Rare disorder puzzles Iowa doctors

Rare disease affects the day-to-day of the Zimmeht family of Ottumwa/KTVO-Louis Finley

Eric Zimmeht was diagnosed with Neuromyelitis Optica, a rare disease that affects about 4,000 Americans. His diagnosis is baffling as Zimmeht is a 34-year-old Caucasian male. The disorder is predominately found in ethnic females, appearing in their 40's.

It began with strong migraines in his eye to the point where he lost complete sight in one of them. That's when Zimmeht was sent to a neuro-ophthalmologist in Iowa City who diagnosed him with the disorder.

In order to keep symptoms at bay, Zimmeht must take 16 pills a day, but there is always a chance for him to relapse and be sent to the emergency room.

The rare auto-immune disorder attacks the optic nerves and the spinal cord. Symptoms can range from weakness, loss of eye sight and even paralysis.

"I don't have a lot of energy to do anything outside of sitting around doing nothing," Zimmeht said.

The disorder has forced Zimmeht to quit his full-time job placing a bulk of the work on his wife.

"It's made a lot of things difficult. It's made me feel like I'm a single parent at times ... but that's not what we signed up for," Zimmeht's wife Casey said.

In order to receive treatment, Zimmeht must travel 80 miles twice a month to Iowa City, and the bills have piled up.

"One thing this has taught me if anything is that it's OK to ask for help," Casey said.

Their journey has brought Zimmeht and his family to the Iowa Capitol where Governor Terry Brandstad proclaimed April to be Neuromyelitis Optica Awareness Month.

The Zimmeht family has started a Go Fund Me page to help with expenses. To donate, click here.

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