HaPpY 14th Transplant Birthday!

14 Years . . . Day + 5113 . . .

It’s Jack’s 14th Transplant BiRtHdAy!!!! 14 years since he received the magic cells from the Little Lady from Detroit that would stop the progression of ALD and allow us to not just continue enjoying life with Jack, but appreciate his wisdom and strength. He’s the greatest teacher I’ve ever had and I know he’s the same impact on everyone lucky enough to cross his path.

Here are some sweet words from his family about our boy. PLEASE add a comment about what Jack means to you.

He’s got moves like Jagger. – Dan

He’s a loud, silent human. I love my Booger – Anna

In an age where we’re all on our devices, Jack is living in the moment and loving it. – Aunt April

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and the present is the gift Jack gives us. – Love Aunt Darcy (with help for Eleanor Roosevelt)

We all so remember this day 14 years ago when Jack stayed so calm and so brave as the the Little Last from Detroit came into him and started to do her magic. He smiled back at all the people standing and applauding in his room. What wonderful advantage we all have been able to take from that gift. Jack has been our leader and hero every moment of the way. —  Nonno and Mymom

A quiet guy with a big personality. – Uncle Phil

We both always feel so good around Jack and feel his presence and happy demeanor. He is a gift that makes us all better people. — Love, PopPop and Nanna Sue

A man of few words who says a lot especially with his laughs and smiles. – Aunt Kate

Jack is just a light soul and a whole lot of laughter and smiles. He is also a great dance partner. – Other Mother Orla

Jack is engaged. People think not speaking would isolate him, but it sure doesn’t. – Mymom

Absolutely famntastic! The best friend anyone could ask for. Empathetic, funny, charming. – Other Father Peter

As my grandson and my inspiration as a valiant and brave guy always ready to replace difficulties and tragedy with a laugh. – Nonno

Jack is the best human being ever, my inspiration in life! – Other Mother Lilly

Jack is pure love! The most beautiful soul I have ever met. He means kindness, friendship, strength and sensitivity with a resilient heart. Jack is an example of how to live life with grace and joy no matter the adversities. – Other Mother Monica

Jack is an amazing young man who loves a good laugh more than anyone I know! – Uncle Matt

Once upon a time there was “a Iittle girl from Detroit” who would forever change a little boy by the name of Jack Torrey’s life!  Her gift to Jack has inspired so many and has given Jack the opportunity to be the awesome dude he is – a smile like no other and an awesome sense of humor to boot! – Love Aunt Kim

Jack’s journey shows that happiness and love can win. Jack still has the same attachment he always did. — Uncle Pablo

Our family can’t describe in words what Jacko means to us. He has completed our family. We love him so much. — Other Mother Maria and Family

Time is always a odd when it comes to remembering defining milestones. We will never forget that day in room 505, but it feels like both yesterday and a million years ago. We remember every detail of the anxiety and energy and hope and smell (stem cells smell terrible — who knew?) in the room when the life-saving cells went into Jacks’s body. It’s the day that we saved our son’s life with the help of countless doctors and nurses AND a family that donated precious cells, never knowing that they were going to give the gift of Jack to so many.

Thank you to the mother of the Little Lady from Detroit! Your gift didn’t just save Jack’s life, it changed the lives of many!!

Love, Jess

RIP Keegan

Keegan on Block Island last weekend

We said goodbye to Keegan yesterday. I owe him some beautiful words, but I can’t find them and it’s hard to write through my tears. All I can say is that we will miss him with every inch of our hearts.

Rest In Peace beautiful soul. I know you are running around right now and enjoying endless bacon and belly rubs. Don’t let Finn steal your fun.

Love, Jess

Day +5000 (a post from Dan/Dad)

Day 5000


Lately I’ve been distracted.  Distracted by the lousy weather outside the window.  The cold.  The grey sky.  The snow piling up… Distracted by the inane MTG politico drama playing out on TV every day and night…  Distracted by work stuff ( I just started a new job this week).  Work can sometimes be a positive and useful distraction – especially when living through the first 12 months of a pandemic (Yes, we are now in our 12th month…).  But at the end of the day, it is still a DISTRACTION.   


Sometimes the only part of the day when things come into focus, when my mind clears, when I shed all the distractions is when I get a giant hug from Jack.  It’s the best part of my day – every day. 

 
Even if you haven’t spent a lot of time with Jack, you know that he is non-verbal.  But you probably can’t fully understand how he communicates most directly and most effectively.  It’s when he gives you a hug.  He is extremely strong.  He will literally squeeze the breath right out of your chest.  It’s the best feeling in the world.  It’s when I regain all perspective — as I squeeze back! 


Today is Day 5000 in the Torrey house.  It’s been 5000 days since Jack received his stem-cell transplant in May 2007.  Since the doctors at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital saved my son’s life.  5000 days of a wonderful life.  5000 days of smiles and belly laughs and hugs and dancing to 70’s tunes.  5000 days of watching him and his baby sister grow up to be adults.  5000 days of “our normal life” with Jack.  


Think about what has happened in your life over the last 5000 days.  It’s hard to grasp all the changes, the good and the bad, the ups and downs,  the mundane and the thrilling, Hell, some days I can barely remember life before COVID.  But Jack and his hugs help me remember what is really important in life.  Not the distractions.  That’s nothing but a lot of noise.


Thank you Jack for being in my life. 


Love,
Dad 

4999 Days

Day +4999 . . . 

4999 days since Jack received the stem cells that saved his life. 4999 days ago we never could have imaged what our lives would look like now. And if we had, I’m not sure that we would have thought that we could embrace lives that look like this. 

A few days ago incredible members of our ALD community lost their son. It wasn’t ALD that ended the life of this beautiful young man, but an accident. We’ve known many people who have lost loved ones this year. Not ALD, but COVID, cancer, heart attacks. Life is complicated and fragile and we need to appreciate every day. Our family is grateful for the last 4999 days and will treasure each day ahead of us.

I’ve been writing tiny love stories for the last couple of months. The New York Times keeps passing 😏, but I’ll share what I wrote last week. 

I open the door that separates our rooms and look at him lying there. The most beautiful face I’ve ever seen. As if in a trance, I crawl into bed next to him, trying to be careful. His bed is littered with complication. I slowly take his hand and place it between my own. I hold my face against his and I linger over his sour breath. There is always so much I want to tell him and sometimes wonder when we’ll run out of time. Tonight I will just be quiet and enjoy the moment with my beautiful boy. 

4999 days.

Love, Jess

PS Stay tuned — Dan is working on a post for tomorrow.

Banana is 20!

Today is Anna’s 20th birthday. Like so many people, she isn’t celebrating it the way she had planned. Anna loves her birthday almost as much as I do, and she has been talking about her birthday plans since last June. Piles of her Hopkins crew would fill our house and then her childhood friends would join in and fill the yard and pool. Driving the neighbors crazy was really the only thing we worried about until COVID arrived. 

We modified the plan and then modified it again. Now we are hoping that the weather holds so that a few of her friends can come for some from a distance/Purell-filled fun in the pool. If that doesn’t work ,out at least she can celebrate with her three biggest fans – me, Dan and Jack.

The last four months have been filled with cancelled plans and profoundly adapting everything else. It wasn’t just her birthday, Anna’s entire summer has been altered. She was going to be waitressing here in town and then working in NYC with a doctor who works with children with neurological disorders (specifically Leukodystrophies). The waitressing job disappeared and then Anna got word that the hospital where she was doing her internship was only allowing “essential staff” on premises. Luckily the doctor was willing to adapt his plans and Anna is spending hours a day in her room working on a project that I don’t really understand, but she finds fascinating.

Anna has also found a job with the Department of Developmental Disabilities working with a handsome young man with special needs — Jack. She has hikes planned and has already been working on swimming lessons for our boy. Jack has had a lot of caregivers over the years, but I can say, without a doubt, that he has found his new favorite. And, for Anna, it is incredible to actually be getting paid for something she has always done without complaint. She adores spending time with her brother. She is a truly special — special sibling.

Anna is such a special young woman and I’ve always been proud of her heart and brain and determination, but COVID has shown me another quality she has that I appreciate. Anna is able to adapt. Our family tends to be “glass half full” people, but Anna seems to look at every glass as over-flowing.

Love you Banana and hope that you enjoy your quiet(ish) birthday!!! It may not be the birthday party of the year, but we promise that when the dust settles, we will P-A-R-T-Y!!

Love, Mom

PS As I have been writing this, I’ve been seeing friends sneak through the backyard gate. I need to go out there and start screaming, “Six Feet!!” and “Purell!!!”.

Jack’s Graduation

First there was a pandemic that stole Jack’s last three months of high school. Then we were told that instead of a traditional graduation, there would be an “At Home” ceremony. Then it rained on the scheduled date. I was starting to think that nature was determined to completely ruin the end of senior year for our boy.

BUT the “At Home” graduation turned out to be an unbelievable day. 

Check out Jack getting his diploma!

Watching Jack as he excepted his diploma and Pillar High School’s Presidential Award was beautiful and then seeing his eyes widen every time he saw another friend arrived, warmed our hearts. After the ceremony, he wandered around the driveway reuniting with so many people he adores – IN PERSON. 

We did break some rules. 

Everyone wore masks and there was plenty of Purell, but there were more than 25 people on our driveway. And, there were hugs – LOTS of hugs. We couldn’t help it. It’s been three months since Jack has gotten to see these folks in the flesh and pulling him off of them seemed like torture, so we gave in (a little). 

After the celebration, we blew kisses to everyone as they drove away, and we put Jack directly into the pool — figuring the chlorine would kill off any germs. He sat on his favorite float as Anna swam him around. He had his hands claps behind his head and was all smiles, like he was reliving his fun day. Later in the afternoon we had another surprise when Peter arrived, bottle of champagne in hand, to toast to our boy’s latest accomplishment. What a perfect way to wrap up the day!

Jack’s life is complicated and there are many things he can’t do, but he has an exceptional ability to connect to people. Yesterday was proof that you don’t need to speak or write or be able to feed/bathe/toilet yourself to have a wonderful life full of people who smile every time you walk into a room (or onto the asphalt).

Thank you to everyone who made the day special and to Pillar High School for 7 unbelievable years of learning, growing and licking. I know that we are now not officially part of the Pillar Care Continuum, but I know in my heart, that our connection is not over just yet.

Love, Jess

ALD Connect Peer Mentor Program

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Thirteen years ago we were in the hospital living through transplant. We’d only heard the word Adrenoleukodystrophy for the first time four weeks earlier. We didn’t know anyone who had ALD or who had even heard of the disease. Our doctors didn’t even have much information to share.

We were terrified and we were completely isolated.

It took months to connect with any other ALD families — it was a time before social media and Googling ALD simply lead us to horrifying stories and even more horrifying statistics. Once we found a couple of other ALD families, we did find some comfort, but it was often short-lived as their journey’s took turns down dark paths. Fear and guilt weighed heavy in continuing those relationships.

It took years before our family really found our ALD community. Smiles and Duct Tape – the blog, then the book – found it’s way into the hands of a member of the board of ALD Connect and she reached out to encouraged me to go to their next meeting (thanks Kathleen). Attending a panel of ALD patients and caregivers and then my first ALD Connect Annual Meeting was empowering. It was years after Jack’s diagnosis and transplant and it was when I first realized that our family had reached another chapter in our ALD journey. Being surrounded by people who knew our disease – who lived our disease – was inspiring. And, we were no longer weighed down by fear and guilt and were finally strong enough to be able to provide help. Sharing our story with other families and doctors and organizations studying our disease — it’s (I hope) helped other people, but it’s absolutely helped our family find strength and take some power back.

ALD Connect asked me to attend a meeting last year to find out more about peer to peer support programs and how they can help rare diseases like ours. I was honored to be asked to represent ALD Connect and found the conference fascinating and reminded me of how our family felt thirteen years ago. Scared and alone.

The first speaker at the conference talked about the added stress of feeling isolated that families go through when facing a rare disease. They’re not just battling the disease, they are often battling the disease without any support from people who understand the disease the way ONLY PEOPLE WHO HAVE LIVED IT can understand.

ALD is a horrible disease, but the people effected are an incredible group. It took me a while, but most ALD families don’t take years to find the strength to help others. AND, thanks to social media, our community has been able to more easily find each other. Informally, many in our community have been acting as mentors, but ALD Connect is now rolling out a more formal program.

The ALD Connect Peer Mentor Program is now welcoming our ALD community to reach out if they would like to be paired with someone within our community who has experienced a similar path with the disease. A group of incredible mentors have been selected, representing each phenotype of our disease, and they are looking forward to being a resource for support, encouragement and a shoulder when needed. Please contact me or admin@aldconnect.org if you are interested.

Thirteen is a LUCKY number

13 years (Day +4749) . . .

Thirteen years ago we sat in a crowded hospital room and watched as a small bag of stem cells went into Jack’s central line. We were hopeful, but terrified.

Our doctors had not promised that the transplant would work and they were painfully honest about the risks involved with the procedure. They reminded us again and again, that in the case of ALD, a transplant was not a cure. Instead (if successful) it would stop the progression of the disease — the idea of these new disabilities being permanent seemed surreal. I had also done enough Googling in the four weeks since Jack’s diagnosis to know that a transplant was often followed with complications like infections or Graft vs Host Disease and sometimes with ALD, it accelerated the loss of the myelin.

We found little comfort in any of the information we’d been given, but we had no other option to save our son, so there we were — watching the cells as they entered Jack’s body.

29 minutes. Drip, drip, drip.

Dan made a set-list of our favorite music and we tried to keep our fears at bay. We made small talk with the doctors and nurses and told jokes. Jack was only 8-years-old and we promised him he would feel better soon and focused on the bonus of having a second birthday to celebrate every year.

Our family has been through a lot over the last thirteen years — both good and bad, but we’ve also had a lot of parties for Jack since we watched those cells enter his small body. One gift from ALD is that it has made our family learn to really appreciate the good days.

Today is a good day. We are healthy and the sun has promised to come out so that we can sit outside and jump in the pool. There will not be any food trucks or crowds of people, but we will still enjoy every minute of this day – and every day – with our boy.

Happy Birthday Sweet JackO!!!

Love, Mom

Stay Tuned for Friday – Jack receives his High School diploma. Big week for the Torreys!

TOGETHER — ALONE

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Yesterday we just received Jack’s cap and gown with a note regarding his graduation celebration. Each graduating student will be scheduling a time when their teachers/therapists/principle will arrive at our homes and, from the safety of their cars, the staff will play Pomp and Circumstance. The students, dressed in their graduation finery, will pick up their diplomas from the lawn as the school films them. There will be a virtual graduation in June to watch Jack and all his classmates TOGETHER — ALONE.

I’m proud of his school for organizing such a thoughtful event, but unpacking the cap and gown brought me to tears. It’s so unfair that these kids, who have each suffered so much in their lives, are having yet another thing stolen from them.

I know we are supposed to focus on being ALONE — TOGETHER, but this virtual reality we are living sometimes feels more TOGETHER — ALONE.

Our family has done very well for the last 69 days. We’ve not complained (too much) about our current circumstances. Instead, we’ve focused on being grateful for our health and full fridge and paychecks and toilet paper. I think part of our positive attitude has been because our family has dealt with being quarantined before — first in a hospital and then at home for months and months following Jack’s stem cell transplant. This time, we haven’t been in charge of IV medications and taking turns sleeping in Jack’s room to make sure he was still breathing. AND, this time we haven’t been alone. All our friends and family have been doing the same thing. Most of the world has been at home.

So, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, our family has taken the opportunity of this crazy time to slow down and do what we can. We’ve created a rather magical garden in our backyard. We’ve cleaned out closets and revisited hobbies like yoga and puzzles and painting.

Sure, we’ve all missed some things. Anna missed much of her second semester living at school. She missed parties and lacrosse games and The Preakness. Dan missed business travel and planned hikes and baseball. I missed teaching and spending time with my new nephews and trips and being in Listen to Your Mother. Jack’s missed school and friends and hugging (and licking) people other than his family.

Now he’s missing his graduation.

Like being quarantined, I’m trying to remember that he’s not alone in missing his graduation at school. Many of our friends have children celebrating their high school/college graduations virtually, and that does make it a little easier. There is power and strength in numbers, but it still stinks. I do hope that once this crazy time is over, Jack can return to his beloved high school and march in a ceremony with his classmates. They deserve it.

Until then, we will continue to settle down and continue to settle in, but we are starting to open our lives a little. Starting to plan some time with friends — is a SAFE way (or safeish). Dan met a friend to go fishing for an afternoon and, from a distance, got to catch up and share stories. Anna had a couple friends over the other night and they sat 6 feet apart around a fire pit. I sat out with them longer than I probably should of, craving in-person conversation (sorry girls). I can forgo haircuts and restaurants for a while longer, but I’ve missed my  friends terribly. I’ve started to make some safe (ish) plans with pals and I can’t wait for Jack to get to do the same with his friends. Not sure when, but we are going to get the graduating class of Pillar High School together again.

Until then — Congratulations Class of 2020!!!

Love, Jess

A year ago today. Really?

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Thank you Speir Drive. Not that spending 49 days inside your walls with limited company* has been super fun, but you’ve made it bearable. Dan has a proper office that’s removed from distraction. Anna has the second floor to herself. Even JackO has found spaces to attend his Zoom classes. We have all settled into our new routine fairly easily. Each day Dan’s at “work”, the kids are at “school” and I’m the cook/housekeeper/teacher/baker/online shopping ninja/puzzle solver (okay, maybe I’m not completely settled in, but at least I’m busy(ish)).
When we’re not working (and the weather is cooperating), we’re all enjoying the quiet oasis that is our backyard. We’ve cleaned things up and built a lovely garden that we’re going to fill with vegetables and herbs as soon as the fear of a frost is off the table. We’ve even had the pool folks out to start fixing it up for a long — hopefully not lonely — season (Dan thinks I am nuts, but I have a feeling that he will appreciate it once it’s open and has a working heater).
We loved Clinton Avenue, and will forever miss our neighbors, but this is our home now and we are grateful for it’s flat living and ability to provide private space for everyone and a nice open living area when we want to meet up at the end of the day.
We bought this house last year to make life a little easier. We sold our 1905 center hall colonial with it’s three floors and traded it for a modified mid-century ranch. Jack could live without steps and it’s open floor plan seemed better suited for keeping an eye on him. Dan and I were excited about an attached garage that fit our cars and our old doggies appreciated being able to get to the yard without steep steps. The pool wasn’t part of the plan, but all of us thought it was a fun plus.
We never imagined when we moved in last year that our first spring in this house would arrive with a pandemic. We never pictured Anna coming home in mid march and taking college classes online from her new bedroom OR Jack doing his classes and therapies from a computer on the kitchen island OR Dan taking zoom business meetings in his pajama pants OR me looking forward to using the new mop that was just delivered by a UPS driver wearing a mask and gloves OR using our dog sheers to cut Dan and Jack’s hair OR freaking out when we’re running low on Clorox wipes OR realizing we haven’t purchased gas in six weeks OR needing to check the computer to see what day it is . . .
We never imagined any of this when we moved in last May, BUT this is where we are, and this house has helped us while we’ve been adjusting to this new TEMPORARY normal.
COVID-19 has made life complicated for everyone on the planet. As strange as it’s been for our family, I know how lucky we are. We are all healthy, Dan is able to work from home, we have a fridge full of food, our bathrooms have extra toilet paper, we have a beautiful yard to enjoy the fresh air, my parents have been able to visit, Maria (Jack’s caregiver) is still coming to help out with Jack, and our family is (mostly) enjoying each other’s company AND our quirky new house.
Happy Anniversary Speir Drive! Thanks for keeping us warm and safe this year. We look forward to many more years living here and can’t wait to fill you up again with friends and family — Jack’s graduation? Anna’s birthday? July 4th? Labor Day? Thanksgiving? 
Love, Jess
* My parents have joined us several times and Maria (Jack’s caregiver) is still coming. All three of them have been safely quarantining at home when not here.