THIS is ALD #25 — Grady

Ten days ago I got a text from a dear friend from MA, “Watching the news on NBC – it’s about newborn screening for ALD.”

I stopped what I was doing, went to the computer and Googled — NBC, MA, ALD and this popped up.

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I thought, What a great ALD story! I should reach out to this mom. Within a day, we found each other — ALD is a small world (and thanks to social media, it’s getting smaller every day). We exchanged notes on facebook, emailed back and forth, and then spoke on the phone. For me, it’s like talking to an old friend when I find another ALD mom. I asked her tons of questions and let her share and vent. Of corse, I also asked her to please let me share her family’s story on THIS is ALD.

THIS is ALD #25 — Grady

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I thought he had too much wax in his ears. That’s how this started, wax. My boys always have gross waxy ears, no matter how much I clean them. Pretty gross right? I thought Grady couldn’t hear me well because of waxy ears. 

So after about two weeks, I decided to bring Grady to his pediatrician. She checked and they were clear. We proceeded to do a hearing test. He passed. Gut punch #1. 

His pediatrician suggested we follow up with ENT. I asked if it could be neurological. She didn’t think so, everything else was perfect. About an hour after we got home, she called me saying, “You are not an alarmist with the kids, let’s see an ENT today”. 

She got us in and he passed most of the exams. Gut punch #2. I knew something bad was coming. My husband and I took Grady to Boston Children’s Hospital right from the ENT. I felt like we had to push to really get them to listen. Neuro came and did a consult. Grady’s so strong. A crazy NATURAL athlete. How could it be his brain? Physically he checked out perfect. Then, the doctor asked, “What is 3×4…” Grady said, “Football”. Now we were crying. Something was really wrong. 

They came back and said they felt he was fine to go home, and out came Mama Bear. We told them we did not feel comfortable bringing him home. Twice. We told them SOMETHING is wrong with our son. I begged to scan him then. Sobbing. They felt a scan could wait and would book it in the weeks to come. 

So we went home. Sick to our stomachs. 

The next morning I woke up, called the pediatrician, and told them that I was bringing Grady back to Children’s and I wasn’t leaving until they scanned him. Long story short, a few frustrating hours later, they did. Gut punch #3…….and the death of the “old me”

They told us that they believe that Grady had ALD. What the hell is ALD?!? I Googled it, alone in the “quiet room” after an ER doctor told me not to. Google was obviously lying because there was no WAY my football and basketball obsessed boy was going to die in 1-5 years — slowly deteriorating to vegetive state, to death. No way. Someone was was wrong, and they wanted me to call my husband and tell him this?? Part of me died then. 

We lived 5 days — well not lived, we walked around somehow and tried to take care of the kids, while in the back of our minds we were thinking about losing our son. Then, we met Dr Eichler and Catie Becker. Two angles who told us that we would not lose Grady. With a Loes score of 10, they felt that perhaps Grady might lose some hearing, some vision, he might have a change in his gait. We could handle anything as long as he was with us. With newfound strength we got ready to fight. 

We met angel #3 a short time after — Dr Christine Duncan at Dana Farber. Grady ended up with an amazing 10/10 unrelated bone marrow match right away. Grady’s brother Colin tested negative for ALD and everything went just so fast from there. 

Admitted to the hospital on 9/11/18 and met what came to be some new “family” members (his loving nurses) and chemo started the next day. Grady was a rockstar. Me, not so much – I dubbed myself “the neurotic mom in room 613” . He was transplanted 9/20/18.  Celebrated his 8th birthday on 10/2/18 and also started engrafting that same day. We were home 10/11/18.

The fear really set in when we got past transplant, but there was still this ALD we had to process. Every little thing Grady did I was so scared…is this progression?  He blinked 3 times more than he did 5 min ago….is this progression? Every single day that kid was outside throwing the football. Making one handed catches. Working out to get his strength back. I still panicked over everything, even though I was told by his NP, “If he is out there making one handed catches, you have no right to worry about progression “. 

I still did.

We were also trying to come to terms with some signs of ALD that presented post transplant, like an Auditory Processing Disorder. Grady can hear us, but he stuggles to understand language. Luckily – that’s his ONLY deficit. He is a miracle boy!

Other than not really looking like Grady from all the prednisone and stupid hairy cyclosporine, he is still the same Grady, but he is angry.  So angry, and rightfully so. Some days are better than others, but he is here and doing amazing. 

Grady’s follow up MRI was also a miracle. Not only was there no progression, but his lesion has also gotten smaller. They are not sure why, and have only seen this once before, but smaller. Miracle. We also found out that I am not a carrier. Grady spontaneously mutated. More crazy to add to our story. 

We still have a long road ahead of us. We have had a couple readmissions that seem to come with the BMT world, but he is doing amazing. There is hope – so much hope.  

This disease is awful, but if he has to have it, I’m glad to have found the people I have in this ALD community. The Smiths might be one small family, but we are joining the cause and going to help do big things!!!

#NBS #ALDawareness #toughtimesdontladttoughpeopledo #yougottabelieve 

💙

— Jillian

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Jillian is amazing. Without her determination to get answers, it would have taken weeks or months to get the proper diagnosis. If you have followed any THIS is ALD stories, you know how important an early diagnosis can be. I’m not actually sure of when (or if) Jillian sleeps, but Grady is one lucky kid to have her as a mom and the ALD community is lucky to have her on board. She’s only five months into this journey and already she’s determined to dive into sharing her family’s ALD story and raising awareness for our (not so rare — about 1/15,000) rare disease. Since she sent me this story, her family was on the news again. 

With the Super Bowl just days away, all you Patriots fans will love that Julian Edelman is a fan of Gradys — just like the rest of us!!

CLICK HERE

Jillian — Thank you for sharing your family’s story and we look forward to watching Grady’s progress as he moves on with his beautiful, sports-filled life.

Love, Jess

 

 

THIS is ALD #19 — Alan, Cesar and Maximiliano

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My name is Kim and I’m the oldest of four children. I have 3 brothers. Angel , Cesar, and Alan. My brothers were all born healthy. Until 2016 nobody knew this horrible disease ran in the family.

December, 2015 my mom started noticing changes in my brother Alan – he was eight-years-old. He was having hearing problems and a hard time at school. My mother took him to a hearing specialist and they didn’t think anything was wrong. By May, 2016 things got worse. Alan started complaining of a terrible headache and was taken to a local hospital. They transferred him to a bigger facility, but the doctors had trouble figuring out what was going on. It wasn’t until they did an MRI that they discovered Alan had ALD.

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Alan and Cesar before ALD

My parents are Mexican and speak little English. They understood the diagnosis, but had many questions. When they learned that ALD is genetic, my two other brothers, Angel and Cesar, were tested — Cesar tested positive for ALD. My parents were heartbroken.

This was the same month I found out I was pregnant. When my parents shared the news with me, I took it pretty bad. I was six months pregnant when I found out I was a carrier. I learned that, since I was having a boy, he would need to be tested as soon as he was born.

Alan’s health started going down hill quickly. Doctors told my parents Alan had very little time and there wasn’t anything anyone could do. He lost his hearing, vision, speech, and started having trouble walking. My mom became his full time caregiver. Cesar was not as symptomatic and qualified for a bone marrow transplant (BMT) which he had in December, 2016. My mother was now caring for one son who was recovering from a BMT and another who’s disease was moving quickly.

My son, Maximiliano, was born just after Cesar’s BMT and was 3 weeks old when he was diagnosed with ALD. By January, 2017 my brother Alan was in a vegetative state and Cesar was doing well and was out of the hospital. It was really hard on everyone. We couldn’t believe three people in our family had ALD, including my son. The reality really set in when on March 23, 2017, my brother Alan lost his fight to ALD – just a few days after his 10th birthday.

Maximiliano is now a year old and he’s the sweetest little boy ever. He’s so smart, always smiling, and super curious. It’s really hard for me knowing my son has ALD. Knowing ALD took my brother away from me. Maximiliano is seeing specialists at UCLA and at Santa Barbara. I’ve gotten in touch with doctors at the University of Minnesota and I plan on taking my son this summer, and seeing what they have to offer.

Next month will be a year …a full 365 days since my little brother left us. It’s been really difficult for all of us to continue our lives without him. Holidays were more sad than happy. There were a lot of ‘firsts’ without Alan. In my heart I know he’s in a much better place. He’s at peace.

I really wish Alan had been diagnosed sooner and could’ve gotten treatment. Newborn screening could’ve saved his life. I think about everything that’s happened in the last 2 years. I’m a strong believer in God, but can’t help but think to myself why did He let this happen? To an innocent child? This horrible disease ruined my family but also made it stronger.

—Kim

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This beautiful family lives in California, which has now added ALD to it’s newborn screening panel. I try not to spend too much energy with “if onlys”, but I am glad that future generations of ALD families in CA will have the luxury of knowing and preparing. Alan didn’t have that luxury, but Cesar is doing well because he was treated in a timely manner and Maximiliano is being monitored by a team of specialists who will be prepared to help him IF he becomes symptomatic.

Corresponding with Kim has been an honor. She has been so honest and informative. I wanted to share two other notes I received from her last week:

I forgot to tell you, when I was pregnant I would place both of Alan’s hands on my belly, and he would get this huge smile and hug me because he knew it was me. He couldn’t see, but he was still aware of his surroundings. Before he lost his eyesight I showed him a picture of my ultrasound and he told me my baby looked like a little alien! I remember he was so happy he was going to be an uncle …

The night before my brother passed away, my mom had a dream. She told me Alan appeared to her in her dream and he told her that he was going to be okay but he didn’t want her to cry. I get the chills every time I think about this. I guess that was his way of letting my mom know … the next day he passed.

Thank you Kim.

 

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 tears

We’ve prepared for this news for eight years. I’d worked so hard to be equipped for a different outcome, that I was not ready to hear the words, “Anna is NOT a carrier.”

I was in the middle of World Market with my cellphone pressed tightly to my ear, sobbing, asking to hear the words again.

When Jack was first diagnosed with ALD, we’d never heard of the disease. We had a difficult time understanding the way it had traveled down our family line without appearance – until Jack. An X-linked disease, carried by the mother. It effects only boys. My brothers seemed to have won a lottery, but my son was not so lucky. Nature is not fair.

Of corse the focus for our family has been to help Jack survive the disease, but a question has been asked a lot over the past eight years. Often in hushed tones with gentle hands gripping my arm, “What about Anna?”

My answer was always at the ready. Sounding confident and positive, I’d say that we didn’t know, but weren’t worried. Anna’s odds of being a carrier were 50/50. If she carried the disease the biggest concern was the gene spilling into the next generation. I’d list the variety of options Anna would have to conceive, if in fact she was a carrier. I’d go on and on about the wonders of modern science and finish with,  “By the time Anna is ready to start a family, there will probably be a simple cure for ALD.”

Here’s the truth — underneath that speech, I was terrified. ALD has stolen enough from our family and I wasn’t sure I could find the energy to fight with ALD again. While it would not be impossible for Anna to have children without the mutation, it would be complicated. Having children is complicated enough. And our family has been through enough COMPLICATED.

So for eight years I’ve been crossing my fingers, while trying to prepare for whatever news we would hear. We didn’t want to test Anna until she was ready, but as soon as she asked, we made an appointment.

Meeting with the geneticist last month was fascinating for our science girl, Anna. For her it was interesting and she approached the information like a research project. It was not as easy for me. I did my best to keep a polite smile on my face during the meeting and make the day as festive as possible. Anna has always been the most important audience for my “We are not worried” speech. I think I managed to get away with it because last night when Dan and I shared the news, her only question was, “WHY are you crying?”

We’re so thrilled with the news that I’m still weeping a day later. I hadn’t appreciated the weight of this threat until it was released. Our beautiful girl dodged a bullet. I think I’ll be crying for a while. Happy tears.

Anna’s always been a good student and this is just another test that she managed to crush!!!

Love, Jess

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Anna and I share a lot. I’m just glad that we don’t share everything.