Minnesota Wild center Jake Dowell has had quite the ride along his hockey journey. He won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships with Team U.S.A, a national championship at the University of Wisconsin, and was a member of the Blackhawks organization when Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2010.
Behind closed doors, Dowell's family has been rocked by Huntington's disease.
Jake's father, John, and brother, Luke, suffer from the neurodegenerative genetic disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, Huntington's disease causes the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. The disease has a broad impact on a person's functional abilities and usually results in movement, cognitive and psychiatric disorders.
While the effect on Dowell's family has been gut-wrenching enough, Jake carries the possibility that he may carry the strain as well. In fact, there is a 50-50 chance that Dowell may eventually suffer from Huntington's.
There is a test available Dowell could take to find out if he has Huntington's, but, he says he's not prepared to go down that road yet. Dowell explains why in an incredible piece ESPN did on its E:60 show.
The show will air on ESPN Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. cst. In advance of the show's airing, Bucky's 5th Quarter spoke with ESPN reporter Chris Connelly, who has been following and reporting on Dowell's story over the past two years.
Bucky's 5th Quarter: How did you find out about Jake's story, and why did you think it should be told on the E:60 platform?
Chris Connelly, ESPN: I think I remember seeing the story in "The Hockey News" a couple years ago. But, it was Frank Saraceno, our producer, who took it up with the guys at E:60, and they decided to pursue it. We always want to do more hockey stories, but sometimes it's tough with the way football dominates the landscape. It was a really compelling story, and Jake and his family were such interesting people we really wanted to move forward with it. Thankfully, the Dowell's were so open to letting us tell their story.
B5Q: Did you get a chance to meet Jake's father, John?
CC, ESPN: I did spend some time with John in his living room. It was over the offseason, but John was watching highlights of some of Jake's old games. He was still living at home at the time, and we had a limited conversation. Since we shot that, John has moved to an assisted living facility, where he is staying now.
B5Q: When you talked to Jake, did you get a sense this disease is weighing on him not only as a person with family members affected, but as someone who may be carrying the disease?
CC, ESPN: I think it's an enormous burden, and I have the most admiration for Jake for the way he manages to get through life and still play hockey at the highest level while he deals with this. There is a 50-50 chance he carries the gene, and he hasn't been tested yet to find out if he has it. The consequences of finding out might be devastating not only to him, but to his mother, Vicki. They are very close.
Every time he visits his dad and his brother, it has to be in his mind this could happen to him some day. That has to be an extraordinary feeling. All the bangs and bruises he gets on the ice, any time there's a muscle twitch, of course he's thinking "could this be a sign?"
He's a great guy. You just admire him so much. For the way he deals with his mom and keeps her positive, it's extraordinary.
B5Q: Jake's mom seems to be so strong for the way she's been able to handle everything so far. You have to think it's stressful on her knowing Jake may eventually get Huntington's as well.
CC, ESPN: It would just be too much. Her husband has it, her other son has it. For it to happen to Jake -- it would be devastation beyond understanding. Maybe (Jake) has not gotten tested because he might wonder how his mom will handle it. The first day after John was diagnosed she read about 10 pages online of what a caretaker has to do. It was one of the most staggering, emotional moments of her life.
B5Q: Did Jake mention if he thinks this disease may affect his NHL career in terms of what teams may think about him? Do you think there are teams out there that may hold it against him?
CC, ESPN: I think Jake was concerned about that earlier in his career, that teams might resist signing him. Had a team ask him to get tested, he wouldn't have done that. Teams understand that's asking too much. Since he's gotten signed, he doesn't feel like it has been a limiting factor. Early onset Huntington's doesn't show usually until your mid to late 30's, so it shouldn't be a concern.
B5Q: This story is so emotionally captivating, what else can we look for when it airs Tuesday?
CC, ESPN: It's very powerful. With the advances in modern science, the things the doctors may be able to tell you about your gene sequence -- Jake lives that right now. You can't help but imagine yourself in this situation. Would you get tested? Would you not get tested? Jake will wait until he, and his wife, Carly, decide to start a family. That's the one promise he made to his mom -- he will not bring another child into the world that has Huntington's.
He's already preparing himself for the results of the test, whenever he decides to take it. He knows who he wants around when he finally makes that decision, who he wants to share that day with. He's getting ready.
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