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 ALDthisisald.blog

THIS is ALD.jpg

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 fightald.org, and Elisa Seeger of aidanhasaposse.org, Jean Kelley of brianshope.org and Kathleen O’Sullivan-Fortin and all the folks at aldconnect.org – 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 — thisisald.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!!!




proof of progress


Jack wanders. Unless he’s eating with the family around the kitchen island or he’s stationed on the couch in the den in front of Impractical Jokers, he likes to walk around the house. We call it “doing his loop”. He walks from the kitchen, through the dinning room, to the living room and then back to the kitchen. Occasionally, he’ll stop and acknowledge one of us with a little pat on the head, but mostly he just walks slowly from room to room. If someone rings the doorbell and makes the dogs go nuts, Jack will react by hopping up on one leg and speeding up his pace. And, if he notices the commercials on the TV have ended, he might take a break from walking and find his way back onto the couch.

Sometimes when Jack is wandering, he goes off route and heads upstairs and it takes us a minute to find him (our boy can walk up stairs unassisted, but is not able to walk down stairs without a hand). Last week I was busy doing something very important – like a puzzle or watching Dateline – when I realized that Jack wasn’t in the den where I had left him. I did the loop and didn’t see him, so I raced upstairs. I found him in our master bathroom checking himself out in the mirror. He had a big smile on his face and a Visa bill in his hand.

“JackO, what do you have there? I need to pay that dude. Go put it back where you found it.”

Jack smiled and walked right past me. I followed him and watched as he made his way into the office and laid the bill down right in the center of my desk.

Why am I sharing this? Because it’s amazing!!! It’s been ten years since Jack has followed a two part command. It’s proof of progress.

There’s more.

The other night I had some ladies over. We were all in the kitchen enjoying cocktails and catching up. I gave Jack his nighttime medication and then walked him to the bathroom to sit him on the toilet. I closed the bathroom door and returned to my friends. I was planning on giving him a couple of minutes, but may have gotten a little distracted. I was knee deep in a fascinating conversation about teenage angst, when I looked over to the doorway and there was my son. He had gotten himself up off the toilet, opened the bathroom door and found us. His pants were around his ankles, but he had pulled up his diaper. Such a gentleman – knowing there were ladies in the house.

Again – this may not sound like a big deal. It is. Huge.

Need another example?

I picked up Jack from school the other day and we were doing our usual routine of listening to music and chatting (one sided) about our day. Jack seemed bored with me and started looking for something to do. First he turned on the interior light, then he opened his window.

“Jack, your driving me nuts. Turn off that light.”

He looked at me, smiled, reached over and turned off the light.

“Wow! Jack, now close the window.”

Window closed.

The whole way home I was in shock. Did he really just listen to me? Did he just follow a command — and then another?

We pulled into the driveway, I got out of the car and I went around to open Jack’s door. I reached down, gave him a kiss on the cheek and told him how proud I was of him, “Jack, now can you unbuckle your seatbelt?”

He didn’t miss a beat. He reached over and clicked the button. Proof of progress.

That’s right folks. Progress doesn’t always follow a straight line for our boy, but lately he has been shooting ahead steadily – Jack is amazing.

But we already know that.


Love, Proud Mama



newborn screening (can’t think of a clever title)


This image was taken two years before we heard the word Adrenoleukodystophy.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending an ALD meeting. It was one of the most incredible days of my life. I’ve never been in a room full of people who understand our disease before. They all had stories. Many were parents who had lost their boys. Some, like me, have a son who has suffered and is living a complicated life (some lived through both). And, there were two young men who had been treated early – both in their twenties now and both doing well – exceptionally well. They sat across from me and I couldn’t stop watching them and smiling – they’re the future of our disease.

I hate ALD. I hate what it’s done to Jack. I hate what it’s done to our family. I hate that I open my Facebook feed some days and read about another boy suffering from this disease or losing his battle after fighting for years (or months). It’s brutal.

The only possibility of getting good outcome with ALD is an early diagnosis. Until recently, the only way to know that you carried the ALD mutation without displaying symptoms, was if you were “lucky” enough to have a family member diagnosed with the dreaded disease. In the case of the two young men I met last week, each had an older brother with ALD. Each of these young men had watched as their older brothers tackled the disease without any treatment. Both of their brothers died – their greatest legacy was saving their sibling.

I can’t really imagine what these families went through — caring for and then mourning one son as they moved forward with treating another. And these were early days. They were pioneers in the treatment that is now standard for ALD boys – stem cell transplant (and if you’ve been keeping up with the news about gene therapy, THAT might be changing). Because of their brothers, they were each diagnosed early and monitored yearly. As soon as there was one hint of the disease becoming active, they were treated. Transplants were a new way of treating the disease and their parents moved forward, taking advantage of the only hope possible.

Ten years ago we received Jack’s diagnosis. We had never heard the word Adrenoleukodystrophy before that day. We didn’t have the luxury of knowing and watching and preparing. We wasted time with misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis. We watched Jack lose abilities quickly, without knowing what was happening. Finally, just before Jack’s ninth birthday we were given the news and he had his transplant the following month. The transplant worked and it stopped the disease, but Jack’s life is forever tainted by ALD.

I’ve found it difficult being part of our community where Jack – with such a complicated life – is a “good outcome”. Most of the people I’ve come to know with ALD have suffered more, lost more, many have died.

Meeting Mitch and Jon – they said I could use their names – was incredible. Of corse there was a little voice inside me wishing that our family had had some warning. If we had known that the mutation was lurking in Jack’s DNA, we would have watched him through blood work and MRIs and he would have had a transplant a year or two earlier. It’s more than likely that he would be living a very typical life today had we known. He’d probably be in college now. Maybe he would have joined me last week and he would have hung out with Mitch and Jon sharing stories and laughs (FYI – all ALD boys seem to share an awesome sense of humor).

Why am I sharing this? Because there’s no reason for a late diagnosis. It’s possible today to test newborns by including ALD in the newborn screening that is already in place checking for other serious conditions. Several states have passed newborn screening for ALD and many are on their way. I encourage all of you to do your part to make this happen.

I’ve known that newborn screening for ALD had potential for saving lives and avoiding suffering, but meeting Mitch and Jon confirmed the success of early diagnosis and gave me hope that the future is bright for our ugly, wicked, crappy disease.

Love, Jess


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lucky mom


Every weekday morning, Anna races downstairs making sure she gets a chance to give her Boogie* a hug before his bus arrives. It makes my heart melt. No matter what’s going on in our family, our country, or the planet, I try to pause and enjoy the love that these kids have for each other. Siblings/best friends – the strongest bond I’ve ever witnessed. I’m a lucky mom.

That is all.

Love, Jess

* Jack AKA Boogie, Boogie Brown, Boogs, Boogs McGee, JackO, WackO, The Weasel


Thrown Back into Reality

As if leaving Block Island isn’t hard enough, we had a doozy of a ferry ride home on Sunday. Within a few minutes of leaving the dock, the boat was pitching frantically over the angry ocean and water was pouring in the open windows. Then, the vomiting started. At one point Keegan’s leash slipped out of Anna’s hand and he slid across the width of the ferry. Fifteen minutes into the hell, a young man next to us took his head out of a garbage can to announced, “We have 45 more minutes of this.”

We had known that it was likely to be a rough ride. Our friends had left the island an hour earlier and reported back that their journey to the mainland had been a nightmare. Dan sat with Anna and the dogs and I chose a seat where I could brace myself while holding onto Jack and we could sit facing the horizon. I was worried about Jack getting sea sick, but once we started moving I worried less about a little vomit and more about a seizure. He was sitting between my legs and I could feel the sweat pouring down his neck and his body melting. Jack’s body isn’t built for stress. He has Addison’s Disease (another gift from ALD) and his body doesn’t produce cortisol to help deal with added stress to his system. A seizure can be a result of his body being overwhelmed, and a boat that’s slapping in the water at strange angles is not an ideal place to manage a seizure.

My mind was racing with planning how to get Jack to a safe spot to lay him down and how on earth one of us could manage to grab his emergency medication that was in the back of our over-packed car two floors down. I was in a panic, but as always, my family calmed me. Anna kept looking over and whispering “I love you.” and “Boogie’s going to be fine.” And, Dan knowing that I can get hysterical fairly easily, kept saying things like, “This isn’t so bad.” – he admitted later that the ride was the worst he’d ever experienced and that Jack’s face (that I couldn’t see) had been a bright color of green. Jack also managed to keep me calm. I spent the hour whispering into his ear that everything was going to be okay. His trust in me and little squeezes back let me know that it was going to be okay.

We were literally thrown back into reality. I haven’t been that scared in a long time, but we survived. No injuries. No seizures. No vomit.

It took a couple of hours before we could recover and returned to our usual chatty car-talks reliving our Block Island adventures, but we are determined not to let that last hour ruin an amazing two week vacation.

Two weeks on Block Island where life is slow, days are long and sunsets are pure magic. Beach time, kayaking, tennis, biking, hiking, puzzles, cards, weaving, paddle boarding, large meals, large cocktails, even a reading of Smiles and Duct Tape at Island Bound Bookstore (thanks to all who attended). We had time with family and friends and, besides the extra few pounds around my belly, we are bringing back a load of good memories. Thank you Block Island for recharging us. And, thank you PopPop and Sue for hosting.

Jack and Anna are back at school, Dan is in Chicago, and I am working on my list of fall “to dos” (lots going on with Smiles and Duct Tape and a new project underway – I will fill you in later).

Welcome back to reality folks.

Love, Jess


And the Winner is . . .

Smack in the middle of remembering the hell we went through ten years ago, we got a beautiful reminder of where we are now.

THIS is where we are now — We are winning the GOLD!!!!!


This amazing day was thanks to the Special Olympics and the greatest school on the planet – CPNJ Horizon High School. Their love, support, training and encouragement helped Jack hop his way to the finish-line!!

If this video made you smile (or cry happy tears), please consider making a donation to Jack’s school.


Love, Jess (proud mama)

P.S. It’s not really about winning, it’s about being able to play the game. Thanks to the Special Olympics and Horizon High School – Jack was able to play the game!

P.P.S. It is kinda fun to win sometimes;)

Ten years ago . . .



What were you doing ten years ago?

Ten years ago our family was in limbo. We had just been transferred from our local hospital to Columbia Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s hospital in New York City. Our lives were standing still as we waited for doctors to figure out what was going on in Jack’s brain.

Seven days earlier, we had gone for an MRI so that we could rule out any significant neurological issues. We were told immediately following the “routine MRI” that it did not rule out anything. Instead, the MRI had confirmed that Jack had significant damage to his brain.

That was April 20th, 2007.

It would be ten days before we were ushered into a small conference room and introduced to the word Adrenoleukodystrophy. Those ten days were surreal.

Waiting is brutal. Although we tried to be optimistic, the doctors were not able to mask their concern. We knew that a diagnosis was coming and that it likely would be bad news. Jack was only eight-years-old and Dan and I both needed to play the role of calm parents, but in the stillness of night our fears would crawl out. There was very little sleeping for us during that time. The “unknown” causes the imagination to spin, often landing on the horrifying or the absurd.

We all know what happened. That we did get a terrible diagnosis and then lived through a nightmare before finding our way to a new life full of challenges. As we approach the tenth anniversary of Jack’s diagnosis and stem cell transplant (his other birthday), I can’t help but relive those days. I can’t help but remember where we were ten years ago. Who we were ten years ago. Bear with me as I spend the next month remembering and sharing.

Sharing has helped me survive the last ten years and reliving these memories is actually helping me to appreciate that we didn’t just survive that period, but we have moved incredibly far since that time. Of corse, I have my moments wondering what life would have looked like without Adrenoleukodystrophy crashing in, but mostly TODAY I am feeling grateful.

Jack survived. His life is complicated, but his quality of life is wonderful. He is happy and stable and manages to bring joy wherever he goes. Anna survived. She runs through life like she runs down a lacrosse field – determined and strong. I’m not exactly sure where she is headed, but her life is going to be extraordinary. Dan and I survived. We are not living the lives we imagined, but I can honestly say that we are closer now than we’ve ever been. I know it sounds cheesy, but he’s my best friend.

Our family has also managed to surround ourselves with friends who hold us up when we need it and encourage us to celebrate the good times (wine and dessert flow often). And, our extended family is incredible. We’ve just gotten to share time with both the Torreys and the Cappellos and we are all feeling incredibly blessed.

For a VERY unlucky family, we are really f*cking lucky;)

Ten years ago our family was living in limbo. Waiting for news that would forever change our lives. Today we are in control. Perhaps not able to control what tomorrow will bring, but in control over how we will face today — AND today is a great day!!

Love, Jess


Today (not really today, but this year)

I want to be like Harry’s mom

Twenty years ago (years before I was even pregnant with Jack), I was a middle school art teacher in a suburb on Long Island. One day, the principle asked me to come down to his office to discuss something. He told me that there was a boy in the district who was profoundly autistic. He wasn’t mainstreamed in any classes, but he really loved art. The principle asked if I would be willing to have the boy join my seventh grade class.

I didn’t know much about Autism, but I did know about tenure, so I nodded my head and said that I would love to.

The next day I was introduced to Harry. Harry could barely speak, couldn’t look me in the eye and had a host of very unusual behaviors. Initially, I thought HOW is this going to work? I was a new, inexperienced teacher and had 26 other seventh graders in the class – seventh graders!

I was surprised and delighted that over the next couple of weeks I didn’t just get used to Harry and his quirky behavior, I kinda fell in love with him. There was something magical about the way that he was able to tune out the chaos around him and focus on his work. And, the feelings where mutual — before long, part of Harry’s daily routine was to stop by my classroom several times a day to hug me. Long awkward AND awesome hugs.

As Back to School Night approached that year I was super excited about meeting Harry’s mom. I felt like I needed to tell this overwhelmed/exhausted women that she was doing a great job – that Harry was a great kid. I was going to make her day.

The night arrived, and as my seventh grade class of parents filed in, I scanned the room for Harry’s mom. I’m not sure what I was looking for but I was certain I didn’t see her. There was not one person in the crowd wearing a “I’m a special needs mom” hat. I was disappointed, but moved on with my “Why Art is the most important subject in your child’s curriculum” speech. When it was over and the class started to empty, a woman walked up to me and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Harry’s mom”

I was floored. She’d been there the whole time and I hadn’t recognized her. She wasn’t at all what I expected – she was showered and had make-up on. She was even smiling. I paused a little too long and then made things worse by hugging her and telling her how much I adored her son and great I thought she was. That hug made Harry’s hugs seem pretty normal.

As she removed herself from my arms she said, “Thank you so much Mrs Torrey. THAT is great to hear, but I know how amazing Harry is. I’m not just a special needs mom – I’m Harry’s mom. Harry’s life might be a little more complicated than his peers, but I have always tried to not let Autism take over our family. I have other kids, I have a job and a husband and friends. If I let Autism define us, I am letting Autism win.”

I’m not much of a believer in “all things happen for a reason” but Harry’s mother’s words have stayed with me for over twenty years.

When Jack got sick and it started to become apparent that his disabilities weren’t temporary, I remembered that day meeting Harry’s mom and thinking that if I could just keep her attitude my family just might survive.

Love, Jess



A Room Full of Duct Tape

I’m not sure of the best word to describe Thursday’s reading at WORDS – but unreal and overwhelming keep coming to mind. The reading took place in the basement of our local bookstore (that makes it sound depressing – it’s … Continue reading