Top stories 2009: No. 4, Horvat death stunned local communityKevin Horvat knew it from the beginning.
By: R-E News Staff, The Republican Eagle
Kevin Horvat knew it from the beginning.
When going over the symptoms he was experiencing in 2006, the late Red Wing High School science teacher determined he had multiple system atrophy, a rare neurological condition that is fatal.
“It’s haunting that he thought he had it,” said Linnea Horvat, his widow.
Yet top doctors at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic ruled out the condition —referred to as MSA — and instead diagnosed him with Parkinson’s disease, she said.
Linnea said the next couple years were an exercise in futility as her husband’s condition worsened. He eventually entered a foster care facility near Duluth, Minn., in January 2009.
Red Wing community members were shocked in May to learn Horvat had committed suicide in Hermantown, Minn., after apparently setting fire to a nearby town hall. He died May 25 at age 45. A crowd of nearly a thousand attended his memorial service at Red Wing High School.
Shortly after his death, a Boston University doctor who had heard the unusual circumstances of Kevin’s condition and death contacted Linnea. She asked the family if she could examine Kevin’s brain tissue to see if he actually had chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a condition found among athletes who have suffered head injuries.
Linnea authorized the tests.
Autopsy testing ruled out the possibility of CTE, but did confirm Kevin’s original suspicion: He had MSA all along.
“I’m very grateful to them,” Linnea said of doctors who conducted the examination, which was done free of charge. “The pieces of the puzzle have really come together.”
A major decision
The final diagnosis has brought some closure to the family, who watched Kevin transform into what they say was a different man. Linnea suspects a multitude of medications — issued under the presumption he had Parkinson’s — intensified Kevin’s difficulties.
Kevin would have received significantly different medical treatment under an MSA diagnosis, Linnea said.
But she said she has decided in recent weeks not to seek legal action against Mayo, despite confidence that the family has a strong case.
After analyzing her motivations and letting the situation percolate, the family nurse practitioner said she came to a realization: Suing the hospital would not bring her husband back.
“They did the best they could,” she said, noting that unequivocal diagnosis of MSA is only possible following an autopsy. “Did they screw up? Yeah, but I’m not the perfect practitioner either.”
Instead, she wants members of the psychiatric and neurological departments to convene and share information so instances like Kevin’s aren’t repeated.
“Let’s learn from this,” Linnea said.
‘Trying to make sense’
The last six months have been an unwelcome yet inescapable journey for the Horvats, said Linnea and Susan Horvat, the couple’s daughter. They said counseling sessions with local therapist Jane Lorenzen have been paramount to the grieving process.
“She’s been awesome,” Linnea said. “She stuck with us through all his phases.”
But it takes time, Susan, 25, said.
“We get out of bed and we’re trying to make sense of everything,” said Susan, a Red Wing High School teacher who said she walks past her father’s old classroom every day. “I still don’t feel like he’s gone. I still don’t believe it.”
Linnea said her two sons, Dan, 18, and Bryan, 20, have ups and downs as they attempt to move on, despite the loss of a man who had been like a compass to the family.
Bryan said he continues to deal with his father’s death.
“I am going to do my best to honor his memory and not let the tragedy of his death bring me down,” he said.
Dan is forced to envision a future without his father.
“I can no longer talk to him about life issues but I will strive to be the man he wanted me to be,” he said.
Linnea and Susan said they’re looking to the future as much as possible. Linnea said someday she would like to give speeches on dealing with MSA.
Meanwhile, the Horvats are focused on completing short-term goals. The pieces are coming together for a sundial that will add to Kevin’s vision for the area surrounding Red Wing High School’s football stadium.
Kevin spent the 2007 season as head coach of the high school football program.
Linnea said the $6,000 in donated memorial funds will go toward the sundial project, set for spring construction. She said plans are to dedicate the sundial in time for kickoff of the Wingers’ 2010 football season.