Day +4003 (not a great day)

Day +4004 . . .

4004 days since Jack’s transplant. Almost 11 years. Over half of Jack’s life.

Our family lives our lives marking everything with before or after ALD barged into our world. Don’t read that last sentence and feel sorry for us. Most days after ALD are just fine, and many days after have been wonderful.

We’ve created lives that work – thanks to smiles and our duct tape. We have our Anna’s sweet disposition and busy schedule keeping us on our toes and filling our dinner-time with stories. And, we have Jack’s mood that sets the tone for everything we do. Sometimes I feel like I float between two worlds. Attending an IEP meeting in the morning where we discuss things like “teeth brushing” and “using a fork” as long-term goals and then head off to watch Anna run down a lacrosse field effortlessly to score several goals. Most days I go back and forth seamlessly, enjoying each of my children and their lives.

Yesterday was NOT one of those days.

Yesterday started shitty. I won’t go into too much detail, but just imagine cleaning up a nineteen-year-old and his bed after what I’m assuming was a mexican lunch the day before. I was scrambling to get through that mess, when I noticed that dear Anna had managed to switch the laundry the night before WITHOUT switching anything that did not belong to her. This was followed by a lot of yelling up to her bedroom (those stairs are too steep for me), “This is not a hotel!! You need to do your part around here! You are NOT in college yet young lady!”.

I was already fuming as Jack and I then went through the rest of our morning routine as quickly as possible so that we could head off to the Social Security Administration. It seems that we had been “randomly been selected” to come in for a follow-up interview to determine if Jack still qualifies for Social Security. This was our fifth visit and third time being “randomly selected” in less than two years.

 

Flash forward five hours —— I was crying uncontrollably to the young woman across the plexi-glass, “How many times do I need to tell you guys that my son is disabled? We have countless letters from doctors and teachers. He is not going to get better! He will never have a job. Never! His disease has stolen any hope of a normal life where he can work and live independently and support himself.”

I wasn’t finished, “There might be people in that waiting-room over there that are trying to take advantage of the system. I assure you that Jack is NOT one of them! Wanna look up ALD on Google? Wanna spend a day with Jack and tell me that there’s a chance of him NOT qualifying for Social Security? Why are you wasting your time and tax dollars on cases like ours?” and “No – our address hasn’t changed. No – our phone number hasn’t changed. No – Jack does not have any new pay-stubs to share with you. Why the hell couldn’t we have answered these questions over the phone? WHAT the hell is wrong with you people?!?”

After my rant, she apologized, but all I could do was help Jack off his seat, grab the paperwork (where she’d added her direct number “just in case we get another letter”) and walked out the door without a word.

I drove home yelling at the world and then laughing with Jack who I could see in the rearview mirror making funny faces at me. The wait, the questions – none of that seemed to bother our boy, but his crazy mother he sure found hysterical.

I realized half way home that I’d forgotten that I was teaching an art class at 2:30. It was 2:00 and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast (Social Secuirty rules include: no eating, no drinking, no phone calls, and go to the bathroom at your own risk – you miss your number? too bad). I called my boss and explained that I would be late and I would be bringing a special guest to my class.

I usually love the opportunity to introduce Jack to children, but I was running so late that I was too worried about finishing our project to do much of an introduction. My kindergardeners kept looking up from their Blue Dog inspired paintings to check out Jack and ask things like, “If he can’t speak how do you know what he wants for dinner?” and “What’s with those funny leg things he’s wearing?” and “Why is he trying to eat the craypas?”

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I did my best to answer their questions with a lite, age appropriate spin, but at one point I got so distracted that I rammed my toe against a table. It was like The Powers that Be were having a lot of fun torturing me. I’ve never been happier to see parents arrive for pick-up.

Our last event of the day was Anna’s lacrosse game. Swinging back to a fun event seemed like a great idea, but after ten minutes of watching the Cougars, a storm rolled in and we needed to run (Jack hopped) to the car to drive home in the wicked weather. Jack and I walked into the house drenched.

I went through the motions of dinner, bath, bed, just wanting the day to be over. I was starting to breathe again, even laughing with Dan and Anna about the events of the day, but the crappy day was not quite over.

As I got into bed, I felt a sharp pain. My toenail had fallen off.

Love, Jess

Today is a much better day. No sad looks if you see me at the grocery store. I promise I am back to being cheery mom/wife/friend/teacher/writer. Day 4003 stunk, but most days after ALD are just fine. 4004 days and counting!!

 

 

a love letter to CPNJ Horizon High School

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One of the highlights of my weekdays is when Jack’s bus pulls away.

It’s not that I don’t adore my boy, it’s just that I love letting go of my responsibilities and I know that Jack is off to have another great day at his school.

Jack’s been at CPNJ Horizon High School for five years and there hasn’t been a day since he started that I haven’t counted my blessings for finding that school.

The PG Chambers School was a hard void to fill. Not only had Jack received a great special education there, but they were there for our family as we came to terms with the fact that Jack’s disabilities were not going to magically dissolve. They held us up for years as we reached a place of acceptance.

When we were faced with finding a new placement for Jack, I was basket-case. I’d just wrapped my brain around being a special mom with a child, and suddenly I was walking into schools filled with young women and men with profound disabilities. It was a population that I didn’t know and it was overwhelming. Everything was bigger – bigger kids, bigger equipment, bigger changing tables.

Thankfully, the positive energy at the school quickly won us over. CPNJ Horizon High School is an incredible place.

Like a typical high school, Jack and his peers switch classrooms throughout the day – science, math, world languages, history, art, gym, yoga, karate. They learn everything from simple cooking and using household appliances like washing machines, to practicing making beds (Jack has yet to attempt those last few things at home, but maybe he will surprise me on Mother’s Day). When the kids are not in a classroom, you might find them out in the garden watering their veggies or on their adaptive playground or hanging out in the sensory room or maybe in the pool getting therapy (it’s been a while for JackO – they have a “3 strikes/you’re out” policy. You can guess what’s considered a “strike”;). There’s also a school store where Jack’s peers sell tasty snacks and clothing made by the students. Jack and his classmates also receive all the necessary physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy seamlessly within their school day.

That’s just a typical day at CPNJ Horizon High School. Special days pop up often and Jack LOVES every second of these days. Each year CPNJ Horizon High School produces a play – filled with student actors — wheel chairs/walkers/speaking devices – nothing stops these kids. There are also costume parties, dance parties, sports days, movie days, even prom – that’s next Friday and I promise to share photos.

The greatest thing about the school isn’t really all of the activities, it’s the people behind the activities. The students are the stars, but it’s also the teachers, therapists, aids, nurses, custodial staff, cafeteria staff, administration. You walk into the school and it’s like walking into Disney World. It’s clean and beautiful and everyone has a smile on their face and a warm greeting at the ready. It’s a place where I am known simply as “Jack’s mom” and I answer to it easily.

So, when that bus pulls away each morning, my smile is not just about me being able to enjoy a few hours without diapers or medicine or responsibility. It’s about knowing that my boy is going to enjoy a great day. Thank you CPNJ Horizon High School. I love you;)

Love, Jess

If you would like to support Jack and his wonderful school, their annual Wheelin N Walkin Challenge is coming up soon. Every class walks/wheels proudly sharing their class banner. It’s a beautiful site to see. It also happens to be a fundraiser . . .

https://interland3.donorperfect.net/weblink/weblink.aspx?name=cpnj&id=71&cfifid=11

 

maybe it’s not really a problem.

Eleven years ago today we heard the word Adrenoleukodystrophy for the first time. Part of me feels like it was yesterday and part of me has trouble remembering life before that day.

Our family has certainly been through our share of challenges during the last eleven years. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve been surprised that I’m finding it so difficult to deal with the relatively small challenges we are facing these days – Anna preparing to head off to college, friends moving, an oil tank reeking havoc in our front lawn, deciding when/where to move, our rat-dog’s new haircut. My body didn’t betray me eleven years ago when our challenges were grave, why now? I have my theories that I won’t bore you with, but for now I’m trying to tackle what I can before I get swallowed whole.

My first test was last Friday. I spent a week preparing for a two mile drive – The Delaware Memorial Bridge. Trying to explain my new fear of bridges is impossible. There’s nothing rational about my explanations and it’s often made worse because I walk away from an explanation feeling like I sound not just fearful, but kinda crazy. Then, I worry about being crazy and what people must think . . .

I was dreading the drive to Baltimore and the huge bridge I would be facing, so when Jack and I got in the car on Friday I had a post-it note with a magic number firmly stuck to the dashboard. I was planning to call a “bridge escort”. I was not going to judge myself for it. It was the right decision. Safe and responsible.

The drive was going smoothly and I was relaxed thanks to my “safe and responsible” decision. Jack and I listened to good music and I caught up on some phone calls. I was on the phone with Mymom when suddenly I was faced with the bridge directly in front of me. It came out of nowhere. I was in the middle lane and frantically trying to figure out how I could pull over, “Mom, I’m here. I don’t know what to do. Oh my GOD – I’m ooooooonnnnnn the BRIDGE!!!”

Mymom was in the delivery room when I delivered both Jack and Anna and I swear she used the same words with me on Friday, “You can do this Tates. Keep your eyes on the prize. Just keep going. You’re almost there.”

By the time I reached the other side of the bridge I was soaked with perspiration, but I had done it. I felt overwhelmingly exhilarated. Adrenaline and pride is a great combination (and knowing at almost 50, Mymom can still be my cheerleader is pretty awesome too).

After a lovely weekend at Hopkins, I insisted on driving home so that I could face the two miles again. This time I managed to keep a decent speed and didn’t even sweat through my shirt. I can’t say that I’ve conquered my fear of bridges, but I’m not going to let a bridge stop me from moving forward – and certainly not stop me from visiting my girl next year.

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Sounds silly, but I do feel like I’ve taken a huge step forward. Last Thursday a father of one of Jack’s classmates said something to me that’s been helping, “If you can fix it, it’s not really a problem.”

So simple and just what I needed to hear. There’s plenty in our lives that we can’t fix and I no longer want to give strength to the crap we can. A weekend at Hopkins confirmed that it’s going to be a great place for Anna and it’s not too far – and the bridge won’t kill me. The oil tank is gone and our yard is getting fixed soon (money and time won’t destroy us). We are planning fun trips with our friends who are moving. We are prepping our house so that we can move when we are ready (months, years, who knows, but we are in control). Even Finn is working on growing his hair. If we can fix it, it’s not really a problem.

Eleven years ago I never imagined that we’d be living this life, but here we are. We can’t fix everything, but we will do what we can and take one bridge at a time.

Love, Jess

 

the good, the bad, and the ugly (not in that order)

 

THE BAD

I continue to be dealing with anxiety. I had been feeling rather optimistic about my progress thanks to a few helpful books, learning to focus on my breath, essential oils, experimenting with meditation, standing behind a pretend waterfall and a wonderful therapist who reminds me to take all of these things with a grain of salt. I even drove over a small bridge last week and didn’t acknowledge it until I’d almost reached the other side. I was starting to think that maybe I had even reached the other side of this anxiety.

Then, life got in the way.

Our family is heading down to Hopkins this weekend for Dan’s 30th college reunion. I’ve been looking forward to seeing old friends and spending family time celebrating Dan’s alma mater and Anna’s future home (NOT home, temporary housing for four years). Everything was going according to plan until I learned that Anna can’t join us until Saturday because she has a lacrosse game and Dan needs to go on Thursday for business meetings. That leaves me and JackO to go over the Delaware Memorial Bridge alone.

The Delaware Memorial Bridge is HUGE!!

 

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Just writing this has me sweating. I’ve thought about taking the train or taking a longer route with a smaller bridge or waiting until Saturday to go with Anna or leaving early to go with Dan or calling for a “bridge escort”. Yes, that’s a thing. Over 400 people a year call a magic number from either side of the Delaware Memorial Bridge to get assistance. I know because I’ve done the research and have the phone number on a post-it note attached to my computer screen. I am officially ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. I keep going back and forth about my plan, but (as ridiculous as it sounds) somehow that post-it has calmed my nerves a little.

Unfortunately, the bridge is not our only challenge this week. An attempt to be proactive and responsible Dan and I decided to take an old oil tank out of our front yard. We’re not ready to move just yet, but we know it’s in our not-too-distant future, so why not take care of any linger issues? We did our research, hired a reputable company and crossed our fingers. The finger crossing didn’t work. Our next step is soil remediation. We are not sure of the outcome, but it looks like this story may be far from over.

 

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I spent much of yesterday cursing, regretting ever buying a home and hating being a grown-up. The worst part is that we will not know the extent of the problem for several weeks – not great for someone who is spending too much time worrying about a long list of who/what/where/hows. Again, the sweat is rolling down my back as I write this.

THE UGLY

After a day with several steps backwards on my road to tranquility, I picked up my dog at the groomer. I didn’t know what to say when I first saw him. Finn has never had a good reputation. He jumps and barks and has even been involved in a lawsuit with our mailman. His one good quality has been his looks. He looks like a big, furry muppet. He DID look like a big, furry muppet. When I walked into the groomer yesterday he looked like a skinny, bald rat.

I felt sorry for the young girl who handed over his leash. She looked so sad and embarrassed, “His chart said you told us to cut off anything matted. At least he won’t need a cut for a long time.”

I tried to laugh, gave her a tip and told her not to worry. Then I grabbed the leash and tried to sneak Finn out to the parking lot without anyone seeing me walking a skinny rat-dog. Another step backward.

THE GOOD

Finn the rat-dog and I went together to go pick up JackO from school. I was steaming the whole way there thinking about bridges and oil tanks and money and bald dogs, but my mood turned quickly when I walked into the school and saw a friend and her son. I told her I was having a bad day and she said, “Jess, whenever I’m having a hard day I remind myself how lucky I am to have this kid in my life. Look at our boys – who’s happier then them? We get to wake up and see their smiles every day.”

She’s right. My boy – our boys – live in the moment and when the moment is good, they enjoy every second. I need to focus on the good moments and not worry so much about the complicated/expensive/scary moments. I know somehow we will get to Baltimore and our yard will get cleaned up and my rat-dog’s hair will grow back. I just need to get behind that waterfall and let my worries spill in front of me. Don’t judge them, just witness them and allow them to pass (am I don’t that right?).

Jack and I walked out to the car and I was starting to feel better. When I put Jack in the car he started laughing uncontrollably. I didn’t realize what was going on until I realized that Jack was looking at poor Finn lying in the back seat.

Life is more GOOD than BAD or UGLY.

Love, Jess

FYI – Rereading this, I feel a little guilty about saying that Finn’s only good quality is his looks. He is one of my favorite writing companions and always knows when I need a little extra love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

eleven years of sharing

This month marks eleven years of our family’s ALD story. I’m proud of the way that I’ve been able to share our story honestly and clearly for so long, but sometimes I do wonder how long I can keep it up. Sharing can be exhausting and sharing with a smile on your face can really wipe you out. Lately, I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of (over)sharing. This is what I’ve come up with.

I spoke at Seton Hall University last week. It’s the second time my friend Alison has invited me to speak to her class about “exceptional children” (children who differ from the norm, either above or below). I guess I am a bit of an expert. After all, I have two exceptional children – one on each side of the norm.

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my exceptional children

I was defiantly nervous going into it – everything seems to have me nervous lately. When I arrived at Seton Hall, I needed to sit in the parking lot for a few minutes to regain my composure (there was a whole lot of breathing and imagining being “behind the waterfall” and trying to remember what the acronym RAIN stands for and defusing essential oils into my face). It took several minutes, but I finally made myself get out of the car and once I got up in front of the students the nerves faded quickly. The kids were all ears as they listened to Jack and Anna’s stories, and thanks to the slideshow I created, most eyes were on the photos of my beautiful kiddies and not on my shaking hands.

Then, the following day, I was interviewed by a speech therapy student about Jack and his experiences in school and with therapies. A one-on-one discussion is very different from standing up in front of an audience with a speech prepared. I managed to get through the long list of questions, but there were a few long pauses as I was forced to swallow hard and hold back the tears. I’m okay with the stuff that I’ve shared often – like I have the script so memorized that the words are just words. It’s those questions that come out of left-field that can make me need to catch my breath as I find the right words without losing it.

I’ve considered that all this sharing might be adding to my feeling a little “less fierce” lately, and perhaps walking away from my (over)sharing might be a good idea. After some soul searching, I’ve decided I’m not going to. Although it’s often now accompanied with a little stress, overall I think sharing makes me stronger. I’m taking some control and (I hope) I’m doing something important. It’s helpful for other “special” families to hear what our family has gone through and that we’ve survived – even happy. And it’s important for people to understand what our lives look like. Many of the students I spoke with last week have their sites set on working with special children as teachers or occupational therapists or speech therapists. I’m in awe of this new generation, particularly those who are determined to better the world. They are strong and smart, but they can’t learn everything from books. They need to meet people who are living with disabilities. They need to meet people who work with people with disabilities. And, it can’t hurt to meet a mom of a magical son with disabilities.

I hope they walked away thinking — That could have been me. That could have been my family.

My goal isn’t to scare people, but people need to understand that you never really know how your story is going to play out. You can prepare and be careful. You can eat all your vegetables and exercise five days a week. You can make straight As and go to church every Sunday, but that doesn’t guarantee that life wont throw you a curveball (or many). It’s what you do when those curveballs hit that defines who you are.

Jack is just one example of an “exceptional” child who has taken his curveballs and knocked them on their ass. His story is a good lesson. Jack’s a good lesson with a killer smile. I am honored to be his voice and I will keep it up. It’s Important.

Love, Jess

PS The one-on-one interview was made more comfortable thanks to my warm hosts and enjoying a delicious meal at La Pergola in Millburn, NJ. If you haven’t been – go and tell them JackO sent you;)

 

 

 

 

 

the bearded boy . . . man

 

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Jack’s been trying out a new look lately. It was Anna’s idea and, as Jack’s personal shaver, we let her run with it. Jack’s now sporting a goatee. He looks like a man — I no longer have a child-child with special needs, I have an adult-child with special needs.

It’s different and it’s scaring me.

I remember sitting on the beach on Block Island several years ago when I saw a couple walking down the beach hand-in-hand. My first thought was that I was proud of living in a country that people didn’t need to hid their love. These men looked so happy as they were enjoying the sunshine and each other. Then, as they got closer, I noticed that one of the men was clearly helping the other manage the sand and the water. They weren’t lovers, they were friends or brothers and one had special needs.

Before that day, I hadn’t spent much time thinking about what life would be like once Jack was an adult. We’d done all the responsible things to prepare (wills and trusts and guardianship plans), but I hadn’t really thought about what day-to-day life would look like once Jack’s childhood was over. Suddenly I was filled with questions. How/where do you change a diaper inconspicuously? What kinds of programs are available for adults with special needs? What will JackO do without his beloved Banana’s hugs every morning? Will we need to move? Will we need live-in help to help bathe/dress/care for our son?

Like most thoughts that make me uncomfortable, I stored them away in the back of my mind. They’ve been living quietly there, but now when I look at Jack and his hipster beard, the thoughts and questions are flooding to the surface.

The problem is that I don’t know what to expect with this new chapter. I’ve worked really hard for us to be “a normal family with a special child” (I know “normal” isn’t the right word – What is normal? Perhaps a better word would be typical or standard.  I hope you understand what I’m saying). It’s taken ten years, but our family has finally reached a place where our lives (mostly) parallel the lives of our friends and neighbors. Sure, we can’t do everything that we could do before ALD, but with a few adaptations we’ve managed pretty well to keep things in line with our pre-ALD existence. We’ve learned to focus on what Jack CAN do, not his challenges. We’ve found schools and programs that have supported our goals and Jack gets to go to school each day with kids that we’ve come to know and a staff that’s devoted to these special teens. Our family has worked out ways to continue to do things we love. We spend time with family, go on long walks, visit with friends, travel.

We’ve also had Anna and all of her “normal” activities to keep us safely anchored in the normal/typical/standard world. Our lives work. We are happy, well adjusted, very few complaints.

Now Jack and his beard are a constant reminder that change is on the horizon. Our next IEP is focusing on preparing for his transition as he ages out of high school (there is some time, but we need to start the process) and Anna and all her “normal everyday stuff” is leaving for Baltimore before long. I’m not clear as to what our days will look like once these changes happen.

CHANGE is a four letter word.

I’m trying everything — books, breathing, essential oils, therapy. I need to figure out the optimal strategies for making this transition bearable — even positive. I’m making some strides, but I think what I really need to do is to remember that couple on the beach on Block Island. Neither seemed to be focused on anything but each other, the sand and the sunshine. They were acting the way that we do TODAY when we walk through life with our boy . . . our MAN.

We will get there. That’s what we do.

Love, Jess

 

 

 

a precariously perched pile

In case you missed this on Today’s Parenting Team:

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It stares at me every time I walk into the office, with a look of defiance that often makes me turn around and walk away. But when I walk away, I feel even worse. I know it will grow even bigger by the time I return. The days I feel brave enough to confront it, I’m usually struck that it isn’t quite as fierce as I had imagined. After all, it’s only paper.

I’m not sure why I allow paperwork to be my nemesis. I spend hours a day at my desk, where I often waste plenty of time writing unnecessary emails and looking through social media, trying not to let my eyes rest on the giant pile to my left. It’s bills and school notices and various “to dos” – nothing wicked. Why do I avoid it until it’s two feet high?

A precariously perched pile of pieces of uninspiring nonsense that wakes me up in the night with worry, Did I pay that bill? When are the medical forms due? Have we gotten next year’s school schedule yet? Where did I put those tickets to the show this weekend?

The only thing I can come up with is that on some level, I must NEED to have those worries keeping me up at night. I must NEED a miscellaneous assortment of silly worries to keep my brain from lingering over bigger things. Lord knows I have some bigger things that would keep me awake. Worries that I can’t simply erase with an hour or two of tackling paperwork.

When you have a child with special needs, you have a multitude more to worry about than other parents – you just do. You have all the regular parenting concerns – How is my child doing in school? Are they getting all the proper nutrition? Have they been to the dentist this year? BUT, on top of that you have the special worries – How quickly will they end up in the hospital if they get that flu that’s going around? Does that restaurant have a bathroom big enough to change my child if they soil their pants? Who would care for my child if I get sick? What will happen to them when I am gone?

It’s not to say that special parents spend every waking moment being bombarded with lingering questions. Most of us manage to get through most days without falling into the well of despair. We learn to compartmentalize our thoughts and structure our days so that they are manageable. We learn to prioritize our daily list so that we don’t get over-tired. We know that we need to stay strong. After all, we are our children’s greatest hope for having the best lives they can. If we fall apart, who would fill our shoes?

So, we stay strong and focused and, when all else fails, we do things to trick ourselves into focusing on the mundane. It’s way easier to worry about whether or not I ordered my child’s new medication or paid the electric bill, then what will happen if he has another massive seizure.

So, the next time I walk into the office, I’m not going to turn away. Instead, I’m going to sit right down with my pile of papers and thank it for being there. Then, I am going to check my Facebook feed.

Love, Jess
I am a normal mom with a “special” kid. My family is complicated AND wonderful.

 

a ski weekend, the Jack Pack, and next year

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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.

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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

 

 

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.

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THIS is ALD #12 — Carter

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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)

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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

THIS is ALD #10 – The Waterman Boys

I am heading to Brooklyn for a conference tomorrow  — ALD: Identifying Standards of Care. Looking through the agenda, I couldn’t help but get excited about once again meeting some of my heroes. Doctors, researchers, and parents who are actively making a difference in the future of ALD. For me, it’s like going to the Oscars, minus the gowns and red carpet.

Pouring through the list of speakers, I noticed a name that looked familiar. Then, I looked again at my computer. On my screen, right beside the agenda, was my next THIS is ALD story — The Waterman Boys.

Kelly Waterman is speaking tomorrow and she had just shared her family’s story with me. It’s an incredible story full of luck and love and the power of change.

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THIS is ALD #10 — The Waterman Boys

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My husband and I live in New Jersey but we both have both worked at an oncology hospital in Manhattan for many years.  I have done most of my own doctoring in New York City and I suppose for something as big as having a baby I just felt more comfortable having my children in NY.  

We were so excited when we got pregnant with our second son and that my pregnancy went so smoothly.  Our first son Jalen had been born two months prematurely four years ago and though he’s turned out wonderfully-the experience of having a preemie and the NICU was hard to forget.  Kylar was born ten months ago full term via c-section, was a beautiful baby boy and did so well we even went home one day early!

We had been home a week, had just settled in when we received a phone call from the pediatrician at 430pm on that Friday afternoon telling us that Kylar’s newborn screen had come back for something called ALD and that we needed to go get confirmation testing done to just make sure.  Our pediatrician wasn’t too sure even about the details of what we were discussing.  I quickly called genetics at Columbia and got us in for that coming Monday morning.

During that brutal weekend that felt like an eternity of googling and many many tears, I had been talking with my cousin who was a pediatrician herself in Massachusetts about what we had been told.  She then ended up discussing our situation with one of her nurse co-workers that Saturday who happened to have previously worked in clinic with Dr. Florian Eichler- an expert in the field for ALD.  She offered to put me in contact with him.  It ended up being such an amazing coincidence.

Dr. Eichler so generously spoke to me (remember this was a Saturday and I was a stranger who was half talking half crying the whole conversation) and discussed that we would need confirmation testing but that the test was good so to brace myself that my son did in fact have ALD.  He also discussed that if confirmed my then four-year-old son would need to be tested as well.

That Monday I decided that I was going to bring my four-year-old with us to that genetics appointment.  I knew that I was never going to survive waiting weeks to find out if not only the baby had this but him as well.  Thankfully they agreed to draw my older son’s blood also.

One week later it was confirmed that both Kylar and Jalen had ALD.  We were devastated.  I was already so upset that our sweet new baby likely had this but that not only had Jalen survived the preemie experience but now this.  I was grateful for the fact that I already had Dr. Eichler as a contact and we rushed Jalen to Boston where thankfully his MRI of his brain was normal.  

We also found out that Jalen my older son has Addison’s (the adrenal insufficiency that commonly occurs with ALD) and requires daily steroids as well as stress dosing and at four months that our sweet baby Kylar also already has impaired adrenal function however not to the extent of his brother yet.  

So as crazy as all this has been finding out when you have a brand new baby that both your children have a rare life threatening disease-it’s not been lost on us just how lucky we are that all the pieces to this puzzle have lined up just right to save our boys.  If we hadn’t had a second child or in NY we never would have known about either boy and certainly would have been much worse off.  ALD being on newborn screen in NY state wasn’t initiated until one year after Jalen was born so he had just missed or if they were born in our own state we reside in of NJ we wouldn’t have known either.  We also are so lucky that Jalen never went into an adrenal crisis as that can be life threatening as well.  

We try our best to live our lives full of love for our boys and ensure their happiness.  As a mom it’s hard not to always worry but we try to keep our focus on the positives and how if this had to happen just how lucky we are.

— Kelly

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Hope and knowledge should not be provided on a state by state basis. I’m thrilled for the Waterman family that they delivered their children in NY and have the knowledge they need to provide the best opportunities for their boys, BUT what about the boys born in another state?

If the Waterman boys had been born in NJ (which is not yet testing for ALD – hopefully by the end of 2018), the first time the Watermans would have heard the word Adrenoleukodystrophy would have been in the middle of a crisis – perhaps too late to do anything to help their beautiful boys.

More proof that Newborn Screening for ALD needs to happen everywhere! Wonder where the US is in the process of adding ALD to Newborn Screening?

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Thank you Kelly for sharing your family’s story and I look forward to meeting you tomorrow!!

Love, Jess