lunch – the recap

In case you missed Wednesday’s post – CLICK HERE.

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seven hours of driving + a quick tour of campus + lunch with our girl = best day EVER!

It was just what we all needed. Seeing Anna in her element helped me let go of my nerves about how she’s doing. She’s thriving. Her classwork is interesting, she loves exploring Baltimore and has made many wonderful new friends (we got to meet several). Two hours of showing us around her new turf and a fun lunch and we were on our way. Saying goodbye was not easy, but we will see Anna for Parent’s Weekend in a couple of weeks and again in early November for Cousin Carlos’ Baptism. Thank goodness – we need more Anna time!

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Saying goodbye wasn’t easy.

Thank you for all the love and support this week. I heard from many moms that they’re feeling the same way and I’m not alone in the crazy drive/hug/lunch/hug/drive. I also heard from a few kids who shared that they appreciate crazy drive/hug/lunch/hug/drives! I sure hope Anna did, because I have a feeling this won’t be the only time I pull this stunt;)

Thank you Anna for being you and, thank you Jack and Mymom for being my partners in crime!!!!!!

Love, Jess

 

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Several years ago, I was getting my nails done when I ran into a friend whose son had just left for college in Boston. We were chatting all about the excitement of drop-off and what it felt like getting home one kid down. She admitted that the transition had left her feeling a little lost and that she was planning to head up the next day to take her son out to lunch, “What? For lunch? In Boston?”

Maplewood to Boston is a 4 1/2 hour drive. I walked away from the conversation relieved that I would never be THAT crazy.

Jack, Mymom and I are driving to Baltimore to see Anna tomorrow. For lunch.

We’ve been busy trying to get into the rhythm of our new nest. I’m feeling a little less lost than I had expected, but it’s not easy. As long as I stay busy I’m okay, but when the chaos of life quiets, I get teary. The result is that our house has never been as clean and I seem to be very on top of my my TO DO list and piles of paperwork. I am looking for anything that can distract me from the quiet. Things like writing and walking are a little harder to do – too much time to think about how much I miss our girl. It’s better for me to stay in motion.

FaceTime is a luxury that I hadn’t expected. I’m trying not to over-do it, but at least once a day we sit down for our call.

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Thirty years ago, there were two pay phones at the end of my dorm hallway. My parents would call on Sunday mornings at 10:00 am. It wasn’t just their chance to catch up, but it was assurance that I was awake at 10:00 am on a Sunday (As soon as I got off the phone, I would crawl back into bed). Within a few months, I got a phone in my dorm room. Still, the phone calls from home were limited. It’s not that my folks weren’t eager to speak with me, but times were different. 

There is a lot of talk among my circle of friends — maybe we shouldn’t call too much. We need to let our kids fly. They need their independence. We need our independence.

Perhaps this generation is too in touch, but I don’t care. I love chatting with Anna as she’s walking across campus in the sticky Baltimore heat. I love that I am starting to learn the names of her new pals and a little about her classes. AND, I love that Jack is able to not just hear his sister, but see her. This transition has been hard for all of us, but for Jack it’s been particularly difficult. 

Although we’d been preparing for months for this new reality, Jack seems to be constantly waiting for his favorite person to walk into the room. When her picture appears on the iPhone  screen, he lights up. They spend a few minutes making their silly faces as Banana tells her Booger how much she misses him. Parent’s Weekend is just a couple of weeks away, but we can’t wait.

So . . . we’re getting in the car tomorrow morning and driving 4 hours to take our Anna out for lunch. If anyone asks, I tell them that it’s because Mymom hasn’t seen Anna in a few months and the Jack really NEEDS a visit. That’s not completely true. It will be a lot of driving for a short visit, but I’ve never been as excited for a day trip in my life.

Love, Jess

To my friend from the nail salon – I owe you one. A lunch visit is a fine idea – NOTHING CRAZY ABOUT IT!!!!

a table full of girls

Over the weekend we attended another graduation party celebrating a dear friend of Anna. They’ve known each other since they were tiny, and she has spent so much time with our family, that I consider her to be another daughter. Dan loves her too and Jack would think of her as a sister, if he didn’t have such a massive crush on her.

She’s not alone. Jack has crushes on all of Anna’s girlfriends. And these girls are wonderful to our boy. When they come to our house, the first thing they do when they walk in our door is ask, “Where’s Jack?” and then seek him out to give him a smooch. Some days I find Jack in the middle of the sofa surrounded by beautiful teenage girls watching Gilmore Girls or lose track of him to discover that he’s made his way up to Anna’s room to listen to some girlie gossip.

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Jack and some of the gals a few years ago.

Most of Anna’s circle of friends she’s known since diaper days. They knew Anna when she was a chubby little girl with a crooked smile. They knew our first house over on Jefferson Avenue and they knew Dan and I before we had gray hair. These kids also knew our family before ALD came screeching into our lives. They knew Jack when he was just a year ahead of them in school, loved to ride his bike and was one of the MCs in the school talent show (the only video we have where we can hear him speaking . . . ).

I realized while watching the girls at the party that I’m not just saying goodbye to Anna as she heads out to college — I’m saying goodbye to her buddies too. And, so is Jack.

I know Anna will find a wonderful new cluster of friends at college. She has good taste in friends and seems to always be surrounded by a funny, smart, kind assortment of people. I’m sure she will share a lot about her family with these new friends. About her loud Dad who graduated from Hopkins and loves history, music, lacrosse and the Yankees. She will undoubtedly share stories of her mother who insists on family dinners, needs constant help with wardrobe advice and spelling, and drinks a little more white wine than she should. And, I’m sure Anna’s new friends will hear a ton about her brother – the person who she adores more than anyone on the planet. They will hear what happened when Anna was only six-years-old and how it shaped so much of who she is now and what she longs to do with her life. Her new friends will see pictures of all of us and maybe even meet us over the next few years, but they will never know the whole story. They will never really know Jack the way that Anna’s childhood friends do.

I know that some of the relationships Anna has with her childhood crew will ebb and flow for a while. They are scattering all over the US for the next four years. It will be hard, but I really hope that they all make an effort to meet up again whenever they can. I’m lucky to still be close with a few of my childhood friends and it’s amazing how they know me on a level that newer friends just can’t reach. There’s something magical about childhood friends.

The graduation party was wonderful — good food, some white wine for me, and a lot of familiar faces. As I sat inside to escape the heat, I watched Jack through a large picture window. He was sitting next to Anna at a table full of some of his favorite girls. He had a grin from ear to ear. I know there will be more parties and tables full of these girls, but they will be a further apart now that many of the kids are heading off. I want to make sure that I savor them while I can and make sure JackO gets to enjoy as much girl time as possible before the summer comes to a close.

Love, Jess

Tupperware marked JACK ONLY;)

Mail isn’t what it used to be. Most days it’s just a pile of catalogs and junk. I sometimes go days without even glancing at my mailbox, but lately I’ve been checking it twice a day. I’ve felt like a kid at camp waiting for a care package.

Yesterday my care package arrived! It wasn’t a big box — just a slim envelop from the NJ Department of Health – our brand new NJ Medicinal Marijuana Program cards!!!

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Jack’s on plenty of medications – Hydrocortisone, Keppra, Fludrocortisone. He’s also had prescriptions for Ativan, Oxcycodone, and many others. Any time we need a refill, it’s easy. Drugs in this country are usually just a phone call and a quick trip to CVS away. Within an hour, we can have a pile of  medicine (many FAR more dangerous than marijuana) in our hands. Not so with the one medication that has truly transformed Jack’s life.

Not sure if you remember, but three years ago Jack started hopping (click here for that story). Sounds cute, right? It wasn’t. It was like he was stuttering as he walked. It made walking across a room tedious and a walk down the street nearly impossible. His PTs and OTs worked tirelessly. We all tried a variety of techniques and nothing seemed to work. Then I stumbled onto some research about how marijuana can help with spasticity (what we suspected was the underlying cause for Jack’s hopping). You can legally buy some marijuana/hemp products in most states (that are high in CBD – the non-intoxicating compound in marijuana and low in THC – the part of marijuana that makes you high), and I thought it was worth a shot. Before introducing anything to Jack’s medication list, I always check with his neurologist. I felt a little strange bringing up such an “alternative medication” for my 16-year-old. She quietly listened to me ramble on about my research, starting every sentence with, “Don’t judge and please don’t think I’m crazy.” She assured me that she wasn’t judging and brought in her colleague who was more knowledgeable about the benefits marijuana. Again, I told Jack’s story and filled him in on my research. He met Jack, looked over his chart and said, “Don’t buy anything online. I think Jack needs some THC and to be on Medicinal Marijuana. Let’s get him in the program.”

Seemed so easy — it wasn’t.

It took six months, piles of paperwork. loads of money and three doctors (including a psychiatrist for our non-verbal son) before getting our original cards. By the time we were able to go to the medicinal marijuana dispensary we were super excited to get started, but quickly learned our waiting wasn’t over. I needed to learn how to administer the herb to our boy. All they sell in NJ is the flower. The flower is the seed bearing part of the plant, including the buds that are smoked. Jack can’t smoke. I had to learn how to turn that flower into a butter and then into an edible (Jack’s favorite is a chocolate chip cookie). Even our wonderful doctor who had written the prescription, had little advice for us. It took some time and a few wasted batches, but we finally figured it out the right recipe.

It’s been a life changer. Jack’s walking better, sleeping better and all around more focused (odd because pot makes me anything but focused – not that I’ve ever experimented with marijuana. That would be illegal and immoral and just plan old bad). Two years in and we have our rhythm. Once every three weeks I infuse butter, bake, and fill the large Tupperware container in the fridge marked JACK ONLY — it is more work that it should be, but we’re all set.

Every 60 days we do need to get a new certification from our doctor. We’re grateful that our doctor doesn’t require a $200 visit every time. She seems to be one of the few people that understands that Jack is not going to grow out of his challenges (don’t worry — we do see her at least twice a year).

Everything has been going great until a few weeks ago when we received an email that we needed to re-register with the NJ Department of Health. More paperwork, more photos, more money and more proof that Jack still has spasticity.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Governor Phil Murphy spent a whole lot of time running for office talking about his commitment to not just opening up NJ’s Medicinal Marijuana Program to include things like oils and edibles, but making marijuana completely legal in NJ. I do support the legalization of recreational marijuana and could go on and on about the benefits to the NJ economy and that marijuana is far safer than alcohol or nicotine or half the drugs we all have in our medicine cabinets, but I want to focus more on those individuals – like Jack –  who are provided more comfort, less pain and better quality of life because of their access to medicinal marijuana. All I really want to say is – MAKE IT EASIER FOR PATIENTS. PLEASE TELL ME THIS IS THE LAST TIME I NEED TO REAPPLY FOR THESE SILLY CARDS and if you can’t do that, at least HURRY UP WITH THE EDIBLES!

I am tired of infusing and baking and having my house smell like a fraternity. I’m also looking forward knowing exactly what dose I’m giving my son without needing to test it myself (which I would never do because THAT is illegal and immoral and plan old bad). I’m also tired of any paperwork that involves proving that Jack is sick enough/disabled enough to do anything/to take anything that will help him enjoy the best quality of life possible.

Our new cards expire July 2020. Fingers crossed that changes won’t take that long.

For more about our cannabis journey click here.

Love, Jess

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Day +4003 (not a great day)

Day +4004 . . .

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

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

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

Yesterday was NOT one of those days.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Jess

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

 

 

eleven years of sharing

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

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

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my exceptional children

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Jess

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

 

 

 

 

 

the bearded boy . . . man

 

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

It’s different and it’s scaring me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHANGE is a four letter word.

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

We will get there. That’s what we do.

Love, Jess

 

 

 

a ski weekend, the Jack Pack, and next year

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Just getting back from a ski weekend in Vermont with friends. Over the years we’ve done a lot of these weekends. We rent a house with a few families. Most everyone skis, but there are always a couple of people who linger with me and Jack. Our days are filled with quieter activities, but we always manage to have fun.

Each morning the house scrambles to life as the kids all frantically run around searching for their gear while the parents try to get some breakfast into everyone and make the lunches for the mountain. Depending on how late the previous night’s festivities went, the skiing crew heads out the door between 9:00 am and 10:00 am — then the house falls silent. That’s when the non-skiing crew makes a plan.

This trip included an awesome hike, a three hour/10,000 calorie lunch, an adventure to visit my oldest friend and her daughter AND a whole lot of girl talk – the rest of non-skiiers were ladies (sorry Jack). Jack is accustom to hanging with the ladies, and knows more than his share about the local gossip and just how many Weight Watchers points are in a margarita, but he always knows that by the end of the day he will be reunited with his peers. They will all walk in the door and, without missing a beat, find JackO to greet him and fill him with stories from their day’s escapades. Anna is always the leader of the Jack Pack – the best sister on the planet.

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But what about next year?

THAT’S the question that seems to fill my mind constantly these days. We just had an amazing weekend in a beautiful log cabin in Vermont — enjoying friends and the landscape and late nights singing along with music from our high school years (sorry I am not allowed to post any activities that took place after 9:00 pm). A perfect weekend and my biggest take-away is — What about next year?!?

Anna will be starting her second semester of college by February next year. Will Dan, Jack and I still head up to a mountain for a long winter weekend? What will it be like to travel with Jack as the only Torrey kid? Is it worth trying to continue these annual traditions or is it better to start new ones?

I know what you’re thinking — Anna isn’t moving away permanently. She’s going to college. College kids are home as much as they are gone AND she is only going to be 180.6 miles away. There will be many more family trips.

BUT, it is going to be different once she heads off to Baltimore. Her priorities will be — should be — on her life, on her future. It will be the beginning of her life as an adult and the beginning of our nest changing – again. The house is going to be so quiet when she isn’t around. Who is going to remind us what Jack should be wearing and listening too? Who is going to protect Jack from the endless hours in front of Bravo (with me) and PBS (with Dan)?

We will figure it out. Anna will only be a phone call away with her fashion advice and Dan and I will learn to control our TV habits (we know how to find TruTV). And, as far as the ski trip goes — we can go earlier in the winter if a ski trip is a “must do” Torrey activity. We can also forgo skiing altogether and go down to Baltimore and eat some crabs with Anna.

THIS is the real issue. THIS seems to be my go-to solution to all “my nest is changing” worries. Sorry Anna.

Love, Mom

 

 

THIS is ALD #10 – The Waterman Boys

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

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

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

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THIS is ALD #10 — The Waterman Boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Kelly

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

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

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

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

Love, Jess

 

 

THIS is Alexander Disease (a cousin of ALD) #8 — Olivia Kay

By now I hope you are starting to understand Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). If you know our family or have followed Smiles and Duct Tape for a while, you know what ALD looks like for Jack. THIS is ALD has hopefully helped you to better understand what the disease looks like for other patients. I have many more of those stories to share, but today I want to share a story about a little girl named Olivia Kay and a disease called Alexander Disease Leukodystrophy.

Leukodystrophies are a group of rare, progressive, metabolic, genetic diseases that affect the brain and spinal cord by destroying the myelin sheath. There are dozens of Leukodystrophies (including ALD) and Alexander Disease is the most rare of the bunch.

Olivia Kay’s mother, Lisa, offered to write their family’s story and I was eager to share a story about another disease related to ALD. Meet Olivia Kay.

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THIS is ALD (actually, Alexander Disease) # 8 — Olivia Kay

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It was December 10, 2009 when I received a phone call from a doctor with the Cleveland Clinic. Did I know that morning that when I would wake that very day, it would become my daughter’s “day of diagnosis”? In the community of “parent’s raising special needs children”, it’s the day you treat like a holiday, but often not celebrated by any means. You never forget it and dread when it’s near. Like most parents, they remember that day just like any other parent never forgets the day their child first walked, or said their first word or peddled their first bicycle. It was the day that I was told my daughter would not live very long and she was going to die. Now I carry that day with me, for the rest of my life.

Olivia Kay was born with Alexander Disease Leukodsytrophy. Alexander Disease is the rarest form of more than 50 forms of Leukodystrophy. She was diagnosed with infantile onset, which means, between the ages of birth and 2 years of age. Diagnosis can only be verified through genetic testing. And sadly, there is no cure. Those who are affected by the disease appear healthy until the onset of symptoms. Olivia was very healthy and started having developmental issues and seizures at 10 months of age. This began our journey and the start of many hospitalizations and medical appointments.

There are three onsets – Infantile, Juvenile and Adult. Onset of the disease is due to the destruction of myelin in the brain caused by mutations in the GFAP (Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein) gene.  This essential protein is responsible for providing strength to important cells.

Unlike other Leukodystrophies, Alexander Disease is not always hereditary. It is caused by a sporadic gene mutation within the GFAP gene, meaning the mutation occurs without being inherited from the parents.  There are some cases of Adult onset Alexander Disease where the disease has been found to be genetically inherited, however, this is rare.

With Alexander Disease, many children suffer from seizures along with many other symptoms. After learning of her diagnosis, the doctor told us to “treat the symptoms and find a support group”. I look back now and realize, that was absolutely of no help to me. Knowing that our daughter would never outlive us was heartbreaking; we lived in denial for quite awhile. Knowing how to navigate life moving forward, was scary and uncertain. And we would face this most likely alone.

As we walked this journey with our child, you quickly become not only the parent, but you become you the doctor, the nurse, the therapist and the advocate. As we struggled with some of the most emotional and heartbreaking decisions you will ever have to make for your child, we knew that what we were doing were the best decisions for Olivia’s quality of life. She endured many what I call “seasons” of the disease. From feeding difficulties, to gastronomy tube, sitting up in her wheelchair to bedridden, to respiratory challenges and ventilators and digestive and bowel regimes. Each time we entered a season, she tackled each one with bravery and strength.

Sadly, Olivia passed away on April 28, 2017 at the age of 8. I am so proud to have called Olivia, my daughter. She taught me more in my life that I will ever learn in a whole lifetime. Olivia changed lives in her community and impacted strangers who met her.

The most honoring thing that we can do as her parents now; carry her legacy on to further bring awareness to this disease, help support more children and families living with illness and share her story so that people can become more knowledgable about all Leukodystrophies.

— Lisa

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I had a hard time sorting through the photos that Lisa sent me. Tears flowed down my cheeks knowing what Olivia Kay’s small body suffered and what her family went through. She was such a beautiful girl with shinning light in her eyes. Lisa describes how her young daughter tackled each “season” of the disease with bravery and strength. A remarkable girl. A remarkable family.

Thank you Lisa.

Love, Jess