from baseball in 1972, Cosman began his second career in the waste-management business.

He started with Browning Ferris Waste Industries in Nashville in 1972 as a truck driver and worked up to regional vice president, before becoming president and chief operating officer for Republic Services in Phoenix, which operates in 40 states and Puerto Rico.

“They used to say, ‘Cosman, you threw trash all of your life. You might as well pick it up,’ ” he joked about his baseball days.

They moved around the United States, but settled in Pittsburgh in 2007 because Cosman wanted to live where he felt most comfortable. They lived in Sewickley for a few years during the mid-1990s.

His disease has progressed to the late-moderate stage, but doctors say medication would be dangerous for a man with an athlete’s heart rate. The drugs he took before confirmation of his diagnosis made him lethargic. He stopped taking supplements, too, knowing nothing will cure him.

“We already know it’s not going to get better,” Sandee Cosman said. “We already know it’s going to turn for the worse.”

She spends most of her time caring for her husband, and they rely on others to do household chores. Yet, unlike Alzheimer’s patients who don’t know what’s happening to them, Cosman is aware, she said, and “since (he) knows what’s going on, we deal in reality. It has totally changed our personal life.”

They try to remain positive.

“We have a sense of humor about it,” she said.

“If you don’t,” he said, “you’ll fold up.”

Despite his condition, Cosman is quick to laugh at his own expense. At Valley Care Association, the adult day care center in Moon he attends twice a week, he jokes with employees. He makes cracks at his wife when she struggles to remember something.

Cosman is developing new symptoms, such as trouble remembering words and second-guessing whether their house is home. He no longer can safely walk alone, even in the backyard, so Sandee Cosman sends their Labrador retrievers, Lady and Lucy, out with him.

Traveling is difficult. The Cosmans no longer visit their children — and 18 grandchildren — in Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas and Illinois. Even the visits to Valley Care can be hard because Cosman’s visual impairments cause him to fear bridges and feel uncomfortable on highways.

When his condition worsens, they’ll seek more help, said Sandee Cosman, who’s glad to have the strength to take care of him.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she said. “Jim and I made a vow 47 years ago: ‘In good times and bad times, in sickness and health, ’til death do us part.’ We’ve had a great life, we really have.”

Jim Cosman practices his dance moves with Valley Care Association program director Jenny Volanti. Cosman visits the adult day care center in Moon twice a week.


Please read Jim & Sandee Cosman (2)