Little Howell update

More treatments, help still needed
By Caroline Klapper | Apr 19, 2013
Photo by: Donated photo Little Howell with his 4-H chickens before getting sick.

Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House in Maggie Valley, has known the Brown family for years, and she frequently saw them in her restaurant enjoying breakfast.

But suddenly, they stopped coming, and that’s when O’Keefe began to hear the rumors that “Little Howell,” Howell and Susan Brown’s son, was sick — very sick.

“It was kind of a shock,” O’Keefe said while sitting in the restaurant. “I thought, ‘Oh, it can’t be because he had just been here.’”

Unfortunately, what O’Keefe hoped was just a rumor turned out to be true. After trying to contact the family but missing them, she read about Little Howell’s illness in The Mountaineer and was heartbroken for the sweet, energetic 9-year-old boy she knew.

Little Howell had been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor and within a few months time, had already had several surgeries at Duke to relieve pressure in his brain and remove the tumor. By the time O’Keefe confirmed that Little Howell was sick, he and his parents had already headed back to Durham to begin the first step in his treatment program, which involves intensive radiation and then four months of chemotherapy.

O’Keefe was finally able to get in touch with the Browns when they returned home for a month-long break before Little Howell goes back to Duke to begin chemotherapy. At the forefront of her mind was asking the Browns how she could help.

Knowing that both Howell and Susan had lost their jobs in the banking industry several years ago, she said she could imagine how financially overwhelming Little Howell’s illness was for the family, and she wanted to help.

“I’ve watched him grow up,” O’Keefe explained.

In an effort to help the family, Joey’s Pancake House is spreading the word about Little Howell through its Facebook page, encouraging others to donate to the Howell Brown III Benefit Account at Champion Credit Union. O’Keefe plans to go further by holding raffles at the restaurant in which people can buy tickets to win a variety of items. All of the proceeds would go toward Little Howell’s medical expenses.

“Thousands of people come through here,” O’Keefe said, adding she hopes she can help make a difference for the family.

An update

Little Howell made it through the six weeks of radiation treatment he received at Duke and has been home resting in preparation for the follow up round of chemotherapy.

The radiation treatments were very difficult for Little Howell because he had to wear a tight-fitting mask and be strapped down to a table to prevent any movement.

The claustrophobia was too much for the little boy, and his father said he had to be put to sleep every day of treatment.

“He’s lost about 20 pounds and then his hair is not what it was. He’s still not walking since after radiation,” Howell said. “I kind of feel like he’s fading away in front of me.”

“It’s so sad,” Susan said. “It’s so rare. What are the chances?”

In better times, spring would be a time of fun and excitement for Little Howell as he helped his father around the farm. He loved working side by side with his dad, and his love for the farm animals is unmatched, including his new pet rabbit, Bugs, which he got as a reward for completing radiation treatments.

His father even has a special little seat on his tractor where Little Howell would sit with him, but these days, Little Howell is too weak to ride around the farm.

“It’s been kind of lonely without him next to me,” Howell said.

But what has been the most difficult for Little Howell’s parents to deal with are the unanswerable questions.

“He asks, ‘Am I going to die? Why did this happen to me?’ I can’t answer any of that because I really don’t know,’” Howell said.

“It’s really hard. You wish it was you instead,” Susan added.

Because this type of brain cancer is so rare (only about 10 to 40 children are diagnosed with this particular form of cancer every year), it is hard to know what Little Howell’s chances are for surviving the treatment or even if the treatments will work.

“The worst-case scenario is we do all this, and he doesn’t respond and still has cancer,” Howell said.

What happens next

As hard as the past several months have been, the Brown family is returning to Durham this weekend to begin chemotherapy treatment.

Overall, the treatment will take four months with one week of treatment and three weeks of rest before the next round. The family must stay in Durham because the doctors have to monitor Little Howell in his weakened state.

Although the Browns still have a tough road ahead, they said they would like to thank everyone who has helped, especially those who have made donations, Brenda O’Keefe, Champion Credit Union and Howell’s grandparents Sarah V. Brown and Howell Brown Sr., who have helped with his care.

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 Howell Brown III Benefit Account and can be dropped off at the Waynesville or Canton locations, or mailed to Champion Credit Union, 311 Walnut St., Waynesville, N.C. 28786.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Paul Viau | Apr 19, 2013 10:52

Great story, Carolyn. And yet another example of how Brenda O'Keefe cares so much about this community. If you look up "class act" in the dictionary, it has her picture.

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