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Former owner of City Perk battles rare form of autoimmune disorder

In June, Al Palm was going to the gym and karate classes up to five days a week. He has a concrete brick that he broke into two pieces with a powerful karate chop on June 17.

“By the following Sunday, I could not walk,” he said.

Palm, the former owner of the City Perk coffee shop in the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza, was hospitalized with a rare autoimmune disorder known as neuromyelitis optica.

Now, Palm’s friends are organizing “Al’s Big Benefit” to help his family buy the equipment needed and modify their house so he can get around at home.

Palm, 51, is well known across Spokane. He grew up in Priest River and was a caterer for years. The City Perk closed in 2012 when he lost his lease at the STA Plaza, and he moved the coffee shop to the Bank of America building. Now, the husband and father of three teenagers said he’s not sure if he will ever go back to work.

It turns out that Palm may have been living with neuromyelitis optica for 15 years.

Past flare-ups had been diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. It wasn’t until this year that one of his doctors ordered an extra test, Palm said.

The disease affects no more than two out of every 100,000 people worldwide, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

NMO attacks the central nervous system, including the optic nerve, by causing a loss of myelin, a fatty substance that protects nerve fibers. Part of his treatment includes chemotherapy with Rituxan.

Palm said his eyesight is hazy and he cannot move his legs or arms. He has persistent tingling in his feet and can’t roll over in bed.

“It’s humbling,” he said.

He’s undergoing outpatient physical therapy at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute.

Last month, Palm was discharged from Manorcare Health Services in northwest Spokane when his post-hospitalization benefits expired.

He moved back into his family home on West Hoffman Place. It needs to have doors widened, the bathroom remodeled and the carpet removed and replaced with flooring appropriate for a wheelchair. Palm also needs specialized equipment, including a hospital bed, lift and motorized wheelchair.

Organizers of Al’s Big Benefit event said they will use money from the benefit to pay for those needs.

Palm said his condition could be worse and that his nerves could regenerate and he could regain mobility.

Gary Johnson, a friend he met at the gym, said, “it surprises me, his positive outlook on things.”

Said Palm, “Hopefully, someday I will be walking again and it will all be in the past and I can say, ‘Hey.’ ”