The everyday struggle of former Badger Jake Dowell's family is one you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Jake's father, John, and his older brother, Luke, suffer from Huntington's disease, a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that slowly shuts down the body and mind until a person passes away.
John Dowell was diagnosed 11 years ago, just when Jake was blossoming as a premier hockey prospect. That diagnosis solved a lot of questions with Jake's older brother, Luke, now 30, who suffered early onset Huntington's and is also bipolar and schizophrenic.
Luke and John are two of four patients that now live in a 24-hour assisted-living house in Menomonie, Wis.
While the story of Jake's brother and father going through this horrific disease is tragic enough, there's the realistic possibility that Jake also carries the Huntington's gene. In fact, there's a 50-50 chance.
There is a test that can be taken to see if a person carries Huntington's, but Jake has not traveled down that road just yet. Dowell plans to take that test before he, and his wife, Carly, decide to start a family.
Dowell, who won a national championship at Wisconsin and has played 156 games in the NHL, is rightfully terrified of what may lie ahead for him.
"Absolutely, I’m scared," Dowell told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "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."
Dowell's story will be told on the ESPN platform tonight at 6 p.m. CT, as reporter Chris Connelly profiles the family for the show E:60. I had a chance to speak with Connelly last week about Dowell, who he has been following for the past two years.
"It's an enormous burden," Connelly said. "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."
Ryan Suter was teammates with Dowell at the U.S. National Team Development program for two years, and they shared a dorm together at Wisconsin as freshmen. They've since been reunited as members of the Minnesota Wild.
"Just two guys from Wisconsin and we’ve been best friends ever since," Suter told the Star Tribune this week. "I knew (Jake's father) 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."
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