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Royal Oak

Noir Leather owner recovering from brain tumor

April 3, 2013

» click to enlarge «
Royal Oak resident Keith Howarth, who owns Noir Leather in Royal Oak, stands with Dr. Holly Gilmer, right, of Beaumont Hospital, who treated him for a brain tumor in January 2013.

ROYAL OAK — Just a few months shy of his business’s 30th anniversary, Noir Leather’s owner had a life-altering experience.

Resident Keith Howarth, 59, is on the path to recovery and was expecting to be back to work April 1 after an emergency surgery Jan. 27 to remove a brain tumor that was discovered Jan. 24.

“It started between Christmas and New Year’s,” Howarth said. “My arm was jerking up and down. I had ‘tremors’ in my right arm, and it was going up and down 6 inches about 13 times and would be over in 45 seconds. It was actually little seizures.”

As things progressed, the seizures got worse, leading up to a grand mal seizure Jan. 24 during which Howarth blacked out in his dining room after standing up from his computer.

“We went to Beaumont the day that I had the seizure,” Howarth said. “My arm was jerking 4 feet up and down like a salute, the total length of my body. I had a doctor appointment with an unrelated issue and I could’ve been in a car driving.”

Following an EKG and CAT scan that revealed a brain tumor, Howarth remained in the hospital until Feb. 16. Neurosurgeon Holly Gilmer performed the necessary surgery to remove the tumor Jan. 27.

“The tumor was about the size of a tangerine,” Gilmer said via email. “Surgery took about four hours.”

Had Howarth not visited the emergency room, Gilmer said the symptoms could have gotten much worse.

“The tumor would have probably continued to grow and cause repeated seizures, along with worsening headaches, weakness and difficulty speaking,” Gilmer said via email. “He could have progressed into a coma.”

Gilmer said symptoms of brain tumors include weakness on one side of the body, worsening balance, double vision, headaches, frequent nausea and vomiting.

“Brain tumor patients frequently describe headaches on awakening in the morning or even that awaken them at night,” Gilmer said via email. “(About) 23,000-43,000 new cases of brain tumors (are) diagnosed annually in the United States. Regular health maintenance visits can screen for subtle signs of brain disorders such as tumors, hydrocephalus or strokes. Known carcinogens, such as cigarettes, should be avoided, as well.

“People go into denial about symptoms, but avoiding imaging studies or visits to a doctor doesn’t make the problem go away; it just delays treatment and possible cure.”

The diagnosis was a surprise for Howarth because of his healthy lifestyle.

“It was quite a shock,” Howarth said. “I live very healthy. I’m a health advocate. I eat healthy, almost vegan and vegetarian. It was definitely putting pressure on my brain.”

When surgery was complete, Howarth said he was paralyzed on the right side of his body, but he expects a full recovery. He is currently up to about 80-85 percent mobility just two months after the operation. Gilmer said most paralysis recovery takes place in the first year after surgery, which is a good sign for Howarth, with Noir Leather’s 30th anniversary Dec. 17, 2013.

“It’s been going excellent. I was actually treated for physical therapy,” Howarth said. “I’m getting a lot of support from my friends and my family. My employees have all stepped up to the plate.”

In his absence, Howarth said veteran manager Lisa LaFord has held down the fort at Noir, 124 W. Fourth. She’s worked with him there for more than 20 years.

Howarth also credits his wife, Kathleen Fegley, Beaumont oncologist Richard Zuckman and the Beaumont Physical Therapy Health Center with helping him on the road to recovery.

For more on Noir Leather, visit For more on the Beaumont Physical Therapy Health Center, visit

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