EXECUTIVE PRODUCER’S BLOG, PART 1

David Wasser oversees health and medical programming at RLTV. In this blog he provides background on the people and topics from To Not Fade Away:

MARIE VITALE

When I first met Marie I immediately understood why it took doctors so long to diagnose her with Alzheimer’s. Socially adept, she knowingly ushered me into her home. Blessed with natural charisma she looked healthy, poised and alert. It wasn’t until Marie began answering pointed questions that I realized she couldn’t maintain a train of thought for more than a few moments. Our challenge was to get her to bear witness to what she was feeling as this mysterious disease gnawed away her brain. She explained how her hearing had changed; her ears are now ultrasensitive. Her brain no longer allows her to discern which noises should be given preferential treatment. Her ability to articulate her struggle with memory loss was difficult. The thoughts left her mind before she could complete a concept. She’s keenly aware of this. She knows she’s losing her mind.

MARIE’S FAMILY

Grace, honor and dignity are the words that best describe Marie’s family. They are amazingly warm and engaging while pushing back against the crushing force of Alzheimer’s. Marie’s mother Eileen Jeffries says faith is the key to the family’s ability to stay strong as they deal with Marie’s mental deterioration. She still sits and reads devotionals with Marie, knowing full well her daughter’s ability to comprehend the material has long since passed. I can’t fathom what it must be like for a mother to watch a child go through this irreversible ordeal. Marie’s husband, Russ, says he promised to love Marie in sickness and in health. He continues to stand by her, firmly believing she would be a great caregiver to him if the situation were reversed. Marie’s brother Keith speaks eloquently of losing what he refers to as the best and longest friendship of his life. He admits that he’s altered the way he interacts with his sister to maintain some level of emotional self-preservation. They all speak of the Marie they once knew–the beautiful extroverted girl who lit up every room she entered, a social magnet who quickly made those around her feel special. The Marie they knew was a voracious reader with a cultured outlook that belied her small town roots. She enjoyed travel and concerts and excelled at home crafts like needlework. To see her now, grasping for the right word, having trouble holding a fork, unsure of her footing, is an affront to her inner humanity. I find myself regularly saying prayers for the comfort of Marie and her family. Their ability to handle Marie’s dementia while maintaining a strong family unit is awe inspiring.

PAT SUMMITT

Her career is unsurpassed; as head coach for the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols Basketball Pat Summitt has won more college games than anyone else. But during the past season Pat Summitt began taking note of her own memory lapses. Upon her local doctor’s recommendations she sought guidance at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. After a battery of tests, including a spinal tap, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s like dementia. She went public with her diagnosis in the summer of 2011. True to her tough as nails persona, Pat Summitt isn’t going to let the disease stop her, at least right now. With the full support of the University of Tennessee, she will remain in post as head coach of the women’s basketball program, although admittedly she will rely more heavily on her staff for back up support.

GLENN CAMPBELL

His string of hits songs is impressive: Gentle on My Mind, Galveston, Rhinestone Cowboy, Wichita Lineman, Southern Nights, and By the Time I Get to Phoenix. A few years ago he started having memory lapses. His wife Kim says some of the lyrics from his “Meet Glenn Campbell” release such as “Some days I’m so confused my past gets blown away” reveal what he was going through a few years ago when his mental lapses started. They decided to share his Alzheimer’s diagnosis with fans prior to his Goodbye World Tour so they would understand why he might rely on a teleprompter, or become a little confused on stage. Several of his adult children are backing him up his tour; Ashley plays banjo, Shannon play guitar and Cal is on the drums. When Glen does have a mishap on stage they gently redirect him and the audience cheers along. Kim says the fans have been extremely supportive and encouraging—and that’s made the tour a lot more fun for everyone. At age 75, he’s entitled to make a few mistakes anyway.