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    Martz gladly aids the effort to find Alzheimer's cure

    By Bernie Miklasz
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    06/09/2004


    The death of former President Ronald Reagan touched Americans of every background. But Reagan's slow and agonizing death, coming 10 years after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, particularly resonated with families that have watched loved ones suffer from the disease.

    Rams coach Mike Martz lost his mother, Betty, in 1997. She had Alzheimer's and deteriorated terribly over the final decade of her life. Since his mom's death, Martz has committed to raising awareness, and funds for research, in an attempt to find a cure for Alzheimer's.

    Saturday, when Reagan died at age 93, Martz was traveling back to St. Louis from Charleston, W.Va. On Friday night Martz and two-time Grammy winner Kathy Mattea spoke at a black-tie gala to benefit the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute. It was hosted by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va). Rockefeller's mother suffered from Alzheimer's.

    Two years ago, Martz appeared before a congressional subcommittee in Washington urging Congress to allocate more funding for Alzheimer's research. He also has hosted a yearly golf tournament to raise money. According to Martz, the event in West Virginia raised $600,000, and it left him feeling hopeful. But Reagan's death reminded Martz of the need to keep pushing. Currently, about 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's. But that count is expected to grow to 7.7 million by 2030, and 14 million by 2050.

    "It's a national tragedy, but finding a cure is doable," Martz said. "It just takes money and research. We will prevail. But it would be great if we can speed up the process and get there faster."

    News of Reagan's death carried Martz back in time to thoughts of his valiant mother. When Martz was 11, his father left home and never returned. A week after his father left, Martz's oldest brother was killed in an automobile accident.

    Instead of feeling sorry for herself and falling apart, Betty Martz toughened up, got a job and raised four sons on her own. She went to work at a hospital. The job didn't pay much, so Betty usually worked weekends and overtime for a little extra income.

    "My mom always put everyone else first," Martz said. "She just busted her butt to make sure her boys had what we needed. Looking back, I don't know how she did it."

    Betty Martz gradually earned more responsibility and income at the hospital, put her sons through school and saved enough for a decent retirement. She had plans to travel, relax and savor the final years of her life.

    "This was supposed to be her happy time, her reward for working so hard and being such a courageous woman," Martz said. "She was going to spend a lot of time with her children and grandkids and just enjoy everything.

    "But she got Alzheimer's, and it's so devastating to victims. It takes away the best years of their lives. It strips them of their mind and dignity. It reduces them to a shell of what they were.

    "And it's devastating to the families. My brother Fitz took charge in caring for her. He would leave his wife and kids to look in on her all the time. And she would call him 27 times a day - forgetting she'd just called him. The stress took its toll. Fitz had a heart attack. It almost killed him. I would visit her, and she wouldn't know my name, who I was. It was so heartbreaking."

    Martz admired President Reagan but has a special appreciation for Nancy Reagan, because he knows what Mrs. Reagan and her family went through.

    "The president was so open in telling the world (in 1994) that he had Alzheimer's," Martz said. "And he helped the cause dramatically. And we're going to beat this. That's the best way to honor him and honor the memory of my mother and all of those who have suffered from this."

    Martz will do his part to win one for The Gipper.



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    Re: Martz gladly aids the effort to find Alzheimer's cure

    This is very admirable of him to do. I'm glad Martz is taking an active role in helping.
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