Courtesy Photo
Eric and Jessica Howard and their children. Eric has been diagnosed with a rare, debilitating disease. A benefit dinner to help raise money for the family is set for tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. at the church ballfield in Alamo.

One morning in March, Eric Howard, of Alamo, woke up feeling off-balance and thought he was experiencing vertigo. He went to the Alamo Clinic, which sent him to the emergency room at Centennial Hills Hospital in Las Vegas, where they did a stroke workup, along with an MRI. The results said Howard was fine, but the MRI showed white matter on his brain. He was sent home with a diagnosis of sinusitis.

Three days later, Howard woke up again and couldn’t walk. He went to Summerlin Hospital in Las Vegas and spent three days there with blurred vision and slurred speech while doctors took CAT scans. After a new diagnosis of vertigo, he was sent home with a walker.

His condition continued to worsen and he had to start using a wheelchair. He also was fatigued and slept a lot. He was referred to St. George where they did a full neurological workup including a spinal tap, PET scan, MRI, etc.

Howard spent a total of thirteen days in the hospital and was finally diagnosed with an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system called Paraneoplastic Cerebellar Degeneration (PCD). The disease is caused either by an untreated infection or cancer.

The doctors performed a biopsy on the lymph nodes in Howard’s neck and they came back clear. They plan on checking the growth of those lymph nodes after another CAT scan in the future and may attempt to biopsy the lymph nodes in Howard’s lungs. Howard tested positive for malignancy, but the source is still unknown, which makes treatment harder.

He was moved to a neurological rehabilitation center in St. George where he has been for over three weeks, trying to adapt to his current abilities with the help of physical therapy. He is suffering from ataxia, which inhibits his ability to walk and talk. These symptoms can’t be treated effectively until the source of the malignancy is located.

Jessica Howard, his wife, related, “It has been so hard for him to adjust with everything. He keeps pushing hard during his therapy sessions.”

The plan moving forward is to come home in a wheelchair for a while and go see both the neurologist and an oncologist to continue to search for answers. With the help of Nick Pearson, who cleared out their concrete walkway, and Jeremy Jorgensen, who installed a new concrete ramp, Howard’s home has been made wheelchair-accessible.

With Eric in St. George, it has been hard for Jessica going back and forth to spend time with him. Her mom has helped her with the family’s four kids, who haven’t seen their dad for five weeks.

Jessica has been visiting Eric in rehab between one to two times a week. She added, “It has been hard going back and forth, and I feel guilt that I can’t be there with him, and at the same time I also feel guilty for not being with my kids for all of the hospital stays I did stay through. It’s hard being so far away from him.”

The outlook remains hopeful. Jessica explained, “The doctors in St. George seem so good and really took time in diagnosing him. I feel hopeful that answers will be given. This is a rare disease, which makes it hard to figure out. If further input is needed, they hope to send him to Salt Lake City. It is hard that answers are taking a while because he can’t get any better until they know the true source.”

There has been an abundance of help and service towards the Howard family through this whole process and Jessica exclaimed, “It’s been amazing. The whole town has been so great to us. There have been so many little things all the time that people have done to help out. I don’t think I could do it without everybody’s help.”

On Saturday, May 12, at 4:30 p.m. at the church ballfield, there will be a benefit dinner to help raise money for their family. The suggested donation is $10 a plate. If you can’t make the dinner, donations are accepted at Pahranagat Valley Federal Credit Union under the Eric Howard Benefit Fund.