THIS is ALD #7 — Nicholas

 

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THIS is ALD is gaining some traction. Not just in the ALD world, but I’ve heard from many non-ALD folks that they are appreciating learning more about the disease. ALD can look very different person to person. Here’s a story about a boy named Nicholas. Another success story thanks to an early diagnosis.

THIS is ALD #7 — Nicholas

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Our 13-year-old son Nicholas is a thriving survivor of cerebral ALD. His story so far is one of the rare success stories of this devastating disease thanks to family history (which gave us the knowledge needed in order for him to be diagnosed at birth), the Lorenzo’s Oil study, early detection through brain MRI, and a bone marrow transplant (BMT).

My father died from complications of AMN (Adrenomyeloneuropathy is the adult onset version of ALD. It generally develops during the late twenties or early thirties and progresses more slowly) and I found out I was a carrier at age 15. We contacted Kennedy Kreiger Institute at Johns Hopkins (where my father’s neurologist Dr. Hugo Moser had been) to prepare for testing once I became pregnant many years later. My husband and I were devastated to get the results that our perfect little baby boy had ALD, he was only a week or so old when we received the news. It was one of the worst days of our lives. We enrolled him in the Lorenzo’s Oil study at 18-months-old (Lorenzo’s Oil is a combination of oils that is thought to limit the accumulation of very long chain fatty acids that build up in the brain in ALD patients. It can slow down the onset of the disease). He was raised on the strict low fat diet and daily intake of the oil in the hopes it would keep demyelination at bay. Nicholas also had yearly brain MRI’s and we made yearly trips to Baltimore for testing and follow ups with the specialists. Dr. Gerald Raymond kept a watchful eye on him for nearly ten years.

The Lorenzo’s Oil study ended when Nicholas was ten, and we were told that hopefully he had escaped the most devastating form of the disease. Within a year of stopping the oil, Dr. Raymond spotted a small lesion in Nicholas’s brain caused by ALD and our lives began to spiral. We knew this could be the beginning of the end and our only option would be a BMT. Nicholas was a perfect candidate for gene therapy with a Loes score of 1 (the 34-point scoring system used to describe the evolvement of ALD) and no other symptoms. So we waited and Nicholas underwent MRI’s every few months to monitor the lesion…we had time on our side due to very early detection and slow progression, but we felt like it was a ticking time bomb and it was the worst several months of our lives full of worry and the unknown. Life came to a halt in our minds and hearts, yet we had to carry on for our children’s sake. We were referred after six months to Dr. Wes Miller at the Univ. Of Minnesota Children’s Masonic Hospital for consultation.

Nicholas was now eleven and needed to know exactly what was going on. It was a horrible visit full of heart-wrenching details of what a bone marrow transplant involved and what we were facing if the gene therapy study wouldn’t reopen. Within a few months, we were told the study wasn’t reopening at that time, and our only option was a BMT. The time was now as Nicholas was still extremely healthy and strong and no outward signs of ALD. Despite the challenge of living away from home for four months and the harrowing medical treatment of completely wiping out our son’s immune system and replacing it with another, we now believe it was the best decision and that the Lorenzo’s Oil diet quite possibly helped delay any ALD progression until late in the critical childhood years. We had the challenge of no blood siblings (we have a beautiful adopted daughter), but were gifted with a perfect umbilical cord blood donor match that saved our son’s life. We couldn’t be more grateful for the ALD specialists and BMT team of doctors who did all they could to save our son’s life and halt his disease in its tracks (halted disease progression was already shown on the 30 day post BMT MRI).

Nicholas is one year out from transplant and healthy (with adrenal insufficiency) and active in athletics. We know he is a miracle kid and this is not the usual case by any means. Newborn screening must be passed in all states so that every ALD boy has a fighting chance. We also know and have seen the many risks of BMT, as we lost an ALD friend in MN to one of the many risks of transplant and have heard of so many others. Nicholas is a best case scenario, we are forever grateful for where he is now. We want to do all we can for other boys like him.

Julie

(I added a few details for readers unfamiliar with ALD — Jess)

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It’s thrilling to read how well Nicholas is doing one year post transplant. Again, his family had the luxury (THIS SHOULD NOT BE A LUXURY) of knowing that he carried the ALD mutation. This knowledge allowed them to prepare and act — initially with Lorenzio’s Oil then with a BMT.

Since transplant, Nicholas has been busy running 5ks and has even finished his first triathlon. His family has also been actively raising money and awareness for ALD hosting a Run for ALD event this last November.

Thank you Julie for sharing Nicholas’s story.

 

Love, Jess

things come in threes – PLEASE!

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Things come in threes – I hope. The truth is that I’m not sure I can take a number four if it presents itself. You guys might find me roaming the streets of Maplewood, screaming obscenities.

I’ve said that I don’t believe in karma or fate or destiny, but I’m starting to believe in really bad luck. I might need to start carrying around a four-leaf clover or wearing a horseshoe around my neck.

2018 is not off to a good start.

1.) The stomach flu — It seems to still be lurking around the house, waiting for the next victim. And, apparently it doesn’t come with the whole “you develop an immunity to it” thing, because I had it twice. I’m all for losing weight quickly, but this is a little ridiculous.

2.) Burst pipe — Still not resolved. We were able to isolate the problem and I was proud of myself for being so calm and cool with the plumber, “Please, take care of any emergencies first.” NOW I wish that I hadn’t been so cool. It’s been over a week.

3.) No heat — We woke up this morning and it was freezing. Dan and I both fooled with the furnace, but it wasn’t budging. I called the oil company and then got to go through our morning routine wearing a coat, mittens, hat and Ugg boots. Thank goodness Jack has a sense of humor and loved watching his mama try to make breakfast with mittens on. Once he got on the bus and my distractions were gone, I had time to really freak out. I kept thinking about our pipes as I watched the thermostat lower. I had every faucet dripping and space heaters in the bathrooms. I called Dan at the office by mid-morning and started crying, “2018 must be cursed!”

Four hours after leaving a crazy message with the oil company (cool Jesse was long gone), my hero arrived and was able to fix the problem. We were out of oil — don’t laugh. The house is warming up, but it’s going to take a while before I warm up to this new year.

I realize that none of these things are tragedies — but come on!! I’m tired and have stuff to do.

Okay. I’m done complaining. I’ll slap a smile on my face and go out and face the day.

Love, Jess

 

 

 

THIS is ALD #6 — Donovan

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Another ALD story to share, and this one is a little different. This is a new story for ALD –hopefully the future of our disease. It’s a story about a boy, newborn screening, and a bright future. Meet Donovan.

THIS is ALD #6 — Donovan

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My son, Donovan, was born in Connecticut in 2016. When he was 3 weeks old, his pediatrician called and said he tested positive for a “metabolic disorder” on his newborn screen and needed further testing. She was purposely vague because she didn’t want me to Google the disorder until we had confirmed answers. It didn’t do much to keep me from worrying, though. She mentioned that if it was confirmed, my 3 daughter’s would need to be tested as well. Without much information, I was scared for my son’s life, and the health of my daughters. 

The tests came back positive, Donovan had ALD. Don’s pediatrician continued to be vague, and I understand why. She wasn’t an expert on the disease, and didn’t want to give me any false information. My first question was “Is it life threatening?” All she could say was, “It can be.”

That’s when the Googling started. 

We met with a geneticist at Yale, who was the only expert in the state. The information she gave us was overwhelming, and tough to process. So many unknowns. When will it manifest? Will it ever? What type will he have? How severe will it be? There was no way to tell. My husband and I spent several nights cradling and weeping over our newborn son. So small and perfect. How could he have this monster inside of him?

After the diagnosis, I joined the ALD support group on Facebook and met some amazing and wonderful people. I was connected with lovely families here in CT, some who were also diagnosed through newborn screening! 

At 3 months, they tested Donovan’s blood to get an understanding of his adrenal function. At 6 months, he had his first MRI. I was terrified. I knew there wouldn’t be anything to see in his scans at this age, but they had to put him under so that he would be still, and that worried me a lot. He came through it like a champ, though. It didn’t seem to bother him at all! 

Donovan is unique. First of all, he did not inherit the gene from me. I am not a carrier, and no one in my family, or my other children, are at risk. Donovan’s gene spontaneously mutated while in the womb. This only happens in 5%-7% of ALD babies. Secondly, he is, what his geneticist called, a “mosaic.” This means some of his cells are mutated, but some are not. She seemed baffled by it. She didn’t know how or why it happened that way, or how that might affect his condition. If at all. More unknowns. So they treat him like any other ALD patient, and I am grateful.
 
Don is now over a year old. He will have yearly MRIs until he is 3, and the every 6 months. He will also have his adrenal levels tested every 6 months. So far, all his tests have been normal.

ALD has opened a whole new world to us. I’ve met people I never would have otherwise known. Strong, beautiful, inspiring families. Some of their stories are terribly tragic. My husband asks me why I read those stories if it makes me so sad, and I tell him, “Because they put their pain out there. I just want them to know someone is listening, and someone cares.”

I am not a perfectly patient person, not at all! But I do think I live a bit differently, now. I take more pictures and videos, I give more hugs and kisses, I say more “I love yous.”

Donovan is my 4th child, but my only son. His older sisters adore him! He is cuddly and happy. He is curious and likes to get his hands on everything! He has even started climbing, now! His sister, Josephine, is only one year older than him and they are best friends. They do everything together and always want to be with one anther. My older 2, Mika and Ripley, help change diapers, teach, and play with him. 

None of our children know much about his ALD. My 9 year old has heard us use the term and noticed his many doctor appointments, and she just understands that he has something inside him that could one day make him very sick. So we have to keep an eye on him. We have settled into our “normal.” Life has gone on, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that! For the chance for life to go on.

-Diana

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Diana and I met through the ALD Support group she mentioned and when she agreed to share Donovan’s story I was thrilled. It’s so important that people realize the advantages of newborn screening and an early diagnosis. Although the news must have been a huge slap to their family they are allowed to prepare and monitor.

The hope is that beautiful little Donovan will go on to have a perfectly normal life and ALD will stay dormant forever, but just in case, his family has a plan in place. It’s thrilling.

Diana told me that she wasn’t a writer, but I beg to argue. Her voice shines as a mother who loves her children and will do anything she needs to do to give them the best life possible. Thank you for sharing your story, Diana, and for helping people better understand our not-so-rare disease and the importance of newborn screening.

Love, Jess

 

 

 

 

happy new year!?!!!

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There is nothing like waking up New Year’s Day with a head full of fun, foggy memories, and feeling grateful for everything in your life – your family and friends being on the top of that list.

It was nearly 11:00 am before us Torreys were all up and ready(ish) to face the day. We had just a few goals for the first day of the year and we could do all of them in our pajamas – perfection. We needed to clean up the house from our New Year’s Eve festivities, take down the Christmas tree, and eat all the calories in our kitchen before New Year’s Resolution #1 could begin.

Everything was going according to plan until we heard Anna yell, “Mom, there’s water pouring out of the ceiling!”

Happy New Year!!?!

We’ve been through this before. Our second floor washing machine pipes are a little too close to the outside wall, and seem to enjoy finding the least opportune time to freeze and burst. We thought we had resolved the issue two years ago. We hadn’t.

I know our family has the reputation of being optimistic and flexible and calm and easy-going, but trust me, when there is water dripping from our ceiling, we are none of those things. “Fu#k” was the word of choice as we all ran around the house – water shut off, towels thrown all over the floor, large pots trying to catch the stream. Our plumber almost laughed when we called him, “Pipes are bursting all over town. No way I can see you any time soon.”

We called another plumber . . . and another. “Maybe by the end of the week.” was the best answer we got.

Fu#k!!!!

I was convinced that 2018 was going to unravel. That somehow what happened in the first day of the year would determine how the year would play out. Our house was going to fall apart, we would need to spend Anna’s college fund to pay for repairs, and we would never have access to clean clothes again.

It took a few hours, a lot of swearing and a good look at what we were dealing with before we calmed down. It wasn’t so bad. We had shut the water off before any real damage was done. The plumber will come by the end of the week and fix the issue and we have an old washing machine in the basement so we don’t need to be smelly.

By mid-afternoon New Year’s Day, our house was clean, the Christmas decorations were neatly stored in the basement and we were sitting in front of Netflix eating ridiculous amounts of lasagna, cookies, and peppermint bark (I hate whoever brought that into our house).

2018 wasn’t ruined.

I stopped believing in karma, destiny and fate years ago. How could I believe in such things? I’ve seen too much pain and suffering throw around great people to credit anything but chance.

Our pipe burst because it’s been super cold — bad luck. We were able to get the water shut off before the ceiling caved in — good luck! We had an awesome New Year’s Eve with a pile of festive friends — good luck! Jack and Anna are both healthy and doing great as we start the new year — good luck! One of our so-called friends brought not one, but two boxes of peppermint bark — bad luck.

It’s a new year. 365 days and some will be great, some crappy. My newest resolution is that I will take each day as it comes. I can’t promise there will be no cursing, but I think I can do this!

Wishing everyone a decent 2018 with more good days than bad!!!

Love, Jess

P.S. Peppermint Bark = 13 points on Weight Watchers;(

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HoliDAZE

Anyone else exhausted? I keep looking at the calendar to see what day it is and almost hoping that this holiDAZE season is over. Between the cookies and the wine, I’m in much need of some New Years resolutions and looking forward to getting started.

Shame on me. Three more days and I need to enjoy every minute of it!

Our holiday got off to a rocky start. My in-laws arrived for our Torrey Christmas celebration on the 22nd, and by early morning on the 23rd both Jack and I were vomiting. After cleaning up a stinky mess (thank you PopPop and Sue) they escaped from  our house to meet the family elsewhere – no need to spread the germs around. We sent them out the door with the food we had been preparing for days. If I hadn’t felt so terrible I would have felt REALLY terrible. Luckily we managed to avoid the hospital (the stomach flu often requires an ER visit for JAckO) and by the next day we were on the mend.

We’ve been celebrating every since!

Lots of festivities with family and friends and lots of time being lazy around the fireplace. Except for the tummy issues, it’s been great AND IT’S NOT OVER. New Years Eve is tomorrow before reality finally sets in.

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2018 is a big year for our family with Anna heading off to school in the fall. Johns Hopkins University is lucky to have her and we are thrilled that she is headed to a school that feels like home to us. Dan may have received a JHU diploma, but I spent a good part of my college years in Charles Village pretending to be a Blue Jay. As hard as it will be to drop our girl off in August, at least it feels familiar. AND we all know that we will be finding any excuse to drive down for a visit;) Sorry Banana . . .

The adjustment will be difficult, but we will find a new rhythm. The house will be quieter, but we will figure it out. That’s what we do. We figure things out.

Until then, I’m going to work on keeping my New Years resolutions and enjoy our time together.

Here’s my list:
1.     Not just to pay for Weight Watchers, but to FOLLOW Weight Watchers (the stomach flu did help me drop a few pounds, but it’s not a great diet plan)
2.     Limit my vino intake – I’m too old for hangovers
3.     Encourage Jack to use his iPad. We need to get him talking before Anna leaves
4.     Up my yoga to two days a week . . . maybe three                                                             5.     Continue sharing THIS is ALD – please contact me if you are willing to share your story jctorrey@mac.com                                                                                                                                  6.     Start my next book                                                                                                                         7.     Move to Baltimore;)

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year!!!! 2018 is going to be amazing!!!

Love, Jess

 

THIS is ALD # 5 — Mason

We are busy celebrating Anna’s big news and preparing for the HoliDAZE, but wanted to take some time to introduce you to another ALD champion, Mason.

I met Mason’s mother, Tina, this fall and she agreed to share a bit of their ALD story. Tina is a remarkable mother and, I’ve not met Mason in person, but I’ve fallen in love with his smile.

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THIS is ALD #5 — Mason

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        Mason was the best baby.  He developed all milestones at or before the age he should.  He was riding a bike without training wheels at 3.    We had no concerns with his development until second grade.  He had a hard time with multiple step directions and with math (common core).  He would have a concept and then it would be gone. He would bring his math papers home and I would erase them and give it to him to practice.  He didn’t remember ever seeing these papers. 
        Mason was diagnosed with Adrenoluekodystrophy (ALD) in April of 2016.  He was 8. We were told there was really nothing that could be done.  We have an awesome support system and everyone started researching and found the team in Minnesota (University of Minnesota Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program is a leading program for treating ALD) .  We made our first trip to Minnesota in May where they decided Mason was a candidate for a bone marrow transplant.  His Loes score (the scoring system to evaluate the evolvement of X-ALD) was on the high side, but Mason’s doctors said he was compensating very well with what the disease was doing to his brain.  They were hopeful.  We were so scared but this was the first time someone gave us hope. 
        Mason had his bone marrow transplant on July 11th, 2016.  We spent 30 days in the hospital and then we had to be in the area for 3 months (some hospitals release transplant patients to rehab centers/other local facilities once they have reached a certain milestone. In Mason’s case it was to a Ronald McDonald House near the hospital).  By this time, he lost a lot of vision, hearing and processing skills.  When we left the hospital, he was in a wheelchair and couldn’t see.  Even then he had goals…goal 1 was to get rid of his NJ tube (feeding tube) and goal 2 was to be home for his birthday. 
        They discharged us to go home on October 19th (his birthday is October 24th) and he was NJ tube free! 

        Mason is an incredible fighter.  He told a therapist when asked about how he felt about his vision loss that he’s not going to let it get him down.  That’s the kind of kid he is.  He is a very friendly guy and loves to tell jokes and make people laugh.  He does get frustrated with things he use to be able to do that he struggles with now, but he usually has a smile on his face. He is currently back in his school which he loves.  He kind of regressed a little with social skills since he couldn’t be around kids his age and was very scared around them.  Once he got back in school, he gained a lot of his confidence back.  He is learning Braille and the use of the white cane for mobility.  After stopping a few of his medicines, he got some of his vision back.  He can see and read but at a slower pace. We are so blessed, grateful and amazed by his progress.  We had no clue this disease even existed.  Awareness is so important.

(I’ve added a few details to explain terms that the non-ALD reader might not understand – Jess)

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Thank you Tina for sharing this piece. Mason’s story is similar to Jack’s in that there was not an early diagnosis. It’s important for everyone to remember how hard it is to diagnose ALD – why newborn screening is so vital to changing the future of this disease. Luckily, Mason had a successful transplant and is doing quite well. Life is complicated for him, but he seems to have the same great attitude and electric smile as JackO.

Love, Jess

 

Two-Armed Sister Clutch

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You’ve heard from me for ten years. Now, it’s Anna’s turn. When it came time for her to write her college essay I was excited to help, but like all things academic, she insisted on doing it on her own.

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        I have to hold his torso carefully so that he can’t bite me. For years, as my brother has gotten stronger, my technique has evolved from a simple shoulder hold into the now perfect “Two-Armed Sister Clutch.” My dad takes care of his head to keep it propped up—after all, the neck is the most important part. After ten minutes of very cautiously carving away at his beard, the world’s brightest smile emerges from his newly exposed face. I’ve just shaved my nineteen-year-old brother for the third time this week; my favorite chore with my favorite person.
        A sharp automatic razor and Jack—that’s my brother—make for a very interesting endeavor. But despite the chaos of the project, it always gets me thinking clearly. I think about the disease that forced its way into Jack’s brain ten years ago and made him this dependent on me, and about the fact it has been TEN years. I think about who he was before his disease—my typical big brother, goofy and in love with life. I think about who he is now—my silent and disabled big brother, goofy and in love with life. And finally, I think about who I am, and who his disease has made ME.
        Shaving my brother is a difficult task. I start off by trimming the top layer of the every-so-gnarly hairs. The first layer of Jack’s story is one very long word (the first word with more than six letters that I ever learned): Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). That is the neurodegenerative disease that turned my family from one straight out of a J. Crew catalog to the very quirky, “special” family that we are today. I was six, Jack eight, when he was diagnosed with ALD and his brain function slowly unraveled. Suddenly, my brother’s voice wasn’t around to fill up my house with jokes and curiosity. Suddenly, I had to be the athlete of the family…and the social butterfly… and the nerd. And now, a decade later, I am a hop skip and a jump away from being a professional groomer, too.
        After I trim Jack’s beard, its time to crank the razor up and dig down through all the brush, rounding the jawline and inching in to each crevice. Shedding that hair makes Jack look so presentable,… so professional… so normal. I get flashes of Jack Torrey as an adult (Doctor? Lawyer? Artist?), walking the streets of a big city, wife and kids by his side, living a normal life. I see myself meeting him for a bagel and talking about our careers, our friends, or our families. Sometimes I just picture us talking. It has been ten years since Jack last spoke.
        Luckily, my feeling sorry for myself is quickly interrupted by the most amazing laugh to ever exist. The disease that stole Jack’s words and independence did not manage to steal his laughter. I look at him and see what that sweat-inducing work out really uncovered: a giant, radiating smile. I let go of him and he wanders around the kitchen, slowly making his way back to me, tongue out and eyebrows raised, to give the best hug any sister has ever gotten from their big brother. That is Jack’s way of saying thank you.
        I’ll never have a typical sibling to show me the ropes of life and gossip with when I’m older, but Ill always have Jack. I’ll have his smile to tell me to always work as hard as I can. I’ll always have his laugh to encourage me to give back to other people and other families. I’ll always have his hugs after a lacrosse game or job interview gone wrong. And, I’ll always have an escape when I want to think about these things all over again—after all, that boy could always use a shave.

Anna Cappello Torrey
Johns Hopkins University Class of 2022 (we just got the news!!)

 

Love, Proud Mom

 

 

 

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.

THIS is ALD #2 — Sean

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The odds of winning the Powerball lottery are one in 175 million. The odds of being born with the Adrenoleukodystrophy gene are one in 17 thousand.

And yet, everyone has heard of the Powerball, while most people give me a funny look when I share Jack’s diagnosis.

My go-to response is, “It’s that disease from the movie Lorenzio’s Oil.”

When that doesn’t work, I say something like, “It’s a genetic disease that effects the adrenal gland and destroys the myelin in the brain. It’s worse when it starts advancing as a child. That’s what happened to Jack. Yes – he was totally fine until he was eight-years-old and then . . . well, he kinda fell apart. He did have a stem cell transplant and it stopped the disease from progressing, but he lost a lot during that time. He can’t speak anymore and needs help with just about everything – eating, bathing, getting dressed, even walking down the street. He can eat. He does need to be fed and he has a tube in his belly for hydration. Oh, and he also needs a whole lot of medicine to keep him going. Steroids for his Addison’s Disease – did I mention that his adrenal glad doesn’t work? THAT is pretty common with people with ALD. Not everyone, but most. Jack also needs medicine for his seizures. That’s another thing a lot of the boys deal with. I’m not sure about the men with AMN. AMN is what older men with the ALD mutation get — if they get anything. Some men seem fine. And, most women are fine, at least until they’re older. Then they seem to have trouble walking and with their bladder and bowels. Yea, I know that’s scary. I sure don’t want to deal with any of that. Good news is that my mom’s doing well and she has the mutation. Oh, but that doesn’t really mean anything. Not with ALD. ALD doesn’t seem to have a memory when it comes down a family line. Anyway, Jack has Adrenoleukodystrophy.”
As my description demonstrates, ALD doesn’t always look the same. As readers of Smiles and Duct Tape, you know Jack and you know Jack’s ALD, but, there are many phenotypes – Childhood Cerebral, Adolescent Cerebral, Adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN), Adult Cerebral, Addison Disease only, Carrier’s Syndrome and the lucky few who are completely asymptomatic. There are also several treatments (no cures): dietary therapies, transplant, gene therapy, treatment for adrenal insufficiency. I could show you charts and explain all the science surrounding the disease, but instead I’m going to introduce you to ALD through it’s people. It will be a chance to get to know ALD — our not-so-rare disease.
A couple of times a month I’m going to share a story about someone (or a whole family) with our disease. Don’t worry – you’re still stuck with me posting stories about JackO and our not-so-special family. THIS is ALD will be a little extra treat.
THIS is ALD #2
Sean Suppan
(Jack was #1)
One of my ALD stranger-friends (now friend) is Ellen Suppan. She and I met years ago when her son, Sean, was starting the transplant process. I remember getting off the phone with her almost breathless. Even though our family was two years ahead of them in the process, it was hard for me to imagine what they were going through. Their ALD journey seemed so much more complicated.
She shared their story with University of Minnesota Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Center in 2009. These are her words as Sean was going through transplant:
“In 2003, after a lot of doctor visits, we were told that my other son David
had ALD. He was 7. I had no family history, but it has to start somewhere.
Back then, there was nothing we could do for him. Within 3 months, he was
in a bedridden state, and then went to a vegetative state, and he was like that
for 4 years. David passed away in October 2006. We miss him but were
relieved he was no longer hurting.
Shortly after David’s diagnosis, I found out that we were expecting and later
learned I was carrying a boy. And yes, he carried the gene, but had a 50/50
chance of not developing symptoms. With Sean, we were very proactive. We
have known since he was born that he has ALD. When Sean was only 3, he
came down with a high fever and we did an MRI, and everything was clear.
We did another MRI 4 months later and there was a spot there. We were
shocked. David was 5 when this happened.
My main concern was to get Sean where he needed to be. There are good
hospitals. They have done a couple of transplants, but not as many as the
University of Minnesota. The most transplants for ALD have been done here,
pioneered here and they are still working on it.
The downside of going through the transplant is that the chemo may bring
on more advancement. It’s a no-win situation. If I don’t do anything, I have
seen the course it takes. But, we at least know that he will not get to the stage
that my other son had to endure for four years. We are thinking positive.
I am thankful and grateful that Dr. Orchard came up with this treatment. It is bittersweet for me. Back in 2003, they did not do transplants for symptomatic
kids like David. The progression with David was very cruel for a parent to
watch. We are doing for Sean what we could not do for David.
Don’t expect anything to be normal. It’s a new normal. It’s a new way of
doing things. Be ready. I always keep my gas tank half full, because I don’t
know when I’ll need to go to the hospital. Live in the moment. All the other
things will fit into place.”
What isn’t mentioned in this piece is that while the Suppan family was losing their son, David, in the fall of 2006, their daughter Ashling was diagnosed with AML Leukemia (she has just celebrated 11 years in remission). They were still mourning David as they went through treatment with Ashling and were diligently monitoring Sean. Then, as Ashling was enjoying life after her treatment, it was time for Sean’s transplant. Ellen shared with me that she missed her daughter’s high school graduation because she was in Minnesota with Sean recovering from his transplant. ALD often steals a lot from a family.
Eight years after our first correspondence, I finally had the pleasure of meeting Ellen, her husband David and Sean in person. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help but watch Sean closely and compare him to Jack. Sean has the same engaging bright smile and is eager to be part of the conversation. He is able to speak and to the untrained eye appears very typical. I did see a few hints of ALD, but needed to ask Ellen for specifics.
Ellen shared that following transplant they were most concerned about Sean’s vision, but gradually it seemed to improve. He does have difficulty processing new surroundings and has issues with his depth perception. Other challenges include short term memory problems and some behaviors like making odd noises, chewing on shirt collars (THAT is so Jack) and shrugging his head almost violently. He is able to feed himself, but needs help with other activities of daily living. Sean is currently in the seventh grade and moves between a special needs classroom and a few mainstream classes.

Overall Sean is doing great. The Suppan family is grateful that Sean was able to be monitored closely and received his transplant early. Ellen shared a note she received from his teacher. I think it says it all.

 

Hi Mrs. Suppan,
I wanted to share with you that Sean is doing terrific. I am so proud of him. Today he came up in front of the class and shared with him things he is thankful for. What an accomplishment for him – we appreciate him everyday and are thankful to know him. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

 

“ . . . we appriciate him every day and are thankful to know him.” THAT is how I feel about Ellen. I hate ALD and the chaos it’s created in our families, but I am honored and grateful to have Ellen as a friend AND to have met Sean. Stay strong little man and I look forward to meeting you again soon – next time with JackO!!

 

Love, Jess

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THIS is ALD