Deb Ploetz visits her husband, former University of Texas defensive tackle Greg Ploetz, who holds their dog, Butter, at an Arvada facility designed to assist people with dementia. The couple moved here from Texas to supplement Greg's care by legally using marijuana oils. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

Texas family finds haven in Colo. to treat ex-football player’s dementia

Diagnosed with “mixed dementia” and frontal brain lobe damage, former Texas Longhorns defensive tackle Greg Ploetz had been deteriorating since 2005. In January, he looked at his wife and said: “Deb, please help me. I don’t want to be like this.” By then, he generally didn’t recognize anyone other than his wife. In February, Deb placed him in a memory care facility, where he continued on five “conventional” prescribed medications. The caregivers told Deb that Greg wouldn’t let anyone else touch him and was belligerent when the staff tried to give him the drugs.

He was bewildered to find himself among only people far older. The staff told Deb it was not working for Greg there, just as it hadn’t worked at a couple of other facilities Deb had tried temporarily before.

The former football player, a one-time renowned artist and a longtime art teacher, had just turned 65.

Deb was told her husband belonged in a state psychiatric hospital.

She couldn’t and wouldn’t do that to Greg.

In desperation earlier this year, she had given Greg a marijuana joint. Smoking it burned his throat, but calmed him. She remembered that. The next day, she walked in and told Greg, “Let’s go.”

She put Greg in her car and she drove from Dallas to Colorado, where Greg spent much of his childhood. Their son, Beau, lives in Golden. Deb hoped Colorado’s laws would allow her to legally and openly give Greg marijuana-based products.

“I’m trying to help Greg die with dignity and peace,” Deb, 63, said last week.

After Greg’s brief, troubled stay at a facility in Aurora, Deb recently moved him to another “memory care assisted living” home in Arvada. His artwork and pictures from his football career and of family hang on his bedroom wall. He doesn’t talk much and he moves haltingly.

Each morning, Deb, still living with Beau in Golden, uses a syringe to squeeze a tiny bit of marijuana oils — roughly the size of a rice kernel — onto a cookie and Greg eats it. “Tears of Luv,” the dispensary calls the oils. “In 30 to 40 minutes, Greg is calm,” Deb said.

Each night, she gives him “Cannabis Tears” capsules filled with a gooey-type extract, also of the indica marijuana plant.

“I’m not trying to get Greg high,” she said. “I’m trying to give him peace of mind. He’s almost off all other medications. He’s allowing other people to shower him. He’s saying full sentences this week. He looked at me the other day and said, ‘You look nice.'”

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Last week, Greg’s college roommate, former Longhorns linebacker David Richardson, journeyed to Denver to visit Greg and represent the Longhorn Support Group (LSG), an association of former players founded by another former Ploetz teammate, former Longhorns running back Billy Dale. Ploetz didn’t recognize Richardson, and when Richardson took one of his pictures off the wall and brought it into the central living room to ask him about it, Ploetz silently took it out of his hands, returned it to his room and put it back on the wall.

Richardson, the outreach minister at Victory Baptist Church in Cedar Park, Texas, wasn’t offended. His father died of Alzheimer’s four years ago. He also brought a check for $14,000 from the LSG to give to Deb. That would pay for about 70 days of Greg’s stay in the Arvada home, and it follows an earlier check from the LSG for $6,000 to cover day care expenses for Greg earlier in the Dallas area.

“I told Deb today, she needs to take care of herself,” Richardson said. “I think she’s found some good people who will take care of Greg, who will be patient and loving with him. Other places were ignorant; they didn’t know how to handle dementia patients. We need more places like this. She can’t take care of Greg if she’s laid up someplace.”

A kid in Colorado Springs

Ploetz’s father, Frederick, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism as a P-40 Warhawk fighter pilot in the Pacific Theater during World War II and remained in the military afterward. The family spent much of Greg’s childhood in Colorado Springs. There, his first football experience was in the Young America League and he was on the verge of entering Wasson High School when his father was transferred to Perrin Air Force Base in Sherman, Texas.

Greg soon was a star guard and linebacker in high school in Sherman, and a visit from University of Texas coach Darrell Royal convinced him to head to Austin. It was a time of huge rosters, even on the freshman teams. Ploetz initially was listed as the fifth-team freshman defensive end.

“I thought, ‘God, I’m going to have to kill somebody,’ ” Ploetz said in 2001. He said he took advantage of an “eye opener” drill, where a tackler went one-on-one with a runner picking a hole between bags. He blasted the ball carrier. “They picked him up and I got up and somebody asked me, ‘Now what’s your name again?’ ” Ploetz recalled. “The next day, my little ring is hung at starting linebacker.”

As a sophomore, he played linebacker for the varsity, then switched positions in 1969. He was all of 5-foot-10, weighed only 205 pounds, and wore number 31. And he was a defensive tackle, popular among this teammates.

Read the rest of the report on the Ploetz family

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