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[meteorite-list] Moving Clyde Tombaugh's House Nearly Became Fatal

Ron Baalke
Sat, 26 Jul 2003 21:16:44 -0700

Moving experience nearly fatal
Daily Sun (Arizona)
July 26, 2003

Steve Schoner contracted acute diseminating encephalitis that almost killed 
him after moving Clyde Tombaugh's house. Schoner believes he was bite by a 
spider or tick, or he could have be exposed to mold while working on the 
astronomer who discovered Pluto's old house. 

Moving Clyde Tombaugh's house became more than just a moving experience 
for Steve Schoner. 

It almost cost him his life. 

Schoner inherited Tombaugh's old house and moved it last fall from Aspen 
Avenue in Flagstaff to a vacant lot on Bonito Street next to his house, the 
better to restore it to a bed and breakfast and a museum. 

Tombaugh is the late Lowell Observatory astronomer credited with discovering 
Pluto. Schoner, 52, is an amateur historian and director of a meteorite 

But after the move, Schoner's health troubles started. While working on the 
old house, he may have suffered a spider or tick bite, or possibly inhaled 
some toxic mold. 

Shortly after Christmas, he noticed a bump on his head. Although no side 
effects from the bump occurred right away, Schoner said he gradually started 
to suffer from fatigue and depression but thought it was probably due to 
the amount of time he had spent working on the Tombaugh house. 

"I figured, 'Well, as soon as the holidays are over I will take a long 
rest,' " he said. 

Schoner, his doctors later learned, had contracted acute disseminating 
encephalitis, causing a rapid swelling of the brain that plunged him 
into a week-long coma. 

Afterward, he could not walk, talk or move the right side of his body for 

Watching Schoner earlier this week navigate around his Civil War cannon to 
his meteorite collection and then to his microscope in his home on Bonito, 
it is hard to believe that just months ago he was comatose. He has a 
fading 5-inch scar and dent on the top of his head from a brain biopsy but 
otherwise appears normal. 


On Saturday, Jan. 6, Schoner felt dizzy with a headache and decided to 
rest on the couch. 

By Sunday, Schoner said he could not figure out how to solve problems. 

Schoner said that he wanted to turn off a plant light that was annoying him 
but to his "amazement" could not figure out how to turn it off. Also, he 
said that he could not remember how to change the water in his bird cage 
and ended up boggling his wife, Diane, by pouring the water on the floor. 

"I said to myself, 'What is wrong with my brain?' I knew something was 
wrong big time but by this time there was no pain at all," he said. 

On Monday, Schoner said his wife came home and found him on the floor 
unable to move, vomiting a clear fluid, and muttering incomprehensible 

Diane took Schoner to Flagstaff Medical Center, where an MRI showed that 
the left side of his brain was swelling and shutting down the right 
portion of his brain. Schoner said that after the MRI, he lapsed into a 
coma for seven days. 

In the coma, Schoner had many visions, most of which he remembers clearly. 

Schoner said he saw a light so bright that he wanted to look away. Jesus 
appeared in the light, he said. 

"I was looking at him, I was looking at his face and he spoke to me. He 
said, 'I am sending you back,' and I said, 'Where?'" 

Schoner said that suddenly he was back in the hospital and had another 
vision of his brain being worked on. 

While Schoner was in the coma, doctors took a biopsy of his brain and also 
conducted a spinal tap. 

Schoner said that after he came out of the coma he could not speak or move 
the right side of his body. However, after two days, Schoner said he was 
able to move his thumb and toe by concentrating on it. 

"That (moving the thumb) was a demonstration to show that I was not going 
to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life," he said. 

Schoner said he improved by "leaps and bounds" and shocked the doctors, who 
told him they had never before seen anyone recover speedily from acute 
disseminating encephalitis. 


Neurosurgeon Dr. Nathan Avery, one of Schoner's doctors, said that 
encephalitis is a generic term for any brain inflammation. A number of 
things can cause it, including exposure to toxins. 

With acute disseminating encephalitis the swelling happens much more 
quickly, he said. 

Another doctor who cared for Schoner, Dr. Steven Hoover, said the condition 
is very rare and the causes are not entirely known. It usually occurs 
preceding a viral infection, he said. 

Schoner, although nearly physically normal in appearance, may permanently 
suffer from diminished mental abilities. He said his problem-solving 
abilities have been affected and he can no longer drive a car or work at 
his previous occupation as a computer technician. 

In addition, Schoner gets fatigued easily and has a limited short-term memory. 

On a table in the living room, Schoner keeps a black notebook that he 
occasionally refers to for his daily schedule. Each day, Schoner lists 
his daily events under a heading of "morning," "afternoon," and "evening." 

The house that caused Schoner his problems sits with antique chandeliers in 
some rooms and dirt-covered floors and lumber in others. It is half-finished. 

Schoner said that he had had plans to rent it out as a sort of bed and 
breakfast, but now he is not sure what he will do with it because he cannot 
work on it and the costs and health bills have far exceeded his resources. 

"I would never move another house in my life," Schoner said 

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