Clyde family seeks help for sick son

By Caroline Klapper | Jan 14, 2013
Photo by: Donated photo Howell Brown III, 9, plays with one of the chicks he was raising before becoming ill.

It was a rarity to see Howell Brown Jr. without his son right there next to him working on the family farm in Clyde.

“All I ever wanted was a little boy. Me and him, we’re closer than anybody,” Brown said. “I couldn’t order any fellow that would make me any happier.”

At 9 years old, Howell Brown III loved spending time with his father, helping with the animals and raising his calves and chickens for 4-H. When he wasn’t at school, he could usually be found with his father riding on the tractor and doing chores around the farm, but all that changed in the fall of 2012.

“Little Howell” began having headaches and nausea. Trips to the doctor yielded little information.

“The doctor kept giving him antibiotics and said it was his sinuses,” Howell Jr. said.

Finally, an MRI was recommended and what was revealed on the scan was devastating.

“Nov. 19 changed our whole world,” said Susan Brown, Little Howell’s mother.

There, nearly in the center of Little Howell’s brain, was a large tumor growing on the pineal gland. The tumor was so large it was blocking the passage where excess brain fluid normally drains, and that backed up fluid was creating too much pressure inside his head.

The doctor immediately ordered that Little Howell be taken to Mission Hospital’s ICU and then transported to Duke to have surgery to relieve the pressure in the brain as quickly as possible.

Surgeons drilled a hole in his skull and put a tube in place to temporarily fix the issue, but doctors told the Browns more brain surgery was needed to remove the large tumor.

The Browns decided to have Christmas with their son before the big surgery, but on Dec. 27, they were back in the hospital.

Another MRI scan revealed that the tumor had grown from 30 mm to 37 mm in a little more than a month’s time — dashing hopes that the tumor might be a slow-growing type. It was now larger than a golf ball and needed to be removed fast.

“They knew then that it wasn’t good,” Howell Jr. said of the fast-growing cancer. “The bad grows rapidly.”

The dangerous surgery removed the tumor, but testing revealed it was a Stage IV pineoblastoma, an extremely rare form of aggressive cancer that only about 10 to 40 children are diagnosed with each year in the United States.

Little Howell later had a shunt put in his head to drain off excess brain fluid, which still wasn’t able to drain properly even after the tumor was removed.

Since the surgeries, Little Howell has lost a lot of weight and is unable to walk very far without getting dizzy. He hasn’t been able to go out to see the animals he loves so much, and his father is worried he may never fully recover full motor control over his eyes, which he has trouble moving properly after the surgery to remove the tumor.

“He loved the outdoors, and he loved his animals,” Howell Jr. said of his son before he became ill. "He was always talking, wanting to know more about things."

It is clear Howell Jr. is a father missing the lively, talkative son who was always tagging along right behind him around the farm.

“He loved the farm life, and now he just says, ‘I’m tired and can’t go,’” Howell Jr. said with sadness. "It's just really heard to believe."

Unfortunately, the surgeries are only the beginning for Little Howell.

“They say if we do nothing at this point the tumor will come back and he’ll die very quickly,” Howell Jr. said, while standing outside his family’s home last week.

He wanted to talk outside because he didn’t want to let Little Howell, whom he calls “Love,” to see him so upset.

Right now, the next step is to head back to Duke for yet more surgery to remove stem cells from Little Howell’s brain, which will be re-implanted after intensive rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, to help with his recovery.

The process will take six weeks but even then nothing is definite.

“I look at him, and I don’t know if we’re coming back. We don’t know if he’s coming back,” Howell Jr. said.

“We’re all scared, worried and concerned,” Susan added. “We have a long journey ahead of us.”

Both Howell Jr. and Susan Brown lost their jobs in the banking industry several years ago, and the family was already struggling financially to make it with the farm before this latest blow.

A fund for Little Howell has been set up at Champion Credit Union to help the Browns with medical expenses. To donate, checks can be made out to the Howell Brown III Benefit Account and can be mailed to Champion Credit Union, 311 Walnut St., Waynesville, NC 28786 or dropped off in person at the Waynesville location or the Canton location at 1 Academy St.