Mysterious swelling has dad searching for answers

Paul Fonte trying to figure out what's causing severe inflammation

By Haley Hernandez, KPRC

(KPRC) - Paul Fonte, of League City, is an active, otherwise healthy dad, but a mysterious illness has been painful and scary -- even through his wife sometimes finds it humorous.

"She was crying-laughing when she was rushing me to the hospital because I couldn't breathe, he said. "My lips were protruding so far out and when I would breathe in, the top lip would suck underneath my nostrils."

Even though he's desperate to figure out what's causing the severe inflammation, he manages to laugh about it, too.

"It's not embarrassing," Fonte said. "I bought her (his wife) a sweater, a special sweatshirt that had a picture of lips on the front and back."

Occasionally, and without warning, parts of his body will intensely swell. His feet, lips, arms, right and left side are all affected.

"They had to almost give me a trach (tracheotomy) at Clear Lake Regional when she rushed me to the emergency room," Fonte said.

This has not been a lifetime curse. It just started four years ago. Fonte said he'll go weeks and months at a time with no swelling at all, but there's no telling when it will appear, so he keeps emergency medicine in stock, even though he's fearful they won't work.

"All of a sudden in the middle of lunch, my bottom lip started to swell up," he said about a time it happened unexpectedly. "So much to where it was sticking out like this, where I could see it and it was hurting."

His description of the symptoms and pictures of the swelling sound like a similar condition previously covered by KPRC. In that report, experts identified a woman's illness as an autoimmune disorder called Hereditary Angioedema, or HAE.

"Dental procedures can precipitate an attack. A trauma and sports or accidents can trigger it. (In) most cases, we don't have a specific trigger that we can identify," said Dr. David Huston, associate dean at Texas A&M College of Medicine's Houston campus.

However, as rare as HAE is, Fonte said he's already been tested for it, and he claims that's not the diagnosis. However, he said doctors do think it could still be an autoimmune disorder. Now, his family is getting more desperate for answers.

"He's had a hive in his throat before and so he stays up all night because he's afraid to go to sleep because he's afraid it will swell, the hive will get bigger and close his throat," said his wife, Rikki Fonte. "So he doesn't sleep real well."

Fonte suspects poison sumac, related to poison ivy and oak, could have set off this illness. He had just been exposed to some when the swelling happened for the first time. His allergist, infectious disease doctor and many others are not done running tests to figure it out.

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