Forgotten by spouses ravaged by Alzheimer’s, area couple finds love again

Marilyn Rohrer and Leroy McGowan. (Photo by Christy Soto)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) Marilyn Rohrer and Leroy McGowan fell in love in 2013 while caring for their spouses, both of whom were slowly losing their memories to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“It's wonderful to have someone to love again, to take care of and to know you are loved and taken care of,” Rohrer said.

Rohrer and McGowan met at the nursing home where McGowan’s wife and Rohrer’s husband, were cared for as the disease progressed.

“I feel that God saw a situation where there were two people who were going through the same situation and they both needed someone and they both need help,” McGowan said.

As the disease worsened, Rohrer and McGowan realized the people they loved and with whom they had vowed to spend their lives had forgotten who they were.

"I was the first person he forgot. I became girl and I think he actually thought I was home health care worker, Rohrer said.

“He would ask me off and on ‘are we married,’” Rohrer said.

Tears streamed down McGowan’s face as he remembered how he felt the day his wife, his high school sweetheart and woman he has loved since he was 15, forgot who he was.

"To see that person you loved all these years and watch them slowly go away, and they don't have a clue who you are…I didn't leave her, she left me in 2013," McGowan said.

Rohrer’s husband passed away several years ago, but McGowan’s wife is still in a nursing home in Austin.

Some have struggled to accept McGowan’s and Rohrer’s decision to move on.

“Most people don't understand how he can have a wife, but have a relationship with someone else," Rohrer said.

“What most people don't understand you have a spouse on paper, but that spouse has forgotten you. They don't even know you exist, they don’t remember anything about you, they don't know themselves.”

McGowan does not feel like he has ever betrayed his wife.

“I feel like I have never broken my vows even though I have been involved and still involved with Marilyn I have never broken my vows," McGowan said.

Therapists say Alzheimer’s disease can be traumatic not just for victims, but also for their families.

"You have to learn to put a shell or a wall around your heart (or) you'll hurt all the time," Rohrer said.

McGowan says his therapist told him he needed a support system and he found that in Rohrer.

“Your marriage is made up of memories, (with Alzheimer’s) you aren't making memories they can't even remember the things you did when you were married," Rohrer said.

Rohrer and McGowan are both looking forward to making more memories and continuing their lives together.

“I enjoyed being married and I am ready to take that plunge again,” Rohrer said.