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Fighting the disease that stole his grandfather

Soojeong Choe, 17, who started an Alzheimer's disease club at his school shortly after his grandfather passed away, poses for a portrait with a photo of his grandfather.

Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail/michelle siu The Globe and Mail

The Donor: Soojeong Choe

The Gift: Founding the Alzheimer Club at York Mills Collegiate in Toronto

The Reason: To finance research into Alzheimer's disease

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Soojeong Choe will never forget the day that Alzheimer's disease began stealing his grandfather's memory.

"I was in tears when he couldn't remember my name," said the 17-year-old, a Grade 12 student at Toronto's York Mills Collegiate.

His grandfather, Sangmoo Choe, passed away a year ago at 83 after a long battle with the illness. The two had been extraordinarily close, sharing nicknames and a room together after their family immigrated to Toronto from Hong Kong and South Korea about 10 years ago. Mr. Choe said his grandfather's death "was the worst thing that has happened in my life."

He became intrigued by Alzheimer's and wanted to learn more about the disease and raise money to help find a cure. So he started an Alzheimer Club at his high school shortly after his grandfather passed away. Within a few months the group had raised more than $1,000 through a handful of events. The club now has 40 members and it is planning more fundraising activities this spring.

He also wants to become a doctor and specialize in neurology and Alzheimer's. "I want to know why it actually happens," he said. He has applied to study medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton next fall and if he gets in, he said he'll immediately seek out the campus Alzheimer's club. If there isn't one? "I'll start one."

For now he is concentrating on the final months of Grade 12 and organizing more club events, including a fundraising walk. He has also already made sure the club will keep going after he graduates. He has put his younger brother, Soohyun, in charge. "I'm testing him right now," Mr. Choe said with a smile.

Asked why finding a cure for Alzheimer's is so important to him, he replied: "It's all about the value of memory. It's just so important to all of us."

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