hApPy BiRtDaY bAnAnZ!

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Special siblings are a remarkable lot. Many people assume that these children grow up with something missing. Lack of attention and fear course through their veins, leaving them lost or even resentful and angry. I understand why people might make that assumption, but I’ve found that it couldn’t be further from the truth. The special siblings I’ve come to know are incredible people. Thoughtful, independent, hardworking, understanding, patient, and compassionate – just like Anna.

I did worry about Anna when Jack got sick. She was only six-years-old when our family’s attention was suddenly completely focused on Jack and his survival. We only had a few weeks to prepare for transplant following the diagnosis, and then Dan and I weren’t just not emotionally present for Anna, we were rarely physically there either.

Even after Jack got home from the hospital, the entire dynamic of our family had changed. We had been a family who was very focused on evenly dividing our attention, love and patience to our two kids — we never wanted to be accused of having favorites. After ALD screamed into our lives, the disease crumbled our “even-steven” approach to parenting.

We have always done our best to be there for Anna. We cheered loudly at lacrosse games (Dan was lovingly called “Loud Dan” for years), we tried never to miss parent conferences and would sit with her for hours over the dinner table discussing the trials and tribulations of childhood. She’s always known we adore her BUT she’s also always known we were just one diaper change or stomach flu away from dropping everything.

Jack’s illness/challenges trump everything (too bad that expression is so complicated now). If Jack needs to be medicated or changed, we need to take care of it and if he starts throwing up or looks like something is brewing, we don’t have the luxury of waiting. No matter if Anna needed help with her homework or we are knee deep in a project – ALD could interrupt our plans without any warning. We’ve all become accustomed to the interruptions  — especially Anna. It’s part of being a special sibling.

Anna learned early that if she needed to get something done, she needed to know how to do it herself – just in case. Don’t tell the MAPSO schools, but I didn’t sign any school paperwork once Anna hit middle school. Permission slips, notes from teachers – even those nightmare “Information Packets”. Anna took care of them herself. It was safer than putting it on my pile. It might have gotten lost in the medical bills/social security/gaurdianship paperwork. 

This early independence translated to a teenager who handled her college applications with minimal help and now that she’s in college, she doesn’t ask us for much help, other than making sure the bills are paid on time. Not that she doesn’t turn to us for guidance, but she knows how to handle things on her own. It’s how she has survived the ALD part of our family. It’s part of being a special sibling.

Independence has not been the only gift from being a special sibling.

I was getting my boobs squished yesterday (by a professional boob squisher — a mammogram) and I was trying to distract myself by making conversation. I asked if they had any fun plans for the weekend as they tightened the panel, “just one more little bit”. When she asked what my weekend plans were I mentioned that my daughter was coming back from college and we were celebrating her birthday. This, of corse led to where she was in school and what she was studying.

“Pre-Med at Hopkins? Are either you or your husband in medicine?”

I simply answered that her older brother is.

Anna was born strong and determined and Dan and I can take a little credit for who she has become, but Jack has been the biggest influence in her life. It was Jack who inspired Anna to study medicine. It was learning at only six-years-old that nature can be cruel. It was knowing that science saved her brother’s life. It was knowing that there is still so much unknown and she wants to be part of unraveling the mysteries of the human body.

Dan and I try to remind Anna that she’s only 19, and that there’s no need to know what she wants to do with her life, “I’m almost 50 and still trying to figure it out.” Anna’s a talented artist and I encourage her to continue making art. Dan and I both want her to study languages and travel and get the broadest education she possibly can. As much as we put in our two cents, but we know our sweet daughter and when she gets an idea, she can’t turn back. She sets a goal and she exceeds it. It’s who she is. BUT BANANZ IF YOU ARE READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW THAT YOU CAN MAKE CHANGES TO THE PLAN. ANY TIME.

Anna is driving up the NJ Turnpike from Baltimore as I am writing this. I can’t wait to get my hands on her and wish her a happy birthday in person. I can’t wait to watch as Jack jumps out of his chair to throw his arms around her until she screams for mercy. I also can’t wait to see where her life takes her. I wish Special Sibling didn’t need to be one of Anna’s titles, but it is and I appreciate some of the things that it’s taught her. With the combination of Jack’s inspiration to go into medicine and what Anna has learned as a result of being a special sibling, I have no doubt that she will do amazing things.

Happy Birthday Anna Banana – our very favorite special sibling.

Love, MoMo

THIS is (our) ALD

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After writing the sweet birthday story about Jack CLICK HERE IF YOU MISSED IT, I got started on our morning routine. Getting Jack up and out for school takes 2000 steps – even in the new house. There’s laundry and showering and teeth brushing and dressing and breakfast and medication. By the time we’re done with medication, we’re close to the finish line. The last steps are putting on his shoes (Jack wears AFOs so it takes some time) and few minutes on the potty – just in case.

I hadn’t realized that Jack had the last bite of cake in his mouth when I sat him down on the toilet (don’t judge – it’s his birthday). I left the room for a minute to grab some coffee and I heard a loud sneeze. When I walked back into the bathroom, there was chocolate cake EVERYWHERE. All over Jack, the floor, even the freshly painted, super cool and modern, white walls.

At first, there was a bunch of swearing on my part, but it quickly turned to laughter and joking with Jack that if someone hadn’t known what had happened, they might think it was poop. Several Clorox wipes and a new tee-shirt later, Jack and the bathroom were as good as new. I decided that – just in case – I would leave Jack on the toilet for just a few more minutes. The phone rang so I left the room and spent a couple of minutes chatting with Dan about the birthday boy. As I walked back into the bathroom I interrupted Dan by saying, “Holy crap. There’s sh%t everywhere!! Gotta go.”

This time there was poop everywhere. POOP EVERYWHERE!

When I cleaned up for the second round of mess, I can’t say that it was all laughter, but once I was finished, I called Dan back and we all found the humor when I said, “I just cleaned him up again. He still has some stuff on his pants. Not quite sure if it’s poop or cake. The bus just pulled up, so let’s assume that it’s cake.”

Is it poop or is it cake? Let’s assume it’s cake. THAT is real story of (our) ALD.

Love, Jess

side rails, alarms and a birthday

Yesterday I woke up to a tap on the arm. I was confused before I opened my eyes. Why was Dan back home – he’d left so early? Then I heard the hop hop as my human alarm walked away.

I wondered how long it would take for our boy to figure out how to climb out of his new bed. Just less than a month isn’t bad. We’ve been living this life for twelve years now and a month is remarkably quick for learning a new skill. Not that I’m assuming that Jack will manage this new trick again for a while, but I ordered some side rails for his bed, just in case. 

In our old house I worried about Jack climbing out of bed and falling down the stairs. Now I worry about Jack roaming around the house unattended and God forbid escaping and finding his way into the pool. Progress can be complicated at our house – wherever it is. I’m so proud when Jack accomplishes a new goal, but each improvement can come with a list of worries.

Dan and Anna think I am nuts, but along with the side rails, I’ve recently installed an alarm system so that I can hear every time a door opens, cameras in Jack’s room and at the front and the back of the house and an alarm for the pool. Having a child with special needs can be complicated and expensive, but piece of mind is priceless.

Twelve years ago I never imagined that our family would look like this today. I was living in the “everything is going to go right back to normal” mode. I never thought I would secure our house — not from outside threats, but from our boy and things as simple as climbing out of a bed.

THIS is ALD.

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Today is Jack’s 12th Transplant Birthday. 4383 days since those cells from the “Little Lady from Detroit” (in case you missed our story 12 years ago – Jack’s stem cells came from a cord donation. All we know about the donor was she was born in Detroit in 2005. She needed a name, so we gave her one) saved Jack’s life. So much has happened since them. Loads of good, plenty of bad – but mostly good. Although we never imagined living this life, we have a lot to celebrate today. This year we are planning on celebrating big for his 21st “typical” birthday, so we told Jack we are keeping things tame today. Don’t tell him, but we did get him a few gifts. Just trying to figure out how to wrap those side rails.

Love, Jess

PLEASE send Jack a birthday note AND consider making a small donation to CPNJ Horizon High School in his name. His Wheeln n Walkin Challenge is tomorrow and we are only half way to our goal . CLICK HERE. 

Happy BiRtHdAy!

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This handsome man is celebrating a birthday today. He’s not just handsome – he’s brilliant and creative and hysterical and a great father AND the sweetest Nonno on the planet. 

If you knew us during my high school/college years, you might be surprised by how close we are now. It took hard work (on both sides), but he and I are as close as can be – we share our highs and our lows AND always manage to find the humor in any situation.

I love you Nonno and am so glad we found our way!

Love, Tatess

Lesson of the day — Hard work pays off!!

welcome to the world beautiful boy!

I was seven when my younger brother Phil was born. It was before the days that hospitals allowed siblings to visit the maternity ward, so the first time I met my brother was when my mother walked into the house, holding him wrapped up like the most magical present I’d ever seen. My very own living doll.

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I loved having a little brother who I could dress up and cuddle, but as we got older the seven years between us meant that we were always at different stages. When I was in high school, Phil was the nosy kid who always seemed to ruin the fun. And when he was busy enjoying his own high school angst, I was the older sister acting like a lame extra parent. Phil was still in college when I got married and barely out when Dan and I started a family. He was living the single life, as a creative sole, when I was busy raising kids and then dealing with our ALD journey/nightmare. I think Phil and I both spent much of the last twenty years loving each other, but not really getting each other.

Last week, that baby that I held 41 years ago welcomed his own baby into the world, Carlos Michael Cappello. Not only am I thrilled to have another baby in the family, but when I watched my brother hold his son, I realized that for the first time in a long time, our paths are overlapping.

Phil’s beautiful wife, Kate, bravely suffered through 27 hours of labor before needing a c-section. A cruel introduction to parenthood. Learning from the get-go that no matter how much you plan, kids have a way of directing things. And, despite their exhaustion, both my brother and sister-in-law quickly discovered that, no matter what complications your kid puts you through, you push on with a smile, because you would do anything for your child.

Little Carlito is the most beautiful baby. He is strong and healthy and I swear he was smiling yesterday while his parents were holding him. He knows he’s in great hands. Phil and Kate are already amazing parents.

Welcome to the world beautiful boy! And, welcome to parenthood my brother. May you enjoy every beautiful, messy moment. And, if you ever need anything I am here for you. I get you;)

Love, Aunt Jess

 

 

If your wondering if spending time with my new nephew made me start thinking about Jack and ALD and if onlys. Sure. As I held Carlito with Jack by my side, I couldn’t help but think of all the hopes and dreams we had for our boy when we first brought him into the world. How, almost twenty years later, many of those dreams are out of reach. But, then I quickly brought myself back to where we are and who Jack is and how we can’t focus on the if onlys. If onlys don’t really get you too far. All they really do is make you blind to what’s in front of you. And, what’s in front of us is a new, beautiful boy who we can hold and dress up and cuddle and then hand back to his parents when he needs a diaper change.

Besides, our biggest goal for our boy was for him to be happy and who’s happier than Jack?

Anna is missing from the photos because she’s at BEACH WEEK with her buddies. allowing her to go was not by proudest moment as a parent, but so far she is safe and sound and hasn’t gotten into too much trouble. She can’t wait to meet Carlito!

hApPy bIrThDaY smiles and duct tape!

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HaPpY BiRtHdAy Smiles and Duct Tape!!

When the book was released last year, I had my fingers and toes crossed that it would find its way into the world, but in my wildest dreams, I never imagined that it would find its way into so many of the right hands.

Smiles and Duct Tape is not winning awards or getting nominated for prizes, but this is better – it’s helping people. ALD parents, special needs families, and people looking to better understand special needs and/or our little, not-as-rare-as-you-might-think disease, Adrenoleukodystrophy.

A highlight of this first year was our family being invited to meet the folks at bluebird bio earlier this week. Last month, the New England Journal of Medicine released a study that indicates that gene therapy is a promising option for boys with ALD. bluebird bio is behind that research.

Thanks to Smiles and Duct Tape, and my need to share every detail of our lives, bluebird bio found us and asked us to come up to Cambridge and talk to their team.

I liked bluebird bio from the start because they have the same relationship with capital letters as I do (my oh-so-cool not capitalizing my post titles), but when I did a little research, I really fell in love: “we are committed to our vision of transforming lives and making hope a reality for patients . . . ” AND one of the diseases that they’re determined to beat is ALD.

They are not just leading studies on new treatments, they are working to truly understand what the current treatments look like – that’s where we came in. We are the face of what ALD looks like with the current standard of care—a stem cell transplant— and without the luxury of an early diagnose. They wanted to hear more about our story and had dozens of questions for all of us (Anna answered questions with such confidence and grace AND Jack won a lot of hearts with his smile). They asked all about the transplant and details about what life looks like post-transplant. The goal of bluebird bio is to provide a treatment with fewer risks and a better after-treatment quality of life.

With all the crap going on these days, it’s hard not to lose a little faith in our world, but spending the day at bluebird bio felt like stepping into the future – a better future. Brilliant minds who are determined to make a difference. AND they invited us into their nest with open arms. We spoke, we ate, and we got an incredible tour of their facilities. These folks are warm and friendly and wicked smaaaht.

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With increased pressure to add newborn screening for ALD across the US and this promising research on gene therapy, the future looks bright for the next generation of ALD boys. If us Torreys can help even a tiny bit, sign us up!

Tomorrow I am off to the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. Yet another exciting opportunity to share our story. I’ll share stories and pictures next week.

Love, Jess

https://www.thedailybeast.com/can-two-brothers-struck-with-lorenzos-oil-disease-be-saved?source=TDB&via=FB_Page

 

 

 

HaPpY 19th!

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I’m happy to report that we did not take any bit of HaPpY out of Happy Birthday (if you don’t know what I am talking about, click here)! JackO enjoyed every minute of his 19th Birthday and looks forward to celebrating all month long. Thank you for all your birthday notes – keep them coming!!

 

 

Love, Jess

PS HaPpY Birthday PopPop!!! We will celebrate soon Block Island style;)

 

I refuse to steal the HAPPY out of HAPPY BIRTHDAY

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I don’t remember all of my birthdays, but 19 was especially memorable. My friend, Dave, took me out for dinner. It was our favorite Chinese restaurant and I’m sure there was a Scorpion Bowl or Mai Tais or something else really sweet and really strong. We stuffed ourselves with beef and broccoli, and then Dave insisted on ordering dessert. Who does that at a Chinese restaurant? Fried ice cream or something odd and I could hardly fit in a bite. Besides, I was anxious to get back to the apartment. It was my birthday and I wanted to grab our friends and go out.

I felt like Dave was going in slow motion as we made our way back to the Woodrow (think rundown/gritty/college three-story apartment building in Baltimore). I was so focused on how lame he was being that I didn’t considered WHY he was moving so slowly until we walked through the door.

“Surprise!!!!”

I’ve never been so shocked. Somehow, without me having even a clue, my mother had contacted my best friend, Enger, and sent her some cash to plan something nice for my birthday (remember this was years before cell phones). I’m guessing that my mother had envisioned sparkling wine and canapés, but instead there were pizza boxes and a keg of beer. It was one of the funnest nights of my life. Rowdy, loud, and silly. 19.

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JackO is turning 19 on Saturday.

Each milestone that we reach comes with a little reminder of what coulda/shoulda been and I hate that. I hate that there is any hesitation on focusing on the happy part of happy birthday. I hate that I spend even a second wondering if I would have sent money to Jack’s college friends to buy some booze and party favors (probably not – 2017 is not 1988 – I’d probably end up in jail for contributing to the delinquency of minors). I hate that I wonder where Jack would have gone off to college. I hate that I use any ounce of energy cursing ALD — AGAIN.

But I do. I can’t help it.

When I started writing this, it was for me to post on Jack’s birthday, but I’m not going to wait until Saturday. It’s not fair to Jack. It’s not fair to his birthday. His birthday is for celebrating. He deserves it. He is the happiest person I know and NOONE likes a celebration more than our boy;)

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So — enough of the coulda/shoulda. We are going to celebrate all weekend. Heading to the beach with some of our closest friends. We’re going to eat pizza and cake and maybe even find ourselves a Mai Tai!!!!! Then, on Monday we will celebrate again with his pals at school. And, when we head to Block Island later in the month — we will have more cake and do more singing.

I will send some photos of all the fun on his actual birthday. In the meantime – send Jack a note. On Facebook or right here. Scroll down. See “Leave a reply”? Go for it!

Love, JackO’s mom

PS Once I have written down my feelings, I feel much better. No need for weepy phone calls or awkward hugs if you see me. I promise I’m now focusing on WackO JackO and his big, fun day/week/month.

PPS I wrote this last night and, as I was falling asleep, it occurred to me that I might have actually been remembering my 20th birthday. Enger? Dave? Betsey? Deb? Anyone?

 

 

It’s a GIRL!

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My daughter/sister/bestie is 17 today!

Anna left at the crack of dawn for the DMV, and returned with a huge smile on her face and a driver’s license in her wallet. Once I was done jumping up and down with her in the driveway, I found myself in a puddle of tears. And, the tears aren’t stopping.

I’m hoping that some time here on the computer will help me sort out why I’m finding today so overwhelming. If I can just find the words, I might be able to make some sense out of all these emotions.

I’m excited for Anna. 17 is huge and getting your license is a great achievement. I know that some kids these days aren’t too interested in driving, but our girl has been obsessed with cars since we let her drive up the driveway on Block Island when she was twelve years old. She organized a driving instructor and even talked us into giving her Dan’s car over a year ago (he took the train today – anyone selling a car?). When our girl gets her mind set on something, she’s all in. And, Dan and I have also been looking forward to this milestone. Not needing to worry about getting Anna to and from school and lacrosse practice – AND having her help with errands is going to be wonderful.

So, what’s with all these tears? Here’s what I’ve up with:

1.) There is always the “Jack Factor”. That punch in the gut when there’s a bold reminder of something that Jack will never experience. That was further highlighted today when I realized that the rest of my day included stocking up on his diapers at Target, dealing with Medicaid, and setting up some doctor’s appointments. That punch never goes away.

2.) The phone call to our insurance company adding Anna to our plan. Even with the “good student discount”, the increase to our policy was startling. Probably not enough to make me cry, but it certainly made me pause.

3.) As much as I love having a daughter/sister/bestie I can’t believe I no longer have a little girl. Wasn’t she just born?

I won’t go into all the details of the day Anna arrived, but I will share that it wasn’t quite as beautiful as I had imagined the birth would be. I had begged my doctor to allow me to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section). Jack had been breech and 10 pounds – a scheduled c-section. I’d felt cheated from having a typical “birth story”, and thought that this was a great idea. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as fun as I expected. I had signed up for a VBAC, not for a natural delivery, but by the time Anna arrived, any bit of pain medication was gone. GONE.

Needless to say, I was in agony. The only thing that kept me from continuing my four-letter-word rant, was when I heard the doctor say, “It’s a girl!”

I stopped screaming to ask, “Are you sure?”

Dan and I didn’t know the gender of either Jack or Anna before they arrived. We loved the idea of the “ultimate surprise”, but truthfully I wasn’t ever expecting to have a daughter. Dan’s sister, April, is the only girl of her generation on the Torrey side. And, Pop Pop (Dan’s father) is one of four boys. When Dan and I started our family, I really pictured myself as a mom of a couple of boys. “It’s a girl” was a complete surprise. We had no name prepared and nothing pink waiting for her arrival. I just stared at this little peanut as she was placed on my chest, wondering what it was going to be like to have a daughter.

It’s been amazing, but how did the time go so quickly? How is that little girl with no name or pink blankets driving a car to pick up her boyfriend and go out to lunch?

Okay – I got it. I’m hysterical because my job as Anna’s mom is reaching the end. Thank goodness MyMom is on her way for a visit. I need some love. Hey, wait a minute . . .

 

Love, Jess

Happy Birthday Banana! You can come home now. I’m done crying for now;)

 

 

 

Ten Years and Counting . . . Special Thanks to the Little Lady from Detroit

I’ve been trying to find the right words, but I’m at a loss. There are no words to really describe how we feel today. I’ll keep this post short and sweet.

Ten years ago we put our son’s life in the hands of doctors and donors and maybe even a higher power (I know, I know – I have a terrible relationship with God, but I’m working on it). Ten years ago we didn’t know of any boys who were ten years post transplant for ALD. We didn’t know if there was a chance that Jack would reach this milestone.

Jack has reached this day – HIS TENTH TRANSPLANT BIRTHDAY – and I fully expect he will exceed every dream we’ve ever had for him. He’s just that kind of kid. He’s a silent boy who speaks.

We had a party this weekend to celebrate our boy. We filled our yard with greasy food and many of Jacko’s favorite people. Jack spent the day hugging, and dancing and enjoying every second.

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Please take a moment today and think about our boy. Think about how amazing life can be.

Happy Birthday JackO!!!

Love, Jess

In honor of Jack’s TRANSPLANT BIRTHDAY we asked people to make donations to Boxes of Fun and Horizon High School. Over $2800 was raised for his school and have a HUGE pile of toys for the Boxes of Fun. Our duct tape is amazing!

 

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FYI – “The Little Lady from Detroit” was Jack’s donor;)