“Trapped in a dying body: How ALS robbed Walter Root”
San Antonio Express-News
August 14, 2016
Dr. Walter Root was a beloved psychiatrist who became ill with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neuromuscular disorder that inexorably robbed him of the ability to talk, move and, eventually, breathe.
After meeting Dr. Root, his wife and grown children, reporter Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje spent more than eight weeks documenting the physical and emotional struggles the family endured as he succumbed to the disease. By the time she met him, Root couldn’t speak and their only means of communication was the shaky scrawl he made with his right hand.
Stoeltje wanted to capture not just the toll taken by a horrific disease but also the family’s love and courage in the face of unspeakable pain. She also sought to paint an indelible portrait of Root, a determined man who wanted his story told, even though his wife Debra and his children were initially reluctant to have him exposed during moments of extreme vulnerability.
Gradually, Stoeltje won their trust, and with keen attention to detail, she wove together their good times and sad times, fortitude and grace, tears and humor.
Above all, Stoeltje wanted readers to connect in a deep, abiding way with this one man and his family as they dealt with something blessedly few people will ever have to experience. Judging from readers’ responses, she succeeded.
As one letter writer put it, “I just finished your amazing story on Dr. Root and am utterly spent. Although I did not know him, you provided an intimate glimpse into this remarkable man’s life, capturing the frustration, struggles and triumphs of a family in crisis.”
Another wrote: “Your piece will enable thousands of us across Bexar County and beyond to begin to understand the enormous life changing impact ALS has on patients and their families. And with that understanding will come more pressure to fund research into this tragic, deadly disease. That could lead to better treatments and let us hope, a cure.”
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Submitted by Jamie Stockwell.