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Continued: Wild's Dowell, family battle against the slowest of killers

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 20, 2014 - 9:24 PM

“If I have the gene, we can do in vitro [fertilization],” Dowell said. “They have isolated the gene, so they can literally take that gene out of the sperm and it’ll be out of my family for good … if I do have it.”

Dowell’s mother tells him that when she looks back at her husband in his late 20s, even then he had some “goofy tendencies that now make sense, and I don’t have any of that stuff.”

Dowell says his wife is scared, “but she’s at peace, no matter what happens, that we’ll do the best we can. It’s helped for her to see my mom be so strong about all this and take on more than I think a normal person could do.”

Vicki Dowell was her husband’s caregiver for a decade. But physically, she could not get her husband in and out of his wheelchair anymore. She would try to get him onto a toilet or into a shower, he’d fall and take her down with him.

“Her health was deteriorating and finally I said, ‘Mom, we have to get Dad into a facility. I’m going to lose you before I lose Dad and Luke potentially if we don’t,’ ” Dowell said. “I’ve seen her age quite a lot, but she’s doing a lot better now.”

Hockey provides an escape

Wild defenseman Ryan Suter and Dowell were groomsmen in each other’s weddings. They played together in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the U.S. development team from 2001-03 and were roommates at the University of Wisconsin in 2003.

“Just two guys from Wisconsin and we’ve been best friends ever since,” Suter said. “I knew John when he was big and strong, and he was just the nicest guy, just like Jake — kindhearted, would do anything for you. It’s just terrible and Jake’s got a lot to deal with.

“I think hockey’s a good escape for him. He can come in here and joke around and leave all that stuff outside the rink for a little bit.”

Dowell has played for three NHL teams and spent most his career in the minors.

He played only two games for the Wild last season and 37 for Houston. But he has a one-way contract this season, giving him an inside track to making the team because he’d have to be paid his $700,000 salary in Iowa.

Dowell has found a niche — he’s strong in the faceoff circle, reliable defensively, a good penalty killer, physical and will fight for his teammates.

“I think it’s safe to say this is the most important year of my career,” Dowell said. “I want to earn some trust in a coaching staff that really hasn’t seen me play a lot. I want to get myself in this league for good.”

Yeo calls Dowell an “amazing professional” the way he’s able to handle the stress of his personal life.

“I don’t want pity or anything,” said Dowell, who is involved with the Huntington’s disease Society of America. “I talk about it because I want to raise awareness to find a cure. I want to get funding to find a cure for this awful disease. Nobody should have to suffer through what my dad and brother are suffering through.”


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  • The Wild’s Jake Dowell faces a vital career year on the ice, but it’s nothing compared to concerns he grapples with away from the rink. His father, John, and brother, Luke, both have Huntington’s disease, a debilitating neurological disorder that is genetic. Jake has yet to be tested for it.

  • Jake Dowell's father, John, is in the center of this family photo. The rest of the family is Jake's wife, Carly (behind Jake on left); his mother, Vicki (back right) and brother Luke (front right). John and Luke Dowell have Huntington's disease, and Jake could either get it or carry the gene that passes it from generation to generation.

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