KCBD Special Report: One family's struggle with Alzheimer's - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

KCBD Special Report: One family's struggle with Alzheimer's Disease

Becky and Sam Fortenberry Becky and Sam Fortenberry

Alzheimer's Disease steals memories and can shut down a person's body. It is debilitating and it has no cure. No one knows this better than Becky Fortenberry.

Becky has been married to her sweetheart, Sam, for nearly 20 years. Their love story is one written about in novels. But the memories are something only Becky will have because Sam is dying from Alzheimer's disease.

He is only 59-years-old.

"For the most part, we have all come to terms with the fact that there's only one way out of this. I think that day is going to be a peaceful day," Becky said.

Alzheimer's disease never gets better. The disease causes loss of brain function that slowly affects memory, personality and motor skills. For Sam, it has stolen everything.

"Honestly, I just want God to show His mercy. We've passed a point where I don't think anything can help Sam," Becky said.  

Sam was officially diagnosed with the cruel disease in 2012. But before he was an Alzheimer's patient, Sam was a cowboy. He loved the music of Western Swing legend Bob Wills and he was happiest on a horse.

"He could just do anything and he knew exactly where to be. He knew how to handle a horse," Becky said.

The Lockney cowboy used his charm and wit to steal Becky's heart many years ago.

"He just basically walked up to the window one day and said "hey good looking! I'm going to take you dancing.'  And I am like 'oh! You are? Okay!" Becky said with a laugh.

Sam and Becky were married. They eventually had twin boys, Trip and Grip. The twins rounded out the Fortenberry family, adding to Sam's older children, Eddie Lee and Jennifer. As a father, all of the children agree that Sam could be strict. Eddie says his family's legacy and honor meant everything to his dad.

"When you shake somebody's hand and you look them in the eye, you better mean it," Eddie said.

It was Sam's tough love that prepared his family for the recent years, when his Alzheimer's Disease began to develop.

"He got to where he did not know his house, he was seeing things like snakes and people sitting in the corner. He would see a pick up coming down the road and say 'they're coming to hurt me," Becky said.

The Alzheimer's diagnoses didn't solely affect Sam. His family has been carrying the burden, too. Trip says sometimes it is hard to remember a time when his dad was completely present.

"It's the worst disease that you could go through and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy," Trip said.

In January of this year, faced with Sam's rapidly declining health, Becky made the heartbreaking decision to put her husband in the memory support community at Raider Ranch. She says she will never forget how hard it was saying goodnight to him.

"Having to give up half of my identity, leaving it here. Having to give my soul mate to somebody else to take care of. That's my job," Becky said.  

Almost daily, Becky makes the more than 120 mile round trip from Lockney to Raider Ranch.  

On his best days, Sam is able to say Becky's name. On his worst, he does not even know who she is. On those days, Sam's boys say they will turn on his favorite Bob Wills song, and sometimes he will perk up.  But, on other days, he paces and he cries.  He is also very scared.

Through all of it, Becky remains by Sam's side. She admits it's not easy, but says there is nowhere else she would rather be. Every night, she drives back to Lockney and goes to bed alone.

"That person that you lay down with at night to make the world go away is not there. And, they're not there in the morning when you wake up," Becky said.

Becky tends to the family's farm and cows.  She also raises her boys. In the midst of it all, she makes time to head back to Lubbock to see her cowboy. While the routine is exhausting and emotional, it's all a part of Sam and Becky's love story. Even if Becky is the only one who will remember it.

"I just don't take it for granted, it's too precious," Becky said.

For more information on the Lubbock Alzheimer's Association, visit: http://www.alz.org/westtexas/.

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