Local Soldier Battles Mysterious Disease - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

2/16/05

Local Soldier Battles Mysterious Disease

A mysterious illness has a local soldier fighting for his health and looking for answers. Private First Class Keith Huffaker returned to Lubbock last year after his tour of duty in Iraq. Shortly after that, he was diagnosed with one of the rarest diseases in medical history.

Keith is about to celebrate his 23rd birthday, but it was the year he turned 20 that he had two choices; stay in college and struggle to pay for tuition, or use the Army to plan a future. But all of the planning in the world wouldn't prepare him for what he has to deal with now.

"My infantry was active. We were the ones kicking down doors, searching houses. I went from that extreme to a wheelchair almost overnight," said Huffaker.

Keith was a healthy 21 year-old soldier, serving his country on a 50 week tour of duty in Iraq, but three weeks after returning home to Lubbock, Keith's health began to deteriorate.

"Got back with a slight limp, and I just shrugged it off kept going, 3 weeks later, I was in a wheelchair," noted Huffaker.

When he realized his symptoms were serious, he contacted the Army who then sent him to their doctor. The diagnosis was Spinocerebellar Ataxia, a rare genetic disease that according to Keith, has only been recorded in medical history 21 times.

According to the local American Legion, the Army cannot pay for benefits for a pre-existing condition, and that's exactly what Keith was told.

"The Army allowed me one consult, and they decided I wouldn't get any benefits or disability whatsoever," said Huffaker.

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But Keith says his family doesn't have a history of the rare disease and they think something else might've made him sick. Now, they want a second opinion.

"I'm not sure what happened, could've picked up an infectious disease, could've come from blood, Uranium, you name it I was in the middle of it," remarked Huffaker.

Without money and benefits, Keith doesn't know where to turn to get a second opinion. He contacted Congressman Randy Neugebauer's office months ago, he tells us they couldn't help at the time because the case was in appeals.  We're now told the Congressman's office did contact Keith Wednesday afternoon. They say they are looking into Keith's case. NewsChannel 11 will follow the progress of this story.

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