United to Beat Disease

I like to surround myself with people smarter than I am. While some people might find it intimidating, I find it thrilling to witness brilliance and like the challenge of trying to blend in. And, if I know I’m really … Continue reading

THIS is ALD #21 — Jack M.

I have known Kerry for many years through social media. We both have sons named Jack and we both know how ALD can effect every inch of every life in an entire family – even when it only takes over one body.

Thank you Kerry for sharing Jack’s story.

THIS is ALD — Jack M.

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Jack was 8-years-old when our family was at my older son’s boot camp graduation at Parris Island. Jack suffered what look like a seizure — months later we figured out it was caused by an adrenal crisis. He was taken from Parris Island to the hospital and then we took him home to Miami the next day. The doctors refused to test for anything specific, simply saying he had Epilepsy. It took several months, and lots of doctors, before Jack was diagnosed with ALD and adrenal insufficiency.

Although the doctors in Miami told us there was no hope, I put Jack on a plane and went to University of Minnesota Hospital (a leader in ALD research and treatment) to see if he would qualify for a bone marrow transplant. They agreed and Jack was transplanted using the precious cells from his brother, the Marine.

After transplant, Jack continued to decline because the cells needed time to get to where they were needed. I’ve homeschooled him his entire life and have been able to adapt all curriculum to where he is at any given time. It also has allowed us to be flexible while we continued to pursue other treatments for him. Over the next several years I took him to North Carolina to see a rare disease doctors and several other states for answers which I eventually figured out on my own. Jack’s disease finally stopped progressing 2 years post-transplant, and he was left requiring full-time care. I am his full-time caregiver. Respiratory issues and adrenal issues keep me on my feet.

ALD has not been the only complication our family has faced. We recently went through hurricane Irma and YES we are still fighting the insurance company to repair the house so we can safely live here. Three times over the last year I have had to travel to take care of my mother who has heart condition and breast cancer. All of this has been the worst case scenario — like the board game, except I don’t hold any cards. I just do whatever is needed at the moment. One step forward, two steps back. I try to just keep pushing forward. My Marine son says I would have made a great Marine — I have been through The Crucible and back.

Since my Jack’s diagnosis and transplant there have been 5 babies born in our family and one expected this July — my grandchildren. All of my grandchildren are healthy. Jack’s ALD was a spontaneous mutation (meaning it was not inherited). ALD is now part of the newborn screening panel in Florida. I often imagine if ALD had been part of the panel when Jack was born – so much of this pain could have been avoided.

So much has happened since ALD struck our family and it’s effected a lot of our lives. I have had children graduate from college numerous times and missed their graduations. I’ve missed grand babies being born. Everything is on the back burner while I care for my son 24/7. It’s also changed the lives of my seven other children. My 23-year-old is my constant help. My 29-year old Marine just receive his third degree from college in bio medical and he also runs a tutoring company that caters to Veterans and hopes to raise money for research to develop an auto injector (to administer steroids) for those with Addison’s Disease. All seven of Jack’s siblings have been contributing to ALD awareness. They have learned first hand how ALD can effect a family. My ex-husband has moved on since Jack’s diagnosis. He is remarried and started a new family and we have no contact. Another dirty side of the storm no one talks about. 

Jack is now 18. When Jack is doing well he has a good quality of life — bowling and baseball, he has even played soccer in his wheelchair. When he’s not well I count the moments and do everything I can to keep him out of the hospital and give him comfort. Sometimes I question putting him through chemo and transplant, but I know I tried and did everything possible at each step of our journey.  Jack is still here. He is still fighting and I will fight with him. I know the Lord has the last say. 

— Kerry

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Kerry is also a children’s book writer and has been a very active volunteer with political campaigns, adding to the bone marrow registry and raising awareness for ALD and newborn screening.

Thank you Kerry for sharing Jack’s story and helping the ALD community spread the word about our not-so-rare disease.

THISisALD.blog

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

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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 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!!

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I dare you NOT to donate!!!

 

 

 

THIS is ALD #4 – Jon

“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras”

It’s a quote by a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the 1940s. A reminder to his students that, when searching for a diagnosis, not to think of the obscure until you can rule out the likeliest possibilities. I will never forget hearing it for the first time when a pile of medical students came into Jack’s room at Columbia Presbyterian Morgan Stanleys Children’s Hospital ten years ago. One of the students tapped the young man next to him and whispered, “Dude – THIS is a zebra!”

If Jack is a zebra, then Jon is a unicorn, with purple and cyan stripes. I met him this fall at an ALD event and I kept finding myself staring at him across the table. He’s in his mid-twenties, has his degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, is a comedian, and has ALD.

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THIS is ALD #4 – Jon

        This posting on Smiles and Duct Tape might have a different tone than most personal ALD stories. First off, I was diagnosed with ALD at the age of 1 due to the late diagnosis of my brother at age 6. It’s a common story. One that many of us have heard before, but did you catch what was odd? Maybe you did? I did, mainly because I’m the one writing this. There it is again.

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        The story keeps going with a bone marrow transplant at the age of 6, still a pretty common age range for those who are familiar with ALD. The transplant was at Minnesota which is synonymous with ALD. I came home after the transplant, and lived a normal life. Give up yet? I, me, the one writing the article had the bone marrow transplant. After hearing everything that happens to some boys with this terrible disease, I sometimes forget just how amazing this, THIS, is.
        It may even come more to a surprise that the journey started in 1992, when I was born. ALD would hit the silver screen a few months later with the movie Lorenzo’s Oil. Six years later, and an incredibly experimental treatment lead and here we are. So this article will take a different turn than any other ALD article and I’ll share with you everything I’ve done since the transplant. Everything, that is now achievable, by any other boy who is prescreened.
        As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be an engineer. Love designing ideas in my Inventor’s Notebook and building with Legos. Even during my transplant I was building Lego kits that were 12 years old and up. I was 6 at the time. It kept me busy. Models surrounded my hospital and Ronald McDonald House rooms. The passion for engineering continued after the transplant, as I excelled in math and science classes. Getting straight A’s in grammar school while being active in Boy Scouts. Scouting let me explore many different subjects, experiences, and knowledge which I still used today. In High School, I enrolled in Honors Math and Science classes. Doing my best to continue my streak of mostly A’s with the occasional B. I had the opportunity to take a few AP classes and a college level chemistry course which helped ready me for college. Furthermore, after class, I joined the Theatre Club and found joy in performing and speaking on stage. Fell in love with it and did as many plays as I could. Boy Scouts became a large part of my High School career. I served on Summer Camp staff for 3 summers and came to earn my Eagle Scout. I was selected to be a part of the Order of the Arrow ( Boy Scouts National Honor Society). Eventually becoming the youth leader as Lodge Chief, giving service to all members in Waukesha County, WI.
        Before I even started High School, I knew I wanted to attend the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Everything in High School worked towards that goal, and my senior year, I received my acceptance letter, though I had a feeling I would. College was the best years of my life. I continued all my passions of math and science, except now it was set to 11. I kept up with theatre joining the MSOE Theatre Troupe. There I acted in 6 plays, and directed 2. But the best decision I made in college was joining Triangle Fraternity. It’ an engineering fraternity and I became best friends with all of them. I may have lost a brother, but gained 100s I know I can lean on. Still staying in touch with them and even helping me secure my after college job at Affiliated Engineering in Phoenix Arizona. Today, I design the HVAC systems for colleges campuses and health care facilities. It may not be the same as a doctor treated young boys with ALD, but the buildings I’m designing may someday find a cure for this disease. And I’m okay with that.

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I’ve read this piece a dozen times and each time I’m in awe of how little Jon references ALD. He’s just a kid who loved legos and the Boy Scouts and learning and building and theater, and friendships. ALD is part of Jon, but it’s way down on the list of things that define him.

Jon was a pioneer. Like the boys going though gene therapy now, in 1998 stem cell transplants for ALD were experimental. Jon’s family had already lost a son and chose to try something new to save Jon’s life. Not only did it work, but it worked before ALD took over. Honestly, meeting Jon you would not see any hints of our disease. It’s amazing. Inspiring. A little heartbreaking  — I can’t help but wonder about Jack and who he would have been had ALD not touched every single part of his life. It’s crazy how random this disease can be, BUT I’m thrilled that Jon has enjoyed such an incredible life and it’s just the beginning of his story!

Thank you Jon for sharing your ALD story. My dream is that, as the years and research move forward, your story will become the standard — boy gets diagnosed, boy gets treated, boy lives life.

Until then Jon — you are the ALD unicorn!

 

Love, Jess

 

THIS is ALD #3 – Dalton

The response to THIS is ALD has been remarkable (If you missed post, check it out). I’ve spent much of the last week corresponding with people in the ALD community — hearing stories and sharing our own. It’s been emotional, but it does have me thinking that I’m onto something good.

I was working on a post about Goucher College and The Grateful Dead (including some marriage advice), but that’s going to have to wait. I have another ALD story about an amazing boy named Dalton.

THIS is ALD #3 — Dalton

I met Dalton’s mom, Jennifer Lindsey, in person this fall at an ALD symposium. I’d followed their ALD story since the beginning, and I was glad that I got to turn her from a stranger-friend to a friend. She is smart and loving and dedicated to the ALD community. As soon as I reached out to the ALD world asking for volunteers for THIS is ALD, she sent me a note. She agrees that the more people share, the brighter the ALD landscape will be.

Thank you Jennifer for your words.

        Dalton was a very laid back, easy going kid.  On a normal day, he wanted to wear jeans and a t-shirt.  In fact, if I ever had a polo or button-up shirt set out for him he automatically assumed it was picture day.  He kept his hair short, but did have a Mohawk a couple times, which he thought was awesome.  Dalton was a hot mess, but he was my mess.  One moment he could be the sweetest, most loving kid you ever met and then turn right around and be the most devilish, ornery kid ever. 
        I always thought Dalton was destined to be a comedian.  He could always make you laugh, even if you didn’t want to.  Sometimes it was genuinely funny and other times it was just so downright stupid it was funny.  Even when he wasn’t trying to be funny at all, it just came naturally to him.  At times he didn’t know when to stop.  He just liked making people laugh so much that if it worked he would keep it up, which at times was just fine and other times could be so frustrating.  Like most kids, he didn’t have a filter, so there was no telling what was going to come out of his mouth.  Dalton was a very sweet, loving boy who was robbed of everything possible by this monster we call Adrenoleukodystrophy. 
        Dalton was diagnosed on July 13, 2016 with Adrenoleukodystrophy, a genetic metabolic disorder that attacks the myelin sheath of the neurons in the brain. It literally robs these boys of their vision, hearing, motor skills, mobility, speech, ability to swallow, and eventually leads to death. A bone marrow transplant can stop the progression of the disease if successful, but does not reverse the damage already done.
        He was a perfectly normal 10 year old boy before. We had no clue. The only reason we had an MRI was because he was having hearing issues in May, 2016. I was thinking it might either be a brain tumor or a processing disorder so we did the MRI to be on the safe side. Second worst day of our lives. At that point they sent us to Riley in Indy, who more or less gave us a death sentence. We were then several days later pointed in the direction of the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, where we spent almost 5 months.
     Dalton had his stem cell transplant on August 29, 2016 which went beautifully, but he contracted the Epstein Barr virus in October, had to undergo more chemotherapy, and then was diagnosed with acute grade 4 gut graft vs host disease around mid-November. They tried several treatments, which were unsuccessful, and he was sent home on his birthday, December 1. We were under home hospice care until December 13 when he passed. I believe with all of my heart that newborn screening and gene therapy would have saved Dalton’s life. 

 

Watching Jennifer’s Facebook feed over the last few weeks has been difficult. She has been reliving/reflecting/sharing (not sure of the right word, but it’s been both heartbreaking and beautiful). “See your memories” is a feature on Facebook that should be about fun memories of silly times over the years, but when you’ve lost someone, it can be upsetting. Jennifer’s Facebook page has been sharing the last few weeks of her son’s life as well as who he was before ALD crept into their lives. Dalton’s radiant smile before ALD is beautiful, and that is the boy that I chose to picture here. I love how Jennifer describes him, “One moment he could be the sweetest, most loving kid you ever met and then turn right around and be the most devilish, ornery kid ever.” Sounds like an awesome boy!

Unfortunately, Dalton’s story is not uncommon for ALD. Stem cell transplants have profound risks and if the disease has escalated passed a certain point, many boys lose skills quickly during the process. And, like in Dalton’s case, a transplant can leave a person vulnerable to infection, rejection of the new cells and Graft vs Host Disease (where the new cells – the graft, attack the body – the host).

As Jennifer says, Dalton’s story might have been different if they had had the luxury of newborn screening for ALD and had had access to gene therapy. Newborn screening allows families to prepare and monitor their child’s health so that treatment is provided in a timely fashion. Gene therapy does have risks, but Graft vs Host disease and rejection is avoided. It’s a game changer for ALD.

For more about Dalton and his journey, check out: In the Blink of an Eye: Dalton’s ALD Journey

Thank you Jennifer for sharing Dalton’s ALD journey.

Love, Jess

Please contact me at jctorrey@mac.com if you are interested in sharing your ALD story for THIS is ALD.