ARIZONA NEWS

Mars rover to carry name of teen with rare disorder and Arizona ties

Jul 24, 2020, 7:00 AM | Updated: 4:00 pm
(Facebook Photo/NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover)...
(Facebook Photo/NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover)
(Facebook Photo/NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover)

PHOENIX — The name of a teen with Arizona ties who suffers from a rare disorder is headed to Mars.

Alex Yiu, a space enthusiast who turned 15 years old this week, wanted to leave his mark on the Red Planet with some help from his teacher.

“She got his name onto the Perseverance Rover and he got a boarding pass,” Alex’s mom, Caroline Cheung-Yiu told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “So, his name will be going on the rover to Mars.”

His name will be etched on a microchip and embedded on the rover.

But that’s not the only unique thing about the teen.

Yiu has a rare disorder — known as NEDAMSS — that took more than a decade to diagnose.

NEDAMSS is an acronym for neurodevelopmental disorder with regression, abnormal movements, loss of speech and seizures. This has left him bed-bound and non-verbal.

“It was a long road trying to look for a diagnosis through many institutions and hospitals,” Cheung-Yiu explained. “In the fall of 2018, we got a call from [Alex’s] neurologist that we finally got a diagnosis that was given through TGen.”

The Translational Genomics Research Institute – known as TGen – is a Phoenix-based, non-profit research center that helped to find Yiu’s diagnosis through its Center for Rare Childhood Disorders. Cheung-Yiu said they visited the Valley from the family’s home in San Diego specifically to help find a diagnosis.

However, space can still put a twinkle in his eyes.

“I, almost every day, read to him news about NASA and space,” Cheung-Yiu said. “He’s very interested and tends to select news more geared towards space and astronomy.”

And while the Arizona teen and a new high-tech rover may seem to be separated by light-years, Cheung-Yiu believes they share similar paths.

“It’s very interesting that the journey and the whole preparation of the Perseverance Rover going to Mars is so fitting,” she said.

“Our own journey with [Alex], the 12 years [of looking for a diagnosis], has been long but we saw through it and persevered and were able to get a diagnosis.”

On Saturday, Yiu will celebrate his birthday with a pre-launch Zoom party. The new rover is set to launch between July 30 and August 15 and will reach Mars sometime in February.

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