“He was the smartest man I have ever met.”
“He was the smartest man I ever met,” Michelle said of her husband, Paul.
Michelle and Paul met at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens where he worked as a botanist, gathering collections of plant species from around Texas. He was one of their first employees of the gardens coming in as a graduate student from the Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas.
Michelle spoke in admiration of how people could bring a leaf to Paul and he could easily tell them everything about it, even recalling its name in Latin.
After he retired at age 56, he would still give presentations across Texas about the beauty and diverse nature of plants. Then he began experiencing anxiety before presentations.
Confused by this new situation, Michelle asked him the night before a presentation: “ You’ve done this stuff a million times, why are you being like this?”
Paul asked her to come to his presentation so she could understand. The next day, she saw why he was concerned as photos of plants would come up on the presentation slides and he would struggle to recall any information.
Looking for answers, they went to multiple doctors and specialists where Paul received diagnoses of depression, thought to be caused by his recent retirement, to diabetes and high blood pressure.
Michelle and Paul knew there had to be a better explanation for his symptoms, so they went to the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio for another opinion. Here, Paul was diagnosed with dementia.
“Whatever was going on in the brain was hidden to the rest of us.”
“Whatever was going on in the brain was hidden to the rest of us,” Michelle said.
“He was the calmest person on the planet, he never got agitated or upset. Then he started having anxiety, stuff that was not in his nature. He would read seven books at a time, he always had a war book going, science fiction, one for light reading, one for pure learning. Then he just turned into a person with no focus, no understanding.”
Paul was only 66 when he died.
“The Biggs Institute brought real peace into my life by being a place where experts in the field would interact with those of us thrown into a situation that you can never really be prepared for,” Michelle said.
Michelle and Paul decided to donate his brain to the Brain Bank at the Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Disease to help other families get answers.
By examining Paul’s brain, researchers at the Biggs Institute were able to provide clinical answers and more insight into the disease that affected him.
“[It] helped me understand a lot of the chaos from the previous years because everything seemed fine on the outside.”
“[It] helped me understand a lot of the chaos from the previous years because everything seemed fine on the outside,” Michelle said. “So the progressive personality changes were very hard to rationalize until I realized what was going on in his brain.
Paul’s siblings also chose to donate their mother’s brain for research when she passed away only three months after Paul. Paul’s exam showed similar issues that his mother had when she died at age 92.
“It is a bit of resolution, and this is the only way to get it,” she added. “It is a conclusive way to know what happened in some form because we do not know why it happened, but we know what happened.”
The Biggs Institute at UT Health San Antonio is here to help you and your family navigate these important decisions regarding brain donation. Contact us at 210-450-8423 or BrainBank@uthscsa.edu for more information.