Former San Diego ‘Bachelor’ contestant speaks out for ALS
Sarah Trott shared her family’s story of caregiving for her father with ALS during an episode of “The Bachelor”
Scripps Ranch resident Sarah Trott was looking for love when she became a contestant on “The Bachelor.” Instead, she brought the issues of family caregiving and ALS into the national spotlight.
Before her father started displaying early symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2016, Trott was a 19-year-old sophomore studying journalism at the University of Missouri. Her life was “wildly different” at that time and more closely resembled that of her peers: She was involved with her academics and sorority while working toward her longtime dream of becoming a broadcast reporter.
Then her dad, who was 54 at the time, started having trouble speaking and walking.
“He was really active and in the prime of his career, and my whole world kind of changed after getting that diagnosis,” Trott said.
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a motor neuron disease that impacts cells in the brain and spinal cord that affect muscles throughout the body. Diagnosis begins by ruling out other potential ailments. Symptoms include muscle weakness or spasms, problems with coordination, body fatigue, vocal cord spasms and shortness of breath, among others. There is no cure for the degenerative disease, and no treatment has yet been developed to slow its progression.
Like many people at the beginning of their ALS journey, Trott’s father was first diagnosed with the less severe primary lateral sclerosis. But as his symptoms progressed more rapidly, he was diagnosed with ALS.
“That felt so devastating for our family,” she said. “We were very optimistic and hopeful that it would be something that would be maybe treatable or have a longer life expectancy, and it was a really difficult thing to come to terms with.”
The diagnosis brought their family closer together, but also raised questions for Trott about whether to drop out of school to move back home. Instead, she finished her degree program, worked an internship in Washington, D.C. and went on to work as a television reporter and anchor in Palm Springs, where she was just a two-hour drive away to come home on weekends.
She felt like she was burning the candle at both ends, so when her father’s condition worsened and he was placed on hospice in 2019, she quit her job to move back to San Diego to help care for him. Trott would help him with brushing his teeth and hair, nail trimming, range of motion exercise and “doing all of the things that a parent does for a child.”
“I felt like it was the least I could do was just to return in gratitude all of the things that they’ve, they’ve done for me, that this is just a small token that I could do for them,” Trott said.
Trott and her family had been involved with and supported by the ALS Association.
Along with her mom and sister, Trott had scheduled caregiving shifts until his medical needs heightened to the point of needing a nurse to care for him in 2020.
After putting her professional and personal life aside to be there for her family, Trott joined the cast of “The Bachelor” in hopes of finding a love as strong and true as her parents’ relationship. Armed with their support to follow her dreams and find love, she traveled to Pennsylvania to film the show.
“With ALS, the timeline is really unclear, and my parents always were supportive of me continuing on my life path and finding happiness in my career or relationships with others and were fully supportive of me pursuing these things, including ‘The Bachelor,’ ” she said.
Being away from her family was too difficult, so she left the show at the end of the third episode.
Now that she is home in Southern California — splitting her time between San Diego and her apartment in Los Angeles — she is taking on a new role to support caregivers and raise awareness of Lou Gehrig’s disease through her partnership with the ALS Association and its San Diego chapter.
As Trott was preparing for her time on the show, she got connected with the nonprofit, so many people were rooting for her while watching the show play out at home, said Eric Andrews, associate director of development and events for ALS Association San Diego.
“As the show was airing with her on it, people were very supportive because they know we need names like that, and people like that to help raise more awareness, and so everybody was ecstatic and cheering her on,” Andrews said.
Trott is now working with the national leg of the nonprofit to plan virtual caregiving retreats for young women to share her experiences and connect and unite others.
Andrews said having people in the media like Trott talk about their caregiving and ALS experiences is vital for raising knowledge of the disease, as well as funds for the organization’s support services and research.
“People in positions like hers, they go through this sort of thing, too,” Andrews said. “That’s important to realize, that ALS can strike anybody at any given time, no matter your background or medical history.”
At the height of her experience as one of the primary caregivers for her dad, Trott said she struggled to take care of herself and find balance.
Caregivers, like Trott, often shift their work and personal priorities and self-care to care for their loved ones. About 61 percent of unpaid, family caregivers work a full- or part-time job, according to a 2020 AARP report. Some are forced to scale back or quit their jobs because the cost of hiring a professional caregiver is too steep. Some people surveyed reported losing job benefits, retiring early, or turning down promotions to focus on caring for loved ones.
“I felt completely overwhelmed and helpless and didn’t make an effort to balance,” she said. “That’s why I feel so passionate about uniting caregivers, especially young females who were thrown into this unexpected position, because what I went through felt so lonely and heartbreaking and challenging. I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through.”
With the new platform she has gained through sharing her story on “The Bachelor,” Trott now aims to support others who are caregiving for loved ones. She also hopes to address the severe financial burden that caregivers face.
In early January, the 24-year-old started a private support group on Facebook so other caregivers have a safe space to talk about what their experiences are like and how to access resources. In the few months since it was launched, the group has already amassed more than 600 members.
“It’s mostly young women who are in just a similar situation and feel really at a crossroads, like just starting out in their careers or relationships and are presented with this huge hardship,” Trott said. “I think that makes you feel less alone to know you really aren’t on this journey alone.”
In addition to working with the ALS Association, Trott is preparing to launch the second season of her podcast “From Here to Where” in the summer, for which she interviews inspiring women.
To find out more information or connect to services at the ALS Association Greater San Diego Chapter, visit https://bit.ly/ALSSanDiego or call (858) 271-5547.
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