THIS is ALD #16 — David

Today is Rare Disease Day – a worldwide event to raise awareness amongst the general public and decision-makers about rare diseases and their impact on patients’ lives. I am so proud of all of the ALD folks that are in DC this week raising awareness of our (not so) rare disease!!!

Today I am sharing another story of a beautiful boy from Mexico. More proof that research, education and newborn screening for ALD is a global issue. Meet David.

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THIS is ALD #16 — David


Describing ALD in David is difficult. It’s a story that I never wanted tell, as if it were a bad dream that I have not yet awakened.

The first 5 years of David’s life were similar to any child. He was very playful and talkative with a great ability to learn new things. He was a child full of curiosity about everything.

ALD first showing it’s signs when David was 6 years-old with problems with one eye, poor school performance and unstable behavior which, according to the little knowledge of the disease in Mexico, only gave David bad diagnoses.

Knowledge of ALD in Mexico is very limited. This caused a lot of wasted time. David was only given glasses for his vision and psychological therapy for his unstable behavior. Frustrated with the initial diagnosis, we were determined to find answers. An MRI indicated that there was serious problems with the myelin in David’s brain. He wasn’t suffering from major issues until in October of 2016 (less then six months from his initial symptoms) when David had a massive seizure and that caused him to lose the ability to speak and walk.

It was another two months before David was finally diagnosed with ALD. He is the first member of our family to have been diagnosed with the disease.

We and the specialists in Mexico considered all of our options and decided to perform a bone marrow transplant (I was able to be the donor). June 16, 2017, David received his transplant in a hospital in Mexico. His current chimerism shows that the transplant has been a success.

David has lost physical abilities during the 17 months of this journey, but the child that the doctors thought would die 8 months ago is still here with us, receiving love and we all feel very hopeful that he will break the cruel statistics of children, like David, diagnosed late with ALD.

Currently David attends physical therapy rehabilitation every week. He is very brave and the desire to fulfill his dream is to participate in a children’s race.

Our family continues our fight with courage and perseverance — believing that this is the beginning of a new history.

— David Alejandro Rivera



Thank you for sharing David’s story with us today. It remarkable to have received two stories from Mexico within such a short time. It emphasizes the fact that ALD is not a disease that is isolated to the United States. Although our fight is far from over here, we have made huge strides in ALD education/research (and we are not alone – there has been plenty of research/progress in other countries) – but it needs to happen EVERYWHERE!

If you would like to help new families who have been diagnosed with our disease check out the ALD Connect’s NBS SCOUT Initiative  — CLICK HERE!

Love, Jess


THIS is ALD #15 — Kayden and Braxton

ALD is a horrible disease that can take on many different forms. This family’s story is fascinating because it has clearly been present in their family for some time without symptoms that you might expect.


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THIS is ALD #15  —  Kayden and Braxton


We welcomed our beautiful baby boy, Braxton, into our family 6 months ago. We received a call from the hospital about our son’s newborn screening. They said not to worry, but they would like to retest. We went back a week later and retested and he was positive for Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD).

I immediately went to Google — a huge mistake.  I felt it was a death sentence for my son. We spoke with a fellow firefighter who has a son with ALD and the first thing he said to us was we will need God through all of this and he was exactly right! We then came in contact with a mother who had a son with ALD. He was having adrenal issues. She had told me all boys die from ALD–that broke my heart. We met with our genetic counselor who then told us that this disease is either genetic or a spontaneous mutation. No one in my family has shown symptoms, but I chose to get tested to see if I was a carrier — I was. I felt like a failure of a mother. A mother is supposed to protect their child, here I was putting my child in harm’s way. It got worse when my 2-year-old son, Kayden, was tested and was also positive for ALD. I thought we could handle one case of it, but two!?!

I was heart broken and very depressed for quite some time. The more ALD families I came in contact with, the more I saw what this horrible disease can do and it scared me. Not knowing the future scared me. I had no clue where this disease was coming from — we had no family history of the disease. Many in our family refused to get tested, and my mother had passed. My sister from my father’s side (we have different mothers) offered to get tested and she was positive. The genetic counselor said it was impossible for my father to have ALD as he is asymptomatic at the age of 50.

The genetic counselor was wrong – my father was tested and was positive for ALD. Luckily he has no adrenal issues and a clean MRI. I thought wow, how amazing!!! From there, two other sisters from my father were tested and they are also carriers. A total of 4 carriers (if a father has the mutation, his daughters will always be carriers). My other sisters do not have children, but are very grateful they know. While researching our family history we found that we had an uncle over 60 years ago who had Addison’s Disease, but he passed of old age. The rest of our family members refuse to get tested as they live in the mind set that many generations have had this and everyone is asymptomatic and they will handle it if something happens (I hope it is not too late by then). My family so far seems to be an example of living with a deadly disease.

Braxton and Kayden are seen by Dr. Raymond in Hershey, PA (a doctor with a huge amount of experience with ALD). They will have MRIs and get their adrenal glands checked every 6 months. I no longer live in fear now that I have a plan set up to monitor my boys with a doctor very familiar with the disease and I do have strong hope that many can survive this unpredictable disease and that hopefully my children will follow a similar path to others in our family.


I have become close with many families that have experienced ALD or are now experiencing it. I have as well started a support group for families in which has grown over the past month. This journey is not what I expected for my life, but it has strengthened my faith in God and made me cherish the days all the more and stress less about the small stuff. This is not the end for us, but a new beginning with a different perspective. We plan to have another child and we have a 4 year-old daughter (they will not test her until she is of age to have children). I am beyond grateful for the newborn screening in PA and pray everyday for a cure!

Thank you for listening to our story!

— Jennifer


Thank you Jennifer for sharing your family’s story. “Unpredictable” is such a perfect word to describe ALD. As your family proves, it can present itself in many different ways – including limited/no symptoms. My hope is that Braxton and Kayden will follow the family tradition and live their lives enjoying good health and no (or few) signs of ALD.

AND, I am so happy that Pennsylvania has ALD on the newborn screening panel and that you are blessed with the knowledge you need to monitor your boys so closely, as this disease can be very unpredictable even within a single family. Knowledge is power!

Love, Jess

a ski weekend, the Jack Pack, and next year


Just getting back from a ski weekend in Vermont with friends. Over the years we’ve done a lot of these weekends. We rent a house with a few families. Most everyone skis, but there are always a couple of people who linger with me and Jack. Our days are filled with quieter activities, but we always manage to have fun.

Each morning the house scrambles to life as the kids all frantically run around searching for their gear while the parents try to get some breakfast into everyone and make the lunches for the mountain. Depending on how late the previous night’s festivities went, the skiing crew heads out the door between 9:00 am and 10:00 am — then the house falls silent. That’s when the non-skiing crew makes a plan.

This trip included an awesome hike, a three hour/10,000 calorie lunch, an adventure to visit my oldest friend and her daughter AND a whole lot of girl talk – the rest of non-skiiers were ladies (sorry Jack). Jack is accustom to hanging with the ladies, and knows more than his share about the local gossip and just how many Weight Watchers points are in a margarita, but he always knows that by the end of the day he will be reunited with his peers. They will all walk in the door and, without missing a beat, find JackO to greet him and fill him with stories from their day’s escapades. Anna is always the leader of the Jack Pack – the best sister on the planet.


But what about next year?

THAT’S the question that seems to fill my mind constantly these days. We just had an amazing weekend in a beautiful log cabin in Vermont — enjoying friends and the landscape and late nights singing along with music from our high school years (sorry I am not allowed to post any activities that took place after 9:00 pm). A perfect weekend and my biggest take-away is — What about next year?!?

Anna will be starting her second semester of college by February next year. Will Dan, Jack and I still head up to a mountain for a long winter weekend? What will it be like to travel with Jack as the only Torrey kid? Is it worth trying to continue these annual traditions or is it better to start new ones?

I know what you’re thinking — Anna isn’t moving away permanently. She’s going to college. College kids are home as much as they are gone AND she is only going to be 180.6 miles away. There will be many more family trips.

BUT, it is going to be different once she heads off to Baltimore. Her priorities will be — should be — on her life, on her future. It will be the beginning of her life as an adult and the beginning of our nest changing – again. The house is going to be so quiet when she isn’t around. Who is going to remind us what Jack should be wearing and listening too? Who is going to protect Jack from the endless hours in front of Bravo (with me) and PBS (with Dan)?

We will figure it out. Anna will only be a phone call away with her fashion advice and Dan and I will learn to control our TV habits (we know how to find TruTV). And, as far as the ski trip goes — we can go earlier in the winter if a ski trip is a “must do” Torrey activity. We can also forgo skiing altogether and go down to Baltimore and eat some crabs with Anna.

THIS is the real issue. THIS seems to be my go-to solution to all “my nest is changing” worries. Sorry Anna.

Love, Mom

I’ve now shared 13 THIS is ALD stories and I have piles more waiting to share. I will continue to post them here on Smiles and Duct Tape, but I’ve started another blog just for THIS is

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I‘m hoping that it will become an archive of stories for the ALD community to learn/find their people AND for doctors, teachers, therapists who want to better understand what ALD families go through AND for families who are newly diagnosed with the disease AND for us all to witness as the disease changes course. I am confident that a change coming — newborn screening, gene therapy, education — a trifecta that is sure to change the future of ALD!

I do need to brace myself a little bit when I open my email and see that there is another story waiting to be read. ALD doesn’t have many bright stories – yet. Just when I thought I knew this disease, I learn other insidious ways the disease can manifest itself and run through children, adults, families. It’s truly horrific. I do sometimes turn off the computer and wonder — Why the hell I’m doing this!?! Why not go back to just focusing on my family/our story?

Then I remember how I felt ten years ago. Our family was lost facing a disease that we didn’t know, surrounded by people – even doctors – who were as clueless as we were. I poured through the internet (a pre-Facebook world), searching for other ALD families. I found a few, but their lives where as complicated as ours and often their journeys too difficult for me to hear. Of the families I found that first year, Jack is the only survivor. That is when I walked away from ALD.

I left those letters behind and focused on getting Jack healthy and setting him up in his new world filled with special needs. I dug deep in finding the right schools and therapies and learned all the vocabulary necessary to maneuver through a world that was new to us. I also focused on Anna and Dan so that they didn’t feel like we were defined by those three letters. I also worked on myself — teaching my art classes, sharing our story (less ALD/more “special needs”), spending time with friends and family and distracting myself with some travel and more Sauvignon Blanc then is healthy (I’m not a saint folks . . . ).

Writing the book helped me regain my focus and made me realize that people didn’t just want to hear our story, they wanted to learn about ALD. That’s when I started heading back to the ALD community and found a whole different world. Sure, there are names that I’d heard ten years ago and many of the same hospitals known to work with ALD patients, but there is a new energy in the ALD community and I wanted to be part of it.

There are many people doing remarkable things for ALD. To name a few – Janice Sherwood of, and Elisa Seeger of, Jean Kelley of and Kathleen O’Sullivan-Fortin and all the folks at – these people are making incredible things happen in education, research, and newborn screening.

I thank them for everything they are doing and for encouraging me to get involved. They need as much support as they can get from our community. I’m not great at a lot of things, but I am pretty good at sharing stories.

Please check out the new blog — Share it, follow it, and share it again.

Love, Jess


How can you help?

If you have an ALD story, please contact me to share your story and if you want to help the cause — ALD Connect has launched an incredible program designed to help newly diagnosed families. It’s called NBS SCOUT — Supportive Community Outreach and Understanding Together. We are helping to raise money at CLICK HERE!!


I dare you NOT to donate!!!




THIS is ALD #13 — Richie and Ryan

Sharing THIS is ALD stories has allowed me to learn a great deal about the different faces of our disease. Some are hard to share, but it is important that people understand the different paths that ALD can take. Wendy reached out to share the story of her two sons, Richie and Ryan. It’s shows a different side of ALD.


THIS is ALD #12 — Richie and Ryan

This is the story of my first born, Richie. He was born in 1975. He was so bright and brought so much joy. He started developing his “tan” very early (darkening of skin is often a sign of ALD/Addison’s Disease). He did amazingly in school through the 4th grade. That is when school work started to be a struggle.  I took him to the pediatrician, who proclaimed him to be very healthy and told him to work up to his potential. When Richie started the 6th grade, I took him to an optometrist who referred us to UC DAVIS specialists.  Endocrinology residents asked if I knew who his father was, due to his dark skin!! Anyway,  he was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease and we were ultimately diagnosed with this “very rare” disease, ALD.

I met Augusto Odone, Dr Rizzo, and Dr Moser at the ULF conference that summer. Richie had his first seizure on our way to the conference. Dr Moser told me to expect the worst 6 months of my life.  Luckily, Richie started taking Lorenzo’s Oil immediately (continued through age 18) and his disease did not progress for many years. He graduated high school and worked and lived on his own for many years.

Unfortunately, the ALD eventually started to progress and Richie moved home about 10 years ago.  He is now 42, doesn’t talk, walks a bit with a walker, in our home, has caregivers 6 hours per day who bathe and dress him, and feed him. We had a g-tube (a tube that goes directly into his belly) put in about a year ago when he was not eating while hospitalized for a UTI.  We only use it for meds and fluid at this time.  We have been blessed because Richie seems happy, sometimes giggling, and does not seem to mind being cared for. Any progression seems to come slowly.


Ryan was 6-years-old when his brother,  Richie, was diagnosed with ALD. Ryan, had Addison’s Disease, but rather than having dark skin, he had always craved salt (“salt seeking” can be another sign of ALD/Addison’s Disease). When he was 2-years-old we came close to losing him. What no one knew is that he was suffering an Addisonian shutdown of all his bodily functions. It took three doctors working on him to save his life. He was on life support and not expected to make it through the night, but he survived and I thought that was the worst battle he would ever fight. 

This is why newborn screening is so important.  Had we known, we would never had to almost lose our baby. After finding out his diagnosis, Ryan took Lorenzo’s Oil until he was 18-years-old. He had MRIs yearly and never showed any demyelination. He graduated from a university, got married, and had a son four years ago. 

That is when everything started to change. He had had some incontinence problems, and then balance issues appeared. I had thought that if the childhood form of ALD did not appear, then the worst he might face would be mobility problems.  He quickly moved from a cane, to a walker, to a scooter and finally to a wheelchair all within a few years in his mid 30s. He was exhibiting a lot of anger and insisted that he had to walk again. In the last few years, being angry was exhibiting as psychiatric problems.  He attempted suicide at least twice. 

Ryan also had a large wound that ended up septic and his decline sped up. Within only months he has lost his speech, his legs are atrophied,  he can’t use his arms, and he has been hospitalized for the last few months.  I sent his latest MRIs to KKI and Stanford. Both have agreed that he has hind brain involvement, only occurring in 5-10% of ALD cases. It is known to be rapidly progressing.  Now my daughter-in-law is looking into hospice. He definitely qualifies, but you have to pay for caregivers,  and Ryan needs 24 hour care. I had no idea this could happen.  

— Wendy


Wendy shared this piece with me on January 25th. I received the news last week that Ryan lost his battle with ALD last weekend. Another beautiful life taken too soon by this monster.

Richie and Ryan’s stories are different than many I’ve heard over the years, but that’s the thing about ALD – it never looks exactly the same person to person. The only commonality I see is that these boys/men/humans are remarkably strong and that nature can be cruel.

Thank you Wendy for sharing your family’s story. The more we share the different faces of our disease, the more people will understand the importance of newborn screening to changing the future of ALD.


Love, Jess




THIS is ALD #12 — Carter

A year ago, on February 6, 2017, one boy lost his battle with ALD. Carter’s mom, Stacie, is amazing and shares his story with honesty and love.


THIS is ALD #12 — Carter


December 31, 2010 my youngest son was born. Carter Joseph, weighing in at 8 lb 1 oz and was 21 inches long, a healthy baby boy. Carter completed our family, he made us a party of four, and we couldn’t have been happier.

He met all his milestones, was thriving, just overall a very happy baby. Then the toddler years came, he was into everything, such a daredevil who was absolutely fearless. His personality was unlike any toddler his age, a typical boy with gorgeous blonde hair, big blue eyes that would cheer you up on your worst of days. That part of Carter never changed, but at age 4.5 things started to be different.

After many appointments with many doctors, Carter was diagnosed with ALD, “a too late” diagnosis left us with no options to save our baby, and for 14 months he battled this relentless disease. Month by month after diagnosis, Carter lost his abilities… sight, sound, speech, swallowing, walking, until he became 100% dependent on us, within 6 short months. ALD robbed Carter of everything.

It took a toll on all of us as we watched the boy who was scared of nothing, losing his biggest fight. Quickly after Carter’s diagnosis my whole family was tested, as ALD is a genetic disease… Carter was the only male affected, myself and my mother are the only women in the family and we are both carriers… while her VLCFA numbers were way higher than mine, it didn’t matter as I still passed it to Carter. My oldest son, Peyton (age 10) was not affected, and he very easily could have, as it’s a 50/50 chance each pregnancy. Scary odds, even scarier if you didn’t even know about ALD, yet were a carrier of such a deadly disease.

Knowledge is power, Newborn Screening is necessary — I’d give anything to know what I know now, and maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have had to watch my baby take his last breath at just 6 years old, and somehow continue living this life without him.

— Stacie (Carter’s mom)


Unfortunately, Carter’s story is not uncommon for childhood/cerebral ALD. If you don’t know that the mutation is lurking, and are not looking for it, ALD is often diagnosed too late for any treatment. Families are faced with helplessly watching their child’s abilities be taken one by one, before they are completely robbed of everything.

Newborn screening would have given Carter’s family knowledge and power and hope.

Thank you Stacie for sharing Carter’s story with us.


Love, Jess