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

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

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.

Photo: Mike Munden •Associated Press,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

-- Jake Dowell shows up to the Wild locker room every day and sits in a far corner. As he joins his teammates and gets ready for practice, you’d never know the incredible weight he shoulders.

“Sometimes … you get choked up by the thought of what he’s going through,” coach Mike Yeo said.

Dowell’s father and only brother are dying. They’re both in the final stages of Huntington’s disease, a neurological disorder that over the course of a decade or more debilitates a person physically and cognitively until they die.

There is a 50-50 chance that Dowell, 28, a Wild checker who has played 156 NHL games, has inherited the same gene. In the next year or two, Dowell plans to go with his wife, Carly, and his champion of a mother, Vicki, to have a blood test and learn what his future holds.

The family’s harrowing story will be featured on ESPN’s newsmagazine program “E:60” at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“Absolutely, I’m scared,” Dowell said. “It scares the heck out of me to look at my dad and brother and think that potentially one day could be me. I try to be realistic about it, but I also have kind of gone numb to the whole thing. I don’t get really emotional about it anymore.”

Symptoms of Huntington’s disease typically manifest themselves in the mid- to late-30s and 40s.

Dowell’s father, John, 58, who used to own a collection agency and played college football at Wis.-Eau Claire, was diagnosed 11 years ago. Dowell’s brother, Luke, is only 30.

There is a 24-hour assisted-living house in Menomonie, Wis., owned by a husband and wife nurse team. John and Luke are two of the four patients.

“We put my dad on a feeding tube this past summer,” Dowell said. “But now, he’s starting to get delusional. Dementia’s kicked in. He can’t do anything for himself. You can’t understand him. He used to be a big man. Now he’s dwindled down.

“My brother had an early onset in high school. It’s really rare. He is bipolar and schizophrenic. If I go see him, I’ll say hi and he’ll give me a hug and he’s right back into just talking to himself, just kind of in a trance and he’ll just stare in the distance. He’s still walking, but not very well. He’s extremely skinny. He’s lost his teeth.

“Some days, it’s harder to say who’s in worse shape because my dad and brother have completely different stuff going on.”

Uncertain future

Huntington’s disease is hereditary, and the family has traced it back to Dowell’s paternal grandfather. John’s father committed suicide when John was a child.

“A lot of people with this disease commit suicide,” Dowell said. “Depression is a part of it. You don’t want to be helpless. It’s a long, drawn-out thing. It’s not like the late stages of cancer. It’s something that slowly kills you. It’s an awful decade or more process.

“I either have the gene or I don’t. I just haven’t needed to know yet.”

That’s because the Dowells haven’t tried to have children. But they want to, so they need to know if Dowell has the gene; if he does, there’s a 50-50 chance their children would inherit it.

“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.”



 

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Toronto - LP: D. Hutchison 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 10 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: M. Gonzalez 2
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 1
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 10 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: N. Karns 5
Cleveland - WP: C. Kluber 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: A. Swarzak 2
Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 5
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 3 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 8
Los Angeles - WP: C. Perez 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5
Texas - WP: S. Tolleson 2 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Street 1
Philadelphia - LP: M. Gonzalez 6 FINAL
Oakland - WP: S. Doolittle 8
San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: I. Kennedy 8
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 3 FINAL
Colorado - WP: C. Bergman 8
Cincinnati - WP: A. Simon 7 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: L. Lynn 2
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 FINAL
Arizona 23
Denver 20 FINAL
Seattle 26
Kansas City 34 FINAL
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 37 FINAL
Carolina 19
Chicago 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 4 FINAL
Carolina 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Washington 1
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Calgary 1 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Edmonton 0 FINAL
Calgary 1
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Toronto FC 3
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which local pro team are you most excited about?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close