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The Zoota Family (Eleanor and Murray Zoota centered).
The Zoota Family (Eleanor and Murray Zoota centered).

The Zoota family has established a new endowed fund for Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences in support of TCU’s Parkinson’s outreach project, Endeavor Parkinsonology.

This gift will help bring national and international thought leaders and researchers of Parkinson’s disease to the TCU community to help others become more informed and raise awareness about Parkinson’s.

“We would love to see this speaker series support the nonmedical individuals that make up the care teams for people with Parkinson’s disease,” said Andrew Zoota ’98 MS, Ph.D. ’00, son of Murray and Eleanor Zoota, those in whose honor the endowment was established. “Parkinson’s disease is more than a movement disorder; it consists of non-motor, mood and cognitive symptoms that many aren’t prepared for.”

Andrew explained that many times, the average person defines Parkinson’s disease as having tremors. However, he stressed that “mental health is affected, drooling and the inability to swallow, blood pressure, hallucinations … it’s not just movement.” Being aware of what these are can help those affected plan the proper care and support.

“We’re not doctors or health care professionals,” said Andrew. “We’re family.”

The Zoota family wants these lectures to inspire hope for those currently living with Parkinson’s and their families that treatments and possible cures are being worked on and will be coming in the future.

In Honor of Murray and Eleanor Zoota

Murray Zoota was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013. After learning of his diagnosis, he and his wife, Eleanor Zoota, found the right health care team and began seeking various activities and therapies that could slow down the progression. The Zootas desired to live out their vision for retirement the best way they could.

A few years before Zoota was diagnosed, two-time boxing world champion Paulie Ayala began Punching Out Parkinson’s (POP) in September 2011 to improve movement, speed, eye-to-hand coordination, balance, strength, speech, endurance and self-image through boxing for those living with Parkinson’s.

Zoota, the 78-year-old former CEO of a large mortgage bank in California, eventually found POP and began training with Ayala in 2015. It was not long before he began to experience the program’s benefits.

“As important as the physical aspects of Punching Out Parkinson’s, the social aspect has been just as important,” said Andrew. “It is just a good community.”

While they did not have any academic ties with TCU, the university was in their backyard, so Murray and Eleanor attended many TCU community events throughout the years and “never missed a baseball or football game.”

Through Endeavor Parkinsonology’s partnership with Ayala, Zoota eventually met Dr. Chris Watts, Marilyn and Morgan Davies Dean of Harris College, and has been supporting his research efforts over the last two years.

In 2021, Eleanor died unexpectedly. She was dedicated to supporting her husband and was a strong advocate for anyone affected by Parkinson’s disease. This endowment is established in her honor.

“There was no better way to continue helping others diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease than to create a fund that will support and impact the community’s understanding of Parkinson’s, and hopefully help in the development of a cure,” said Andrew.

The Zoota family’s generosity also supports Lead On: A Campaign for TCU, the university’s most ambitious philanthropic effort in its 150-year history.

Leaders in Parkinson’s Disease

Doctor, best-selling author and research scientist Michael S. Okun
Doctor, best-selling author and research scientist Michael S. Okun is the inaugural speaker in an annual speaker series hosted by the Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences at Texas Christian University.

The first lecture will take place in the fall of 2023 with Dr. Michael S. Okun, a neurologist, neuroscientist, author, department chair and professor of neurology at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

Harris College researchers are putting data behind the idea that an exercise program can delay symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. A future study will help differentiate changes happening in the body due to Parkinson’s versus aging. Learn more about the research study.