Norfolk, Va. - On screen, Dr. Duane Harding was the weather expert. Off camera, he was struggling to understand his own body.
“It doesn`t take much for me to have a major attack,” says Duane.
Among his NewsChannel 3 colleagues, his behavior sometimes seemed odd. He would have to record multiple takes of teases for upcoming newscasts.
“They`d say, you have to do it again, you keep blinking. And I found out that blinking I was actually falling asleep,” says Duane.
Rushing to the NewsChannel 3 studio in the fast-paced world of local news would bring on a collapse.
“When I got to the third step, my knees would buckle and I would end up to my knees. I’ve got a whole bunch of suits with patches in their knees, and I thought it was just because I was rushing and I was clumsy,” says Duane.
But that was cataplexy.
According to the National Institutes of Health, cataplexy is the sudden loss of muscle control. It`s often triggered by strong emotion, like stress or excitement. Dr. Duane had been suffering from these attacks, part of his narcolepsy, since he was a teenager.
“I thought I was just dorky and uncoordinated. And it took 35 years to diagnose it,” says Duane.
Dr. Duane would forget conversations and where he was going. He would set out for the grocery store a mile away and ending up 50 miles from home.
“I don`t remember driving over a bridge and tunnel,” says Duane.
“There`s just a lot of strange behavior, and until I was finally diagnosed, it scared me,” says Duane.
The scariest of all are the vivid dreams.
“It`s very violent. I`ve punched holes in the wall thinking I was fighting off a robber or something,” says Duane. “I have broken lots of bones falling out of bed or running into walls.”
Narcolepsy has put severe limits on his life. He can no longer drive. He walks to the grocery store, pulling his specially-rigged wagon. It`s a trip that takes hours.
“Sometimes I just have to sit down and rest and occasionally I`ll even have to take a nap,” he says.
He rarely goes anywhere. The danger of a cataplexy attack is always with him.
“Sometimes I can fight it, fight it off. Sometimes I can recover. But other times I can`t. I just go down to the ground for twenty minutes or so,” says Duane.
Dr. Duane lives alone. His cat of 19 ½ years kept him company until she died a year ago. Over the years, Duane says, ' Tipper ' trained herself to help him, to remind him to eat, to wake him when the horrible dreams came and he began thrashing about.
“As soon as the cat would hear that, she would jump on the bed and wake me up out of the dream,” says Duane.
PAWS Training Center, which recently opened a branch in Virginia Beach, provides Service Dog training for many unique needs... including Narcolepsy. A Medical Alert Assistance Dog can be specially trained to wake up their handler, or keep their handler from going in the wrong direction or doing something dangerous. They are also trained to alert their handlers to specific times of day to remind them to take their medication.
Share your memories and leave your well-wishes for Dr. Duane in the comments section below.