A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Health & Medicine

A Medical Mystery, Unfolding on Facebook

| 5 days ago

When I was 3 years old, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The chronic disease has never been a big deal for me. It’s obnoxious, sure, but manageable. Over the course of my 34 years, I estimate I’ve given myself some 55,000 injections. I’ve worked hard to stay healthy. I have run a few half-marathons and completed a full. I’m not a fast runner, and I never particularly enjoyed it, but I knew my diabetes would catch up to me at some point, so I ran because I could.

About three and a half years ago, everything changed. I was part of a group of women called Leadership Texas. It was a yearlong program with which we traveled to different cities and learned about the people making a difference. One of our sessions was in Amarillo. The second day of the trip, on a Saturday, I woke up in my hotel room soaked in sweat. Every part of my body was swollen. I couldn’t bend my fingers, my toes, my elbows, or my knees. I was exhausted beyond description.

I had joined a study a year and a half prior to see if a medicine that is used on Type 2 diabetics could work for Type 1s. It had been a great 18 months, with lower blood sugars and weight loss. But then I changed jobs and, thus, insurance companies. The new company didn’t like the name-brand drug. They made me switch to a generic.

That morning in Amarillo, I figured I was having a reaction to this new drug. I was convinced that things would go back to normal in a few weeks. I was certain it was just a small bump in the road.

I was wrong.

What follows are my Facebook posts over the years, lightly edited, as I saw nearly a dozen doctors in an effort to figure out what was wrong with me.

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Killer Instinct

| 1 week ago

A rich old man moved from South Dakota to Texas to be closer to his prison pen pal, a woman serving 50 years for conspiracy to commit murder. Then he died mysteriously.

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Health & Medicine

The Doctor You See When Nothing Else Works

| 1 week ago

Juan Gutierrez didn’t notice it at first. It started slowly. He thought, I’m probably just tired or sore from sleeping wrong. But eventually his friends saw that he was having a hard time walking. Over the course of three years, his gait became more unsteady with each passing day. When simple motor functions go awry, the diagnosis often involves a brain problem, and Gutierrez did his best to avoid getting bad news. But he finally went to a doctor and was told he had a brain tumor. An MRI eliminated any doubt.

The only treatment, Gutierrez was informed, was a risky surgery on his brain stem. Before he went forward with the surgery, though, he decided to get a second opinion. That’s how Gutierrez found his way to UT Southwestern and Dr. Juan Pascual’s Rare Brain Disorder Program at the O’Donnell Brain Institute.

The son of a philosophy professor and a literature professor at the University of Málaga, in Spain, Pascual grew up surrounded by books. As a young man, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and study philosophy, but his father warned him away from that path. It would be too difficult to make a living as a philosopher, he told his son. He suggested that Pascual study medicine instead and apply philosophy to his practice. So that’s what he did.

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Arts District

Assessing the Dallas Arts District, 10 Years Later

| 2 weeks ago

Ten years ago this month, I stood on the 46th floor of the Chase Bank building on Ross Avenue, in downtown Dallas, looking out over the Arts District’s latest two major cultural facilities in their final stages of construction: the ruby-husked Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House and the metal cube of the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. The new facilities promised to transform the half-mile of Flora Street from the Dallas Museum of Art to One Arts Plaza into the largest contiguous arts district in the world. But that day a decade ago, I didn’t see a completed vision—only snippets of an elusive dream.

When the idea of the Arts District first surfaced, in the 1970s, the hope was to transform the northeast corner of downtown into a vibrant neighborhood. But walking Flora—then and now—feels more like trekking through a quiet corporate campus, albeit one flanked with impressive buildings designed by famous architects. When I wrote for D Magazine in 2009 about what 30-plus years of planning, investment, and civic ambition had failed to create in the Arts District, I turned to urban planner Kevin Lynch, who wrote about vibrant neighborhoods requiring “place legibility.” They must offer a physical—and, by extension, mental—network of paths, edges, nodes, and landmarks. I argued that the Arts District hadn’t yet developed place legibility. Less generously, one architecture critic simply called the area an “architectural zoo.”

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The Long, Troubled, and Often Bizarre History of the State Fair of Texas

| 3 weeks ago

Author and Dallas Times Herald columnist John Rogers once told a story that, during the 1890s, a woman went to the powerful Dallas business leader John Armstrong looking for a $5,000 loan to pay for additional labor at her business. It didn’t take long for Armstrong to surmise what the woman did. She was a madam of a brothel in downtown Dallas.

Prostitution was legal at the time, but the oldest profession was still frowned upon by the polite and ardently religious social circles of upper crust, of which Armstrong belonged. The banker and real estate developer asked the woman when she planned to pay the money back. After the State Fair, she said. Armstrong promptly signed off on the note. The State Fair, he knew, was good business for Dallas and he would likely see a return on his investment. Sure enough, after the run of the fair, the woman returned Armstrong’s money with interest.

The State Fair of Texas has long embodied many of the civic and social paradoxes that define Dallas. The State Fair is the ultimate celebration of Texas culture, tradition, food, and kitsch—the place where all the iconic stuff of Texas life, from football to cattle to music to truck sales, come together. But over the years it has also been the setting of protest, confrontation, shrewd haggling, political struggle, and social progress. As we settle into the 133rd edition of the fair, we look back at the long, strange trip of the State Fair of Texas.

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The Risky Mission to Move a Giant Bald Eagle Nest Out of an Oncor Tower

| 1 month ago

As far as two American bald eagles were concerned, it was the perfect place to build their nest. It was sturdy, with an arm of crisscrossed steel beams just waiting to support a patchwork of branches and carcasses. And it was about 80 feet off the ground, a detail important to birds practically synonymous with the freedom of an open sky. It must have seemed a glorious piece of real estate, dwarfing the scraggly trees that grow near the wetlands over which it loomed, an ideal aerie to lay eggs, to raise eaglets. 

But there was a problem. The eagles’ carefully selected new home sat on the arm of an Oncor transmission tower. Stick by stick, they were constructing their king-bed-size nest on 350,000 volts of electricity. 

John DeFillipo has served since 2010 as director of John Bunker Sands Wetland Center, located 30 minutes southeast of Dallas and about a mile from the Oncor transmission tower. He has been there since the doors first opened, and in 2012, he watched the eagles construct their nest. He was excited to be so close to the majestic birds, but he worried about the dangers of the electricity tower. One wrong move and the birds might fry. Laws prohibit tampering with eagle nests, though, so there wasn’t much the young director could do but watch and wait. 

He watched as the laid-back male eagle hunted for perfect sticks to bring to the female. If they didn’t meet her standards, she threw them out. Despite her fussiness, the two completed the nest and were soon taking turns incubating their eggs. Not long after that, they were taking turns doling out pieces of fish to their two new eaglets.

In the spring of 2013, DeFillipo hosted a meeting at John Bunker Sands Wetland Center with representatives from Oncor, the utility company, and Falcon Steel, the company that had erected the transmission tower. Ten people congregated near the quiet wetland to discuss how they could help the eagles avoid electrocution. 

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50(-ish) Small Town Festivals to Make Your Fall in North Texas More Fun

| 1 month ago

You may have eaten klobasniky and danced the Polka at Westfest. But have you celebrated the invention of the hamburger in Athens or the filming of Bonnie and Clyde in Pilot Point? North Texas is swimming in small town festivals. This fall, allow us to guide you along a farm-to-market road less traveled.

(While you’re at it, print out the Small Town Festivals 2019 Calendar here.)

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The Real Story of How a Dallas Investor Bought The Weinstein Co.

| 2 months ago

Working from a shifting war room at the Montage Beverly Hills, Andy Mitchell edged achingly close to acquiring the bankrupt company of disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and its trove of more than 250 films. An obscure private equity guy from Dallas, Mitchell then lobbed a stun grenade: His Lantern Capital Partners wanted a price reduction of tens of millions, saying it had been misled about financial claims against the studio. Both sides threatened lawsuits. Ninety-six objections to the sale were filed, with actor Bradley Cooper and director Quentin Tarantino declaring they would be cheated out of millions.

But that wasn’t where the drama began. Three months earlier, an investment group led by billionaire Ron Buckle made a $500 million, pre-bankruptcy run at The Weinstein Co. There was speculation that Lantern was involved. When that deal fell through, The Weinstein Co. connected directly with Lantern. After marathon talks, claims, and counter-claims—not to mention threats to abandon the sale and lawyer up—Lantern in July 2018 prevailed in acquiring the studio out of bankruptcy.

Everyone in Tinseltown wanted to know: Who was this intruder blazing in from Texas to buy The Weinstein Co.? It had been one of the most successful “mini-major” studios in North America, before more than 100 women stepped forward to accuse CEO Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault, launching the #MeToo movement. 

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Architecture & Design

Fort Worth Grapples With the Future of a Former KKK Lodge

| 2 months ago

The peeling sign on the brick facade reads “Ellis Pecan Company,” but 1012 N. Main St. wasn’t built to be a warehouse. Nor was it built to be a professional wrestling arena, or the home of Fort Worth boxing team the Golden Gloves, or a hall for dance marathons—though it’s been all those things in its history. Instead, 1012 N. Main St. is thought to be the only building in the world still standing that was built by and for the Klu Klux Klan. 

The racist white supremacist group constructed it in 1921, rebuilt it even larger when it burned down in 1924, and used it as their headquarters in Fort Worth for about three years. It went through a few reincarnations before being sold to Ellis Pecan Company in 1946, which kept it as a warehouse until 1991. It’s been vacant, slowly crumbling ever since. Now, as the surrounding area undergoes major development for the Trinity River Vision Authority’s Panther Island Project, it’s time for 1012 N. Main St. to meet its fate—whether that be a wrecking ball or restoration. 

Sugarplum Holdings LP, which purchased the property as an investment in 2014, applied for a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish the structure earlier this summer. At a public hearing on July 8, the owners were officially granted the COA–albeit with a 180 day delay. It’s a time to “continue the conversation” around the former KKK lodge, as the city put it. And, for some community members, it’s the last chance to save what they see as an important opportunity for the city to reckon with its past. 

“I’m thinking about what this building could do for Fort Worth in terms of reconciling our own history as a city, as well as reconciling our history as a country,” says Adam McKinney, co-director of DNAWORKS, an art organization at the forefront of the discussion. “We believe that it’s important not to be erased so that we can move through it together. I’m excited about the possibility of being part of a national conversation about healing race-based violence.” 

One of several groups interested in the space, DNAWORKS hopes to form a coalition with other organizations and use the building to create an international center for performing arts and community healing. DNAWORKS envisions spaces for performance art, workshops on restorative justice and liberation, and an educational wing that addresses the building’s history. Speaking at the July 8 public hearing, McKinney pondered the uniqueness of the situation.

“Never before in the history of the world, nor anywhere in the universe, ever, has a former KKK building been transformed in this way. Fort Worth, we have an exceptional opportunity to lead and model our commitment to equity through arts innovation.”

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