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

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

 

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.

Ten Years and Counting . . . Special Thanks to the Little Lady from Detroit

I’ve been trying to find the right words, but I’m at a loss. There are no words to really describe how we feel today. I’ll keep this post short and sweet.

Ten years ago we put our son’s life in the hands of doctors and donors and maybe even a higher power (I know, I know – I have a terrible relationship with God, but I’m working on it). Ten years ago we didn’t know of any boys who were ten years post transplant for ALD. We didn’t know if there was a chance that Jack would reach this milestone.

Jack has reached this day – HIS TENTH TRANSPLANT BIRTHDAY – and I fully expect he will exceed every dream we’ve ever had for him. He’s just that kind of kid. He’s a silent boy who speaks.

We had a party this weekend to celebrate our boy. We filled our yard with greasy food and many of Jacko’s favorite people. Jack spent the day hugging, and dancing and enjoying every second.

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Please take a moment today and think about our boy. Think about how amazing life can be.

Happy Birthday JackO!!!

Love, Jess

In honor of Jack’s TRANSPLANT BIRTHDAY we asked people to make donations to Boxes of Fun and Horizon High School. Over $2800 was raised for his school and have a HUGE pile of toys for the Boxes of Fun. Our duct tape is amazing!

 

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FYI – “The Little Lady from Detroit” was Jack’s donor;)

Ten years ago . . .

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2007

What were you doing ten years ago?

Ten years ago our family was in limbo. We had just been transferred from our local hospital to Columbia Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s hospital in New York City. Our lives were standing still as we waited for doctors to figure out what was going on in Jack’s brain.

Seven days earlier, we had gone for an MRI so that we could rule out any significant neurological issues. We were told immediately following the “routine MRI” that it did not rule out anything. Instead, the MRI had confirmed that Jack had significant damage to his brain.

That was April 20th, 2007.

It would be ten days before we were ushered into a small conference room and introduced to the word Adrenoleukodystrophy. Those ten days were surreal.

Waiting is brutal. Although we tried to be optimistic, the doctors were not able to mask their concern. We knew that a diagnosis was coming and that it likely would be bad news. Jack was only eight-years-old and Dan and I both needed to play the role of calm parents, but in the stillness of night our fears would crawl out. There was very little sleeping for us during that time. The “unknown” causes the imagination to spin, often landing on the horrifying or the absurd.

We all know what happened. That we did get a terrible diagnosis and then lived through a nightmare before finding our way to a new life full of challenges. As we approach the tenth anniversary of Jack’s diagnosis and stem cell transplant (his other birthday), I can’t help but relive those days. I can’t help but remember where we were ten years ago. Who we were ten years ago. Bear with me as I spend the next month remembering and sharing.

Sharing has helped me survive the last ten years and reliving these memories is actually helping me to appreciate that we didn’t just survive that period, but we have moved incredibly far since that time. Of corse, I have my moments wondering what life would have looked like without Adrenoleukodystrophy crashing in, but mostly TODAY I am feeling grateful.

Jack survived. His life is complicated, but his quality of life is wonderful. He is happy and stable and manages to bring joy wherever he goes. Anna survived. She runs through life like she runs down a lacrosse field – determined and strong. I’m not exactly sure where she is headed, but her life is going to be extraordinary. Dan and I survived. We are not living the lives we imagined, but I can honestly say that we are closer now than we’ve ever been. I know it sounds cheesy, but he’s my best friend.

Our family has also managed to surround ourselves with friends who hold us up when we need it and encourage us to celebrate the good times (wine and dessert flow often). And, our extended family is incredible. We’ve just gotten to share time with both the Torreys and the Cappellos and we are all feeling incredibly blessed.

For a VERY unlucky family, we are really f*cking lucky;)

Ten years ago our family was living in limbo. Waiting for news that would forever change our lives. Today we are in control. Perhaps not able to control what tomorrow will bring, but in control over how we will face today — AND today is a great day!!

Love, Jess

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Today (not really today, but this year)

the talking dream

I remember the first time I heard my voice on my father’s mini-tape recorder. I was about four, singing Itsy Bitsy Spider. It sounded so strange. He’d taped me just minutes before, but I still questioned if it was really me. Although we live in these modern times full of videos, I’ve managed to avoid them. Not even our wedding made it to VHS or DVD or HD or whatever they’re calling it today. So, imagine how I felt when I sat down and watched myself sharing my story,  The Talking Dream, at Listen to Your Mother.

A few comments:

1.) Bangs don’t translate well with overhead lights.
2.) My hands move in a way that makes me uncomfortable.
3.) I play with my wedding band obsessively.
4.) I’m not a pretty crier.
5.) All this, and I’m still proud.

Check out the rest of the cast — I shared the stage with a talented crew!
Love, Jess

happy birthday jackO!

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Day + 2922 (417 weeks/8 years/half of Jack’s life) . . .

Most of us have one birthday, but Jack likes to be different. He has two.

His first birthday marks the day he came into the world. Eight years later, Jack was born again (not in the Christian sense of the word – THAT he hasn’t done yet).

Eight years ago, we sat in room 505 at Columbia Presbyterian while doctors added a small bag of cells to Jack’s huge tower full of medication. It took less then 30 minutes for those cells to enter his veins. We watched and waited, while listening to music (Dan has a playlist for every occasion). It was remarkably uneventful, but it was the beginning of Jack’s life post-ALD.

Like so many life-altering moments, I remember every second of that day. I can’t tell you what I made for dinner last night, but I can tell you what I was wearing eight years ago and I still gag when I recall the smell of stem cells (who knew?). I also have that confusing feeling that it was just yesterday that we sat in that room, but I can’t really remember much before that day — as if our family started on May 30, 2007.

Eight years ago, if someone had sat me down and tried to describe what our lives would look like now, I would have strangled them. I was so sure that we would somehow return to lives that mirrored our lives before ALD took hold. It didn’t matter what I read or who I spoke to, all I could imagine was a family that looked like a family should. Now I know that families come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, and that happiness is attainable under the most complicated of circumstances.

So, I’m glad I didn’t know. I would have been heartbroken and would have wasted time worrying that we couldn’t manage. Instead, we grew into our new lives and little by little have found a way to make it work. We are strong and happy and thriving. We celebrate Jack’s 8th Transplant Birthday today with plenty of smiles and grateful for all the duct tape that holds us together.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JACKOOO!

Love, Jess