the future is bright(er)

A few times a year I have the opportunity to spend a couple of days in a room full of people who know what the letters ALD stand for and what it means to live with them in your home. This week I attended the Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation – ALD Standards of Care meeting. It was exciting to hear about the continued progress being made with newborn screening and the latest treatment options for this next generation of ALD boys. There’s not anything that will benefit Jack, but I hope in a small way, our boy (and his story) is helping the progress move forward.

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I know it’s not for everyone to sign up for juggling their real-life responsibilities to attend conferences highlighting the worst part of their life, but I never regret attending these meetings. I’d be lying if I said I understand all the medical talk, but the connections I’ve made over the years have been invaluable. I still get a little star-struck when I meet people that I’ve been following for years, but I’m always pleasantly surprised by how welcoming everyone is. These conferences are filled with doctors, researchers, and ALD parents who have become hard-core ALD advocates (trust me – I’ve done nothing compared to these folks). Everyone is always willing to answer questions and share their experiences. And, now there’s a new generation of ALD families recently diagnosed through newborn screening – they are the strongest people I’ve ever met. I’m not sure I would have been ready to dive in 12 years ago. 12 years ago ALD was a different disease.

12 years ago, when we first heard the word Adrenoleukodystrophy, a diagnosis usually meant that your son was already symptomatic – often too far along to treat. Even when you were lucky enough to find doctors willing to move forward with treatment, the outcomes (if successful) often lead to a new life, full of challenges. And, when you looked for other families for support or guidance, our community was hard to find. It was pre-Facebook and all that Goggle could tell us was horrific statistics and old information. Today, the ALD community is strong and the future is bright(er) and I want our family to be part of the future. I’ll keep attending any ALD conference I can get to, put on my fancy name tag, and enjoy some time with our ALD family.

For more information about ALD, please check out the Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation and ALD Connect.

Love, Jess

THIS is ALD #11 — Marty

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I’m hoping that THIS is ALD is helping people better understand that Adrenoleukodystrophy doesn’t always follow the same path. There are several phenotypes of the disease – Jack’s form is childhood/cerebral ALD. There are also people with the same genetic mutation that are completely asymptomatic or develop adolescent ALD, just adrenal insufficiency, or AMN – a form that generally progresses more slowly than childhood ALD and effects adults.

I’ve wanted to share an AMN story to help show a different form of our disease. Thank you Marty for sharing your story with us.

THIS is ALD #11 — Marty

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My name is James Martin Luczak Jr. and I recently joined the fight for Adrenoleukodystrophy prescreening so nobody else needs to experience life the way I did.

I have AMN – that’s adult onset ALD. My symptoms started showing around age 25. First a struggle with urinary incontinence and then a limp – I started dragging my left leg. Suddenly, I couldn’t work an 8 hour day so I saw a chiropractor, and he said he couldn’t help. I saw a neurologist, and she took x-rays of my spine and sent me to a neurosurgeon. They saw a ruptured disc, so we fused them. Things only got worse after spending two weeks in a hospital bed and two more at home. Atrophy set in and physical therapy provided only a marginal improvement. I had left the hospital with crutches and continued to use them for over 10 years. Last year, I decided my hands and shoulders needed a break so I now use a wheelchair. From the waist down my legs are now useless. Lots of muscle spasms. Very painful and awkward. I’ve self-catheterized for almost 10 years. I had carpal tunnel surgery in both hands. I have a terrible memory and slow fragmented speech.

I’ve been struggling with these health issues for the last 20 years with no formal diagnose until recently. I was on what doctors refer to as a “diagnostic odyssey”. That odyssey was funded primarily by tax payers. 100k back surgery, multiple treatments, and visits to doctors and specialists. Treating symptoms instead of finding the root cause. Treating symptoms without the proper diagnosis can get very expensive. Conservatively speaking, My odyssey totaled over a half million dollars.

Today I’m 47. I got my diagnosis at age 44. What’s important to know is the way I was diagnosed. November 2014, my niece moved to NY in the 8th month of her pregnancy and gave birth to a baby girl. That baby was screened for and tested positive for ALD. A few months later, after reviewing a chart of symptoms, I noticed they mirrored mine and I became suspicious that I too had ALD. After testing, it was confirmed the following June.

Had my niece not moved to NY, I’d most likely live the rest of my life without knowing and continuing on an odyssey or even worse… Giving up. Having said that, I’m here today, more aware than I’ve ever been in my life. All because of people like Janis Sherwood with Fight ALD, Patti Chapman with The Myelin Project, and Elisa Seeger with Aidan’s Law. I must thank them because without them and their determination, me & my family would not know that there is a killer among us (that newborn screening test didn’t just expose my disease, but my mother, sister and niece all discovered they too have the mutation). And, when there’s a killer among you, you arm yourself. My ammunition in fighting ALD is knowledge. That’s what this fight is about. Knowledge.

— Marty

 

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Marty, Elisa Seeger and Janis Sherwood

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There’s a theme running through many of the THIS is ALD stories – newborn screening provides hope and knowledge and as Marty points out – SAVES MONEY. Unfortunately, when it comes to persuading states to add a disease to the newborn screening panel, it needs to be proved that not only will it improve the quality of life for patients and save lives, but that testing for the disease will be cheaper than NOT TESTING. Marty is proof of how expensive a “diagnostic odyssey” can be. Jack is proof of how expensive a late diagnose can me. Between his treatment, special schooling, Social Security, Medicaid, etc – Jack’s ALD has cost tax payers well over $2,000,000 to date.

Thank you Marty for sharing your story and for becoming an active participant in the fight to change the future of ALD. I look forward to meeting you in person and introducing you to Jack!

Love, Jess