Long before Caren Teves’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, her oldest son Alex was one of her greatest champions. “He always looked to the positive in life,” says Caren, of Phoenix, Arizona. “He would take your whole face in his hands—just to make you smile.”
But on July 20, Caren and her family lost Alex. He was one of the 12 victims of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. He died while protecting his girlfriend, Amanda Lindgren. Twenty-four years old, Alex had just completed a master’s in counseling psychology at the University of Denver. To help people “in body and in mind,” says Caren, he had enrolled in a doctoral program to become a physical therapist.
Out of this tragedy, the Teves family is trying to do something good. In lieu of flowers, they’ve asked friends and family to make a contribution to The Michael J. Fox Foundation, all of which will be doubled by the Brin Wojcicki Challenge. “It’s what Alex would have wanted,” Caren’s husband Tom says. “He had such a special relationship with his mom. He wanted everyone who was affected by this disease to be well cared for.” The Teves family decided to support MJFF because they appreciate the amount of money it directs toward research—at least 88 cents of every dollar spent. “The work the Foundation is doing gives us hope, and that’s what we need right now,” Caren says.
As someone with young-onset Parkinson’s, Caren experienced a lack of resources for people like her. This compelled her to do her own research into the disease. She discovered 23andMe’s community for Parkinson’s patients, and completed their free spit test to learn more about her genetic profile. As she reconnected with her childhood friends, she found an unusually high number of them had neurological disorders and cancer. Caren thinks the environment also played a role in her Parkinson’s, since her hometown became a Superfund site in the 1980s. “We all have a genetic predisposition toward one disease or another. But the environment is the smoking gun,” she says.
While exploring how she could stay active, she met Brian Baehr, who also has YOPD and lives in Phoenix. Brian soon linked her into his network, and Caren now feels less isolated. Brian prompted her family to join Team Fox through his annual event, the Baehr Challenge. Tom and their two younger sons, Tommy and Nick, all participated in the race this April. Caren says she was amazed to see a woman with Parkinson’s in her 80s completing the obstacle course. She hopes to participate herself next year.
Through Brian, Caren found a new doctor who has helped her adjust her medications. Her sons, and Alex in particular, encouraged her to exercise more regularly. Together, this has made a real difference in her mobility, enabling her to return to cooking—a passion of hers.
Alex’s death has inspired Caren to do something even more. While she had shared her diagnosis with her family and close friends, she hadn’t gone fully public. “I understand that some patients hesitate to tell others because they worry about losing a job or their friends. For me, I just didn’t want it to change how people felt about me. I didn’t want anyone’s pity. That’s not who I am.”
When asked how her perspective has changed, she explains, “I want people to know this disease affects ordinary people—and some while they’re still quite young. There is greater strength in numbers, and we can all do something to help. I’m doing this in honor of Alex.”
The Teves family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support after Alex’s death. “While he never wanted anything in return, Alex loved helping others, especially mentoring young people,” Caren says. “But we had no idea the extent. Every day, we find out more and more the impact he had.”
Had his life not been cut so short, there is no question Alex would have touched many more people. “All he ever wanted to do was to help others,” Caren says. “He’s still helping us today.”