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Coming Sunday

Galveston’s Ball High School was built in 1952. Is it time to build a new one?

UTMB lab develops breakthrough drug for painful, deadly disease

A University of Texas Medical Branch physician and his lab were instrumental in developing a new drug approved by the Federal Drug Administration last week, cited as “revolutionary” by patients and clinicians familiar with porphyria, a potentially deadly disease.

“I am still rejoicing over this revolutionary new treatment,” said Desiree Lyon of Houston, global director of the American Porphyria Foundation and a former patient of Dr. Karl Anderson at the medical branch.

Anderson, a professor and director of the Clinical Science graduate studies program at the medical branch, directs the Porphyria Laboratory and Center in Galveston, nationally known for research, diagnosis and treatment of human porphyrias, rare diseases that often go unrecognized.

“There’s often a delay in diagnosis,” Anderson said. “These are rare diseases but not the most rare.”

Porphyrias result from buildup of porphyrine, naturally occurring chemicals essential in the function of hemoglobin in the blood. When bodies produce too much porphyrin, patients can develop acute hepatic porphyria, resulting in extreme pain from neurological causes. Searing abdominal pain is most common, Anderson said.

Some other porphyrias are classified as cutaneous, affecting the skin.

Acute hepatic porphyria attacks can last days to weeks and can lead to complications such as seizures and paralysis, even death, medical experts say.

The generic drug givisoran, developed over several years of clinical research funded by Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, a U.S. company, has been shown to significantly reduce porphyria attacks in patients with acute hepatic porphyria. Once the drug hits the market, Alnylam’s name for its brand will be Givlaari.

FDA approval of Givlaari was received in less than four months after acceptance of the new drug application and was based on studies at 36 sites in 18 countries, including the medical branch. It’s expected to be released to the market by the end of the year, Anderson said.

“The trial showed decreases in the frequency of attacks by quite a lot,” Anderson said. “That included patients who were having ongoing attacks that we could treat with infusions, but the infusions are short-acting. We couldn’t prevent attacks until now.”

Once the new drug is on the market, patients can get a subcutaneous injection once a month for preventive treatment, Anderson said.

Givisoran works through RNA interference, a genetic regulatory system that quells the activity of specific genes. Its development as a therapeutic agent represents an advancement in the field of precision genetic medicines, aimed at customizing treatments based on genomic makeup of patients, according to Alnylam.

Porphyrias are generally passed down from parents to their children.

“The clinical trial is actually continuing, so patients can continue to get the drug until it’s on the market,” Anderson said. “It’s not a complete cure or anything like that, but it certainly makes life livable for many patients.”

For a patient suffering from acute hepatic attacks, the drug is life-changing, Lyon said.

Lyon suffered more than 100 attacks and paralysis because of porphyria, but no longer experiences them since she is post-menopausal, she said. The disease has been found to not affect women before the onset of menses or after their menstrual cycle ends.

Anderson was instrumental in making that association known, Lyon said.

“We’re talking about pain that supersedes anything you can think of,” Lyon said. “A doctor at M.D. Anderson who specializes in cancer said to me, this is not pain, this is torture. If you can imagine a drug that will keep you from having these attacks, it’s almost indescribable, the relief.”

Galveston leaders hope events boost winter visitation


Galveston tourism leaders are working to create more winter activities to draw people to downtown and elsewhere around the island, but whether that results in more business for shops, restaurants and hotels depends on the particular event, business owners say.

Tourist leaders have steadily been working to increase island visitation during the holiday season to drive up hotel and sales tax during the traditional off-season.

This year, tourism leaders are focusing on events to bring people downtown, like a new laser light show on the American National Insurance Co. building, 1 Moody Plaza, said Trey Click, executive director of the Historic Downtown Galveston Partnership.

It took a few years for the partnership to build up the groundwork for a holiday season with lights and decorations, Click said.

“People want something to do, especially during the holiday season when you have children out of school,” Click said. “Tourism is about experience.”

The more activities there are for people to do, the more likely they’ll come downtown and also take interest in the local shops, Click said.

It depends on the event or activity when it comes to driving people into downtown shops, said Wendy Morgan, owner of The Admiralty, 2221 The Strand.

Galveston’s annual holiday Victorian-themed festival Dickens on the Strand in early December is Morgan’s busiest time of the year, she said.

But The Polar Express, a holiday train performance based on the popular book and movie, might not be, Morgan said.

Tourism leaders have credited the sold-out show with attracting 30,000 more people to the island this season.

“I can’t really say for sure that’s affected our business,” Morgan said. “I just know that they sold out really quickly, and I know it certainly doesn’t hurt.”

The Galveston Park Board of Trustees, which promotes island tourism, is finding more events and activities really draw people to the island, said Michael Woody, chief tourism officer of the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The park board is advertising Holiday with the Cranes, an annual birding event, and holding a contest to take photos or “elfies” with unique Galveston landmarks, Woody said.

“We’re trying to find these really unique events that have an island focus,” Woody said.

The park board usually spends about $250,000 a year on advertising the winter season, it said.

In 2019, the park board spent $125,857 on lights, decorations and activities, such as the laser light show, compared with $140,000 in 2018 and $35,000 in 2017, according to park board record.

The park board wants to increase the activities it offers and hopes to boost occupancy in hotels during the holiday season, Woody said.

It also wants to expand the footprint of downtown to include more shops in lighting, decorations and events, Woody said.

That’s already starting to happen, said Bret Lowry, owner of The Old Galveston Trading Company, 2115 Postoffice St.

This is the first year the partnership has put lights and decorations up on Postoffice Street, and that has business owners hoping to capture more of the holiday crowd, Lowry said.

“We don’t know what kind of difference that’s going to make,” Lowry said.

Lowry is enthusiastic about a Dec. 12 Sip & Shop event, when businesses will stay open late on a Thursday night, and the partnership will run a shuttle between The Strand and Postoffice Street to encourage people to walk along both streets, he said.

But for many shops, how well business goes during an event really depends on the activity and where the store is located in proximity to the event, Lowry said.

“On some of these events one, or a couple of us, may do phenomenal, and others of us don’t,” Lowry said.

What shop owners really want is more people out walking around, said Monica Barry, owner of ha.ba’s Clothing Store, 2213 Postoffice St.

“I think people are finding more shops because they’re out strolling,” Barry said.

Her shop has been in the same site for 15 years, and this is the first time she’s heard of an event coordinated between The Strand and Postoffice Street, she said.

Everything to make the downtown more appealing helps business, said Ginger Herter, owner of Strand Brass, 2119 The Strand.

She’s heard customers talking about the light show and has seen business increase a little more every year, Herter said.

“There is a lot being done,” Herter said.

League City man charged with killing wife Thanksgiving night


A peaceful Thanksgiving at a home in a quiet neighborhood of brick houses and backyard swimming pools ended with a woman shot dead and her husband charged with murder, police said.

“From talking with my cousins, it was a good Thanksgiving,” said Lasean Conaway, cousin of Chauntelle Bernard, 42, who died of gunshot wounds. “They cooked and hosted the family, and it was going fine. They were going on a cruise next week.”

But, instead, officers arrested Dudley Bernard, 40, about 11 p.m. Thursday without incident, at his home in the 2300 block of Indigo Harbour Lane, said John Griffith, spokesman for the League City Police Department.

Dudley Bernard was later charged with murder in connection with his wife’s death and was being held Friday in the Galveston County Jail on $200,000 bond.

Officers founded Chauntelle Bernard near the front door of the residence dead from multiple gunshot wounds, Griffith said. Investigators weren’t sure exactly how many times she was shot.

Investigators on Friday still were unsure about a lot of what happened, but relatives present in the house told police there had been a disturbance of some sort, Griffith said. Witnesses told investigators Dudley Bernard had briefly gone outside and returned with a handgun, Griffith said.

Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed Friday that both Dudley Bernard and Chauntelle Bernard were federal employees.

Dudley Bernard had worked as an agriculture specialist in the “Houston seaport environment” since August 2008, according to a spokesman. Chauntelle joined U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2008 and had worked her way up to become a supervisory officer.

“No words can express the sense of loss her death brings to her colleagues and friends in CBP,” officials said.

Federal officials also responded to the shooting Thursday, recovering unspecified items, Griffith said. Federal officials declined to comment about whether the weapon used in the shooting was Dudley Bernard’s service weapon, referring questions to the League City Police Department.

Investigators weren’t sure where the handgun came from but did seize a weapon perhaps used in the shooting, Griffith said.

Chauntelle Bernard was originally from New Orleans, and the Bernards had two young children, Conaway said.

centerpiece featured
Reconstructed skylight to brighten library renovations


A reconstructed version of a lost piece of Galveston history soon will return as part of a project to restore historic Rosenberg Library’s fourth-floor auditorium.

Reconstruction of the stained-glass skylight ceiling is part of the last phase of an extensive restoration project of the entire library, which began in 2003.

Leaders of the library, 2310 Sealy St., hope restoration of the fourth-floor, 700-seat auditorium largely will be finished this year, and that crews will install the glass ceiling in the next few weeks, library Executive Director John Augelli said.

Once completed, the newly restored auditorium will be used as a museum space for some of the library’s collections of thousands of paintings and about 4 million items, many of which are related to Galveston or Texas history, library officials said.

Creating a new stained-glass ceiling to match the original is part of that restoration, Augelli said.

The ceiling’s glass panels were held together by lead and a wood frame, and was once a skylight, Augelli said. The ceiling had been original to the 1904 building, he said.

But when crews updated the library in the 1950s and 1960s, they covered up the walls and ceiling, and the stained-glass ceiling was lost, Augelli said.

It’s unclear in library records what exactly happened to the skylight, Augelli said. The ceiling above the glass area also is no longer open to the sky, Augelli said.

“They just crashed through whatever was in the way,” Augelli said.

In the 1950s and 1960s, crews also covered up the historic plaster pillars and installed drop ceilings, changes the $2.3 million series renovations is working to undo, Augelli said.

“That was common in those days,” Augelli said. “Out with the old and in with the new.”

Waco-based glass, metal and woodworking company Stanton Studios is recreating the leaded-glass ceiling based on a black-and-white photo of the space, Augelli said.

The company has worked on other glass windows in Galveston, such as that in First Presbyterian Church, 1903 Church St., and St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, 2011 Church St., owner Bryant Stanton said.

“We had to recreate what we felt historically would have fit in that space,” Stanton said.

Last week, crews installed the frame, aluminum covered in white oak for a lightweight material, and expect to finish the glass panels in the first week of December, Stanton said.

Crews still are waiting for a shipment of LED lights to light up the windows before installing the panels, Stanton said.

The company based the white, green and red colors of the new glass panels on those of another skylight on the library’s fourth floor that’s still intact, Stanton said.

“Chances are, they were similar,” Stanton said.

When construction is completed, the library will have spent — since 2003 — $14 million on renovations for the entire building, Augelli said.

Throughout the renovations, the library board and staff have tried to remain faithful to the original historic integrity of the building, said David Salyer, vice president of the library’s Board of Directors.

“Of all the reconstruction projects here at the library, this is the one that’s nearest and dearest to my heart,” Salyer said.

The library receives revenue generated from 5 cents of the local property tax rate, which is about $2.9 million annually, but it’s not city-operated and doesn’t receive any other city funding, according to the city.

The money for the renovations came largely from donations, library officials said.

Some minor parts of the renovation likely will have to be completed early next year, Augelli said.