A young widow’s mission: Spreading awareness about frontotemporal dementia

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When we introduced you to Tim Rowans back in May, he couldn’t speak much and spent minutes at a time staring into our camera.

The Tim you met is not the Tim his family knew, it was the Tim he turned into when frontotemporal dementia, FTD, robbed him of his personality and ultimately his life.

“He passed away Sept. 2 the morning of, it was Labor Day,” said Lauren Rowans.

Tim’s wife, Lauren, agreed to speak with Action News Jax about what it’s been like to lose him.

More importantly, she wanted to show people what this disease did to her 45-year-old husband.

The videos she shared with us were meant to be private, but she wanted to show people everything, no matter how raw.

“Want to tell the kids anything?” she asked Tim in the video. He replied, “I love you.”

She also showed us the last video she shared with Tim.

It was taken three days before he died in his sleep at the facility where he was staying.

“How are you?” asked Action News Jax reporter Lorena Inclán.

“I’m OK, I’m good knowing that he’s not suffering anymore, and he never would’ve wanted to live longer being that way,” Lauren said.

FTD affects the part of the brain that deals with personality, behavior and language.

Its victims are much younger than those who suffer from Alzheimer’s.

The disease can show signs in someone as young as 40 years old.

For Tim, the symptoms ranged from apathy to a loss of inhibition.

“That filter that tells them something’s a bad idea, that part of the brain has died,” said Lauren.

Lauren has since become the only Florida-based volunteer ambassador with the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration.

“They have provided so much guidance and so many different resources,” she said. “I knew fairly early on that I wanted to be involved as much as I could.”

A big part of her new mission is helping others whose loved ones have been diagnosed with FTD.

That’s how she met Shelley Gill and her wife, Becky.

Becky now lives at Arbor Terrace San Jose, where she can be cared for around the clock.

“The friendship with Lauren has been super important because this disease is so isolating. Nobody really knows what it’s like to go through,” said Gill.

The couple has a seven-year-old son. Their family photo hangs above Becky’s bed.

At one point, our camera caught her staring at the picture and smiling.

“It took three years for a diagnosis because it’s so hard, a lot of doctors don’t even know what FTD is,” said Gill.

An early diagnosis is key.

But because so much is a mystery with FTD, many families spend years looking for answers.

Gill said knowing sooner would’ve helped her understand how to better support her wife.

“It would’ve been invaluable. Families get torn apart by this disease,” said Gill.

If you walk into Lauren’s home, you’ll immediately notice a running theme.

Three little birds pose over her kitchen sink, over her fire place, and even tattooed on her arm.

It’s from Tim’s favorite Bob Marley song.

“It’s a reminder that everything is going to be all right,” said Lauren.

Tim donated his brain to science in the hopes it can help find a cure.

In the meantime, pictures of his smiling face will always be a present in their home, because that is how Lauren and her kids want him to be remembered.

To learn more about FTD and how you can help click here.