Mar 22, 2010

In Search for Family, Fighting for His Life

By Daniel Austin Read

Michael Watts came to Austin from Virginia in the summer of 2009, trying to reconnect with his family, especially his daughter Naenae. But within weeks of arriving in Austin, his health deteriorated. He was diagnosed with liver cancer and breathing problems that required regulated doses of medicine. But then Watts, who had a history of homelessness, wound up back on the street.

In the fall he moved into ARCH, the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. The stability helped Watts keep his illness under control and after a few months at ARCH he was able to move to the Live Oak nursing facility, receiving 24-hour professional care. He had surgery that allowed doctors to inject chemotherapy drugs into his liver, which reduced side effects and made the cancer treatments more effective.

To keep his spirits up he read the Bible. “The devil can be in anything, any situation or object, just waiting for his chance to bring you down,” Watts said. “If you love money the devil can be in there and take away your money. The devil can be in this bus, and in my room, but I won’t let him bring me down.”

Watts eventually lost his fight; he died in January 2010. But he was able to reconnect with his brother and his brother’s family for Thanksgiving. More importantly, he grew closer to his daughter. Naenae’s boyfriend asked, and received, the father’s blessing to marry her. Photojournalist Daniel Austin Read chronicled Watts’ time in Austin.