In 2016, Lara and Tom Garey were planning their next steps: retirement and sending their son to college. So when Tom—who served six years in the U.S. Air Force—began experiencing weakness, the family was shocked to learn that what they thought was carpal tunnel syndrome was actually amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
“We just looked at each other and said: ‘Well, we’re not going to just go home and let this disease take us,’” Lara said. “‘We’re going to do whatever we can for awareness.’”
Lara became focused on military and ALS advocacy in addition to being Tom’s caregiver as his disease progressed. Three years later, the Cedar Park resident now represents Texas as a Dole Caregiver Fellow for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.
The organization supports 5.5 million military caregivers nationwide, according to a statement from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. As a fellow, Lara joins around two dozen military and veteran caregivers as an advocate ambassador and advisor for the foundation.
Liz Rottenberry, 23 Fellows Program coordinator, said Garey’s story made her a strong candidate for the fellowship along with her positivity and motivation for ALS advocacy.
“I just knew she would be a great addition to the Dole family because of all the personality character traits she has,” Rotenberry said.
She said the foundation strives to have fellows who represent a range of military injuries and illnesses. She said Lara is one of two caregivers representing ALS out of 200 fellows.
Lara said she is excited to have a bigger platform to help veterans by doing interviews, spreading the word about the foundation and advocating for future veterans with ALS.
“Lara is a strong advocate not just for me but for all veterans with ALS, which is why I am proud of Lara for being identified as the 2019-20 fellow from Texas,” Tom said.
Lara said she plans to work with leadership at the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System to create overall treatment consistency with clinics in the ALS Association and conduct research for a disease she said lacks many answers.
“When you meet one veteran with ALS, you’ve only met one veteran with ALS,” Lara said. “Because [Tom’s] care is completely different from the guy that may live 2 miles from us.”
In May, Lara was able to attend an event for veterans and caregivers at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The “Today” show covered the event, dedicating a segment, which included celebrities such as Tom Hanks, to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Lara said she recognizes the foundation gives her a bigger platform for her advocacy.
“I can’t fight this disease any other way,” she said. “I can’t make my husband better, but I can hopefully make things better for him and for veterans.”
What is Heroes Night Out?
Lara Garey suggests locals support Heroes Night Out, a nonprofit for military service members and veterans, to help Cedar Park-area veterans
What types of events does the nonprofit host?
Monthly family events such as:
- serving pizza;
- bringing in a magician;
- and screening a movie and more