Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Monday, March 31, 2003
Updated: April 2, 3:19 PM ET
Martz: Disease affects everyone in the family

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Rams coach Mike Martz scripts his offensive plays, but loves to go off the script to improvise. On Tuesday, Martz will have a script, but he also will speak from the heart.

Martz and 49ers receiver Terrell Owens will testify before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday morning to increase research funding for a cure for Alzheimer's disease. For Martz, the hearing will be a chance to talk about his mother. For Owens, it's a chance to seek help for his grandmother.

"My mom suffered from Alzheimer's for four to five years," Martz said. "Until you experience that, you don't understand the impact of this disease. There is a complete loss of dignity for the person. My mom raised five kids. At a time in life that she should be enjoying her time, she was just deteriorating. It's devastating."

Mike Martz
Martz
Martz prepared a statement that will go into the Congressional Record, but much of his time will be speaking impromptu. The disease affected everyone in his family. His older brother became his mother's care-taker, but the stress of caring for her caused a heart attack.

"One person in the family has to become the care-taker," Martz said. "You have constant care until you put an individual into a home. There are other diseases in which you have a chance for survival, but you can still talk with them. With Alzheimer's, there is such a slide, and it becomes a dignity issue."

Before finding out his mother had Alzheimer's, Martz knew nothing about the disease. His mother became forgetful. She'd call a son several times a day reminding him to bring home groceries, but she would keep forgetting that she had made previous calls. She became so forgetful in feeding her small dogs that she constantly dished out food to them.

"When she started to go downhill, we'd have to watch because she would buy everything from every salesman who would come around," Martz said. "We were constantly having to get her out of those deals. She was a chain smoker and she eventually became completely disoriented."

Martz's most touching story he will tell the Senate is how his mother couldn't remember him the last time he saw her before she died of cancer. They spent an afternoon walking around a garden. She was an avid gardener.

"She kept asking me who I was," Martz said. "I eventually took her back to her room. She said, 'Who are you, again?' I said, 'I'm you son, Mike.' She started to cry and asked if she could come with me."

After the death of his mother in 1997, Martz became involved in charity work for Alzheimer's. He started a charity golf tournament that raised $143,000 over the past two years.

"I have seen first hand how devastating this disease can be and we need to do everything possible to find a cure and keep people and families from suffering through something so painful," Owens said. "We are urging Congress and the President to increase Alzheimer research funding to $1 billion a year so that we improve our chances of finding a cure."

The current funding level at the National Institutes of Health is approximately $650 million.

Martz has particular concerns for families that don't have the financial resources to provide care for those who suffer from Alzheimer's.

"It's an emotional drain for one thing, and the financial drain is another," Martz said. "We were fortunately that our family had the financial resources to try to help. A lot of other families aren't as fortunate. We must find a way to stop this disease."

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.