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'It means we get our life back' | Spouses reunite as vaccinations increase

Dolan Memory Care Homes halted in-person visitations when coronavirus cases spiked in St. Louis, but vaccinations have allowed them to reopen

They've waited months for this moment. Sitting together at an open table, this is the first time Michael and KJ Cheritz have shared the same physical space since December 29.

"It means we get our life back," Michael Cheritz said of Dolan Memory Care Homes' decision to resume in-person visitations.

KJ Cheritz moved into a Dolan facility — which helps people with dementia and Alzheimer's Disease — in November, about a month and a half before Dolan halted visitations over coronavirus concerns. But vaccine rollout is allowing them to welcome families here again.

"We've known each other since we were 19 years old. We haven't been apart for more than a couple of weeks at a time, and now it's been three months," Mr. Cheritz said.

Nearly 100% of Dolan's residents — and soon all scheduled staff — will have their vaccines, allowing leaders to bring families inside if they're vaccinated, or the use of private rooms and outside spaces if they test negative for the disease.

Christine Schmiz hasn't been able to hold her husband, Al, since he moved in 

"I'm sure it will be very emotional," she said. "I cry thinking about it so I'm sure there will be some tears."

In a lifetime together, this is the longest they've been apart since the Schmizes met when Christine was 19. She says they've talked through iPads and staff keeps her updated, and the Dolan model — small group homes with the same daily staff — allowed Al the most freedom they could find at a time when she worried he would have to quarantine alone.

"Feeling connected at a time when we are so isolated really matters. It gives you something to hold onto," she said.

Another long love story, Ken and Diane Deutsch traveled the world together until Diane's Alzheimer's required more care than Ken could provide on his own.

This couple met at just 16, spent each of the decades between together — and with vaccine rollout — this moves them into the next chapter. For the first time in a year, Ken visited his wife in her room, eating lunch together. Ken said Diane was in good spirits, reflecting good care for the past year.

"I'm feeling pretty good. Yeah, it will be a relief to me, and I hope to get back to whatever normal was or is or will become," Ken Deutsch said.

Memory diseases not only threaten a patient's future; the illnesses can also take away their past. But with the vaccine and visitations, these families once again have 'today' together.

Contact reporter Sara Machi on Facebook and Twitter.

Share your post-vaccine reunion moments with us

There are a lot life’s joys that we have missed out on over the last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, like hugging grandma, traveling to see relatives or hanging out with friends.

But a shot of protection is letting millions of Americans feel the love like they haven’t since last spring.

5 On Your Side already is seeing heartwarming moments, and we’re inviting you to share yours with us now.

How to share your post-vaccination reunion videos and photos:

Open the free 5 On Your Side app and tap “Near Me” in the lower righthand corner. From there, tap “Share with Us” to upload photos or a video. Make sure to tell a little about your story.

And then, look for your reunions in the app and on the air.