Father's Parkinson's disease inspires a New Jersey family to donate their brains for research

Lauren Glassberg Image
Thursday, July 20, 2023
Father's Parkinson's disease inspires NJ family to donate their brains for research
The need for brain research is one of the reasons why all the adults in the Demers family have decided to register for the Brain Donor Project. Lauren Glassberg has the story.

MIDLAND, New Jersey (WABC) -- Staying active is one of the many ways Don Demers Sr., 73, deals with his battle with Parkinson's disease.

"It's all to delay the disease," he tells Eyewitness News. "Exercise is a really good form of fighting it."

Keeping busy is something the New Jersey native is no stranger to, having spent his career as a portfolio manager.

After analyzing and identifying key info as part of his job role for many years, Demers Sr. knows more than a thing or two about the value of research.

He also, according to his son, Don Demers Jr., knows how much research is needed when it comes to Parkinson's.

"He knew that the brain matter is the most important property for researchers," said Demers Jr. "So to sign up to give his port-mortem was an easy decision."

Signing up is exactly what the Demers family did with Tish Hevel's Brain Donor Project, a nonprofit registry that partners with the NeuroBioBank, a brain tissue repository that distributes thousands of samples per year for scientific study.

The goal for the company is to simplify the process of brain donation, making it free and easy for families to donate a brain upon death.

Aware that becoming a brain donor isn't as easy as becoming an organ donor, Hevel launched the Brain Donor Project in 2016.

"The first thing everyone says is, 'I already checked the box on my driver's license and I'm going to be a brain donor,' and it's like no, you're not," said Hevel.

The topic of brain donation is one that Hevel knows all too well.

In March 2015, Hevel's father, Gene Armentrout, passed away in March 2015 from Lewy body dementia and wanted his brain donated for research.

"We're not getting answers fast enough," said Hevel. "At this point, one in five of us suffers from some sort of neurological disease or disorder."

The need for more research is one of the reasons why all the adults in the Demers family have decided to register for the Brain Donor Project.

"The more brains that people sign up for donation, the more matter goes to researchers," said Don Jr.

"It has a spiral effect of increasing research not just for Parkinson's, but all these different neurological diseases."

Demers Sr. and his family now take comfort in knowing that his final act with be a selfless one, all in the name of science, as will theirs.

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