THIS is ALD #23 — Mason

Are there any GOOD ALD stories? I guess we need to define the word GOOD.

good
/ɡo͝od/
adjective
“a good quality of life”

 

Jack (THIS is ALD #1), as a GOOD ALD story. He’s happy and can walk and see and hear and laugh. Although his life is full of challenges, we’re grateful that he’s enjoying a wonderful quality of life. If you look through the previous 22 THIS is ALD stories we’ve shared, you will find other GOOD stories, but sadly ALD is not a disease known for GOOD stories. As Newborn Screening spreads across the country (the world), GOOD stories will take over. Until then, a determined family, curious doctors and a lot of luck needs to come together for GOOD to happen. Mason had all three.

 

THIS is ALD.jpgTHIS is ALD #23 — Mason

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Mason was born on March 19, 2011- completely healthy according to doctors. When he was 4 years old, he was admitted to the hospital for the first time. He had gotten sick out of nowhere — started vomiting and could not get out bed on his own. In the hospital, all the tests they ran were negative, so after a few nights we were sent home with no answers. They said it was just a virus.

Everything went back to normal for close to a year when the same thing happened, but this time with a fever. Mason started vomiting and became weak and dehydrated and refused to get out of bed. He was admitted to the hospital for a few days and again all the tests came back negative and we were sent home being told it was just a virus. Three to six months later, it happened again and then again in December, 2017. It was the forth time he was admitted to the hospital with similar symptoms. Luckily, that time an endocrinologist was asked to come see him. The doctor reviewed Mason’s charts and immediately ordered an adrenal test. Mason was diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency and put on hydrocortisone. Before we left the hospital, the endocrinologist mentioned the word “Adrenoluekodystrophy” (ALD), but didn’t give us many details. All he said was that Mason was not showing any signs of the disease (other than the adrenal insufficiency), but to be safe, he ordered an MRI to rule it out.

The MRI was scheduled for January 25, 2018. After Mason had his MRI, I started Googling ALD, and convinced myself he did not have it because we had no family history of the diseases and he was not showing any symptoms. His appointment with the neurologist to review his MRI was on February 19, 2018 and I was calm leading up the meeting. February 19th arrived, and we got the news I thought for sure we would never hear — Mason had ALD.

I broke down and was terrified that Mason would start showing signs of the disease quickly. Our neurologist called Dr. Lund at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital (Dr Lund is a leader in ALD treatment). Within a couple of weeks we were heading to Minnesota for our consultation for a bone marrow transplant (BMT). We were there for a week and found out Mason’s LOES Score (a determination used to rate the severity of the progression of the disease – it ranges from 0-34) was between a 3 and 4 and he was a good candidate for a BMT.

Instead of starting the process right away, they sent us home to wait for insurance to approve the treatment. That was the longest and most stressful month of our lives. Waiting on our Michigan Medicaid to approve an out-of-state BMT that was considered a “trial or experiment” (BMT, if successful, stops the progression of the disease, but is not considered a cure). For a month, a day did not go by without me crying on the phone with the insurance company or the doctors in Minnesota.

 

At the beginning of April, we finally received approval from insurance and were told that our doctors found and 8 out of 8 cord blood match. Mason had his transplant on April 26, 2018 and it went better than doctors expected. We were discharged from the hospital only 12 days post transplant.

I know Mason’s story is a miracle and I have not heard many other ALD stories as positive as ours. We are very blessed to have had the transplant in time and that Mason continues to be symptom free (with the exception of adrenal insufficiency). Michigan does not do the ALD newborn screening yet, but will soon hopefully.

-Erica

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Reading Mason’s story gave me chills. My hope is that stories like his will be the new face of our disease. An early diagnose, treatment, followed by a healthy life.

I’m by no means saying that ALD will ever be an easy diagnosis. Even with the “luck” of having that endocrinologist being wise enough to test for adrenal insufficiency and then following up with the MRI which properly diagnosed Mason, his family faced a lot of challenges. Fighting with insurance companies, financial responsibilities connected to treatment/travel/etc, the pain/discomfort/agony of a transplant — all these things will never make ALD an easy diagnosis. Still, the future looks bright(er).

And, Mason’s smile is super bright!

Thank you Erica for sharing Mason’s ALD story.

Love, Jess

hApPy NeW yEaR!!!!!

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I find the whole New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day thing ridiculous. Why on earth do we put so much pressure on one night to be awesomely fabulous and one day to represent “new beginnings” that are going to change our lives forever? Has anyone ever really had the best night of their lives on December 31st OR ever made a change on January 1st that lasted more than a month (or week, or day)?

This year I promised myself to give up New Year’s pressure – telling myself that it’s just another date on the calendar. Unfortunately, that promise lasted less time then any New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever made. Starting weeks ago, people start asking about our plans for the evening. And, suddenly every email I received was either from a local gym or Weight Watchers asking if I was ready to make another attempt to lose that 10 pounds.

I could have let it all wash passed me, but I couldn’t help myself. I signed up for a 10 class package at Baker Street Yoga, rejoined Weight Watchers (now called WW), started Googling “Dry January”, and found myself saying to anyone who asked about our New Year’s Eve plans, “We don’t really have any plans. You guys should come over.”

I’m sitting with JackO as I write this, telling him about how his crazy mom is wondering who exactly is coming over later AND how many WW points are in a Moscow Mule. He’s laughing at me. Jack doesn’t worry about dates on the calendar. He’s just happy he is going to have some visitors later today and hoping that they bring him treats full of tons of WW points.

I’m adding to my New Year’s Resolutions – I wanna live my life more like Jack.

Wishing everyone a Happy LIVE LIKE JACK New Year!

Love, Jess

PS If you live locally – please feel free to stop by. Apparently we’re having a party;)

… and to all a good night

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Anyone else exhausted? Our Christmas was filled with endless food, drink, gifts, games and people we love. We had a great holiday, but I’m ready for bed.

Happy Holidays to all of our Duct Tape! We are grateful for each and every one of you!!!

Love, Jess, Dan, Jack, Anna, Keegan and Finn

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One more (wo)man down.

When Jack was in the hospital for his transplant 11+ years ago, there wasn’t much consistency to our days. We would wake up every morning with no idea what the day would bring. Waiting for blood counts, blood transfusions, good news and bad news would trade places several times a day. There was only one thing we could count on — at some point during the day, we would see Mymom.

She would ride her fold-up bike to Washington Heights from her Upper East Side apartment, climb off the bike, flash her visitor’s badge at the front desk of the hospital and head for the elevators. By the time she would reach room 505 there would be no hint that she had just ridden her bike up the gritty city streets in the summer heat.         

Mymom is a woman who you will never see with a hair out of place. Whether she’s sporting her Upper East Side style or Santa Fe hippie chick, she pulls it off. She’s a beauty. Always has been, but the word elegant is a better description of who she is. I look a little like her, but I will never hold myself the way she does. She also happens to be brilliant – a Phd holding, Red Cross working, dynamo with boundless energy. My mother doesn’t ever do anything half-way – even those hospital visits 11+ years ago.

I’m not sure I ever really thanked Mymom for her daily visits while Jack was in the hospital, but this week I got a chance to start to repay the favor. Mymom got a shoulder replacement week. You read that right — it’s the month of shoulders in our family — first Dan, then our Aunt Kathy and now Mymom.

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After a couple of years of fighting her shoulder, Mymom finally gave in and scheduled the surgery. Her biggest worries were that she would need to cancel her Christmas Eve party and what clothes she’d be able to wear. My biggest worries were about Mymom slowing down enough to let her body heal and if I could talk her into binge watching Bravo so we could discuss Dirty John (it’s so gooooooood). I also worried about how I could help as much as she helped us all those years ago.

There really wasn’t much I could do, but be there this week. I went back and forth, providing a little distraction and I wasn’t the only person eager to hang with Mymom. Of corse Nonno has been at her side every step of the way and both of my brothers, my beautiful niece and our cousin spent time in her room sharing gossip and telling stories. It ended up being an unexpected family reunion.

As I left the hospital yesterday, Mymom commented that it’s been such fun having the family together. I looked at her in her hospital bed wearing nothing but a hospital gown and a hint of lipstick left from her attempt to “clean up before her visitors arrived”. I thought, wow — the power of family.

I’m hoping that the next time we all get together Mymom is able to enjoy it while wearing her ultra chic clothes and not a sling.

Love, Jess

Mymom is heading home today and Anna and I are going for a visit tomorrow and meeting up with Kate and Baby Carlos – THAT will make everyone feel great!

THIS is ALD #22 — Alexis, Gerald and Jacob

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a THIS is ALD story, so I reached out to our ALD community. Within a few minutes I heard from several families willing to share their stories. The first is from Kiomara.  

THIS is ALD #22 — Alexis, Gerald and Jacob.

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When I was 8-years-old, my 6-year-old brother Alexis suddenly lost his vision. After a long week at the Puerto Rico University Pediatric Hospital, the doctors told my parents that my brother had Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). My parents traveled with my brother to Baltimore, MD where they met with Dr. Hugo Moser and Dr. Raymond (leaders in ALD at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at the time). They were told that it was too late for a BMT (bone marrow transplant), but Alexis started taking Lorenzo’s Oil (a mixture of oils thought to slow the progression of the disease). Alexis stayed with us for 12 years, until he lost his battle when he was 18-years-old.

It was a terrible loss for our family, but my sister and I say that Alexis saved his two nephews’ lives. My 31-year-old sister has a 7-year-old son. His name is Gerald. He was diagnosed with ALD at birth because we knew that we were carriers. I am 33-years-old and I have an 18-month-old son named Jacob. When he was born I requested that he be tested for ALD and two weeks later I was told that Jacob tested positive for ALD.

Now we have a long way to go to prevent this disease from winning. Trusting in God and with our angel, Alexis, we know we will win. My sister left Puerto Rico and now lives in Massachusetts and my nephew is evaluated every 6 months by Dr. Eichler (a leader in ALD at Massachusetts General Hospital). I live in Georgia and travel annually for Jacob to be evaluated by Dr. Eichler. Thanks to my beautiful brother, my son and nephew are being monitored and will be treated early if there are any signs of active disease.

I hate this ALD, and don’t want to lose anymore boys in my family to this horrible disease. 

— Kiomara

*******

Learning about Kiomara’s brother Alexis and how he saved his nephew’s lives, made me think about the importance of Newborn Screening. Newborn Screening is a huge topic in the ALD community. ALD is currently on the Newborn Screening Panel in 10 states, will be testing soon in another 5 states and are mobilizing efforts in 12 others. Why is it so important? Because it gives the power back to the family. 

Without an early diagnosis, Alexis was not able to be treated and the disease continued to progress. Because the family knew to look for ALD following Alexis’ passing, Gerald and Jacob had the luxury of an early diagnosis. Their families are working with a top ALD doctor and the boys are being closely monitored. If there is any hint of the disease starting to progress, they are prepared to begin treatment quickly — before significant damage can occur. Looking at the photos of these beautiful boys, I’m grateful that their stories will be different than many with ALD. They are the future of our disease. A future that is far brighter than past generations.

Thank you Kiomara for sharing your family’s story.

Love, Jess

(another) man down

Generally, I’m a really good caregiver. I’m not patting myself on the back – I’m the first to admit that I’m not great at a whole lot of things, but if you ever need someone to hang with you while you’re waiting in doctor’s offices or recovering from surgery or binge watching mindless television with your feet up, I’m your gal. 

I don’t mind dressing changes, I’m good with organizing medication and I know my way around the kitchen. I’m also not scared of those awkward, messy situations that can come up. I’ve had piles of experience with such things.

 That said, I’m a little tired right now and likely not winning any awards for Caregiver of the Year.

Dan had shoulder surgery last week. Poor guy has tried everything from physical therapy to chiropractors to some guy who I’ve only heard called The Witch Doctor who filled Dan’s arm full of electrical stimulation. Nothing worked, so Dan finally gave in and scheduled surgery.

Nothing huge, but I was a little nervous about what to expect. It was Dan’s first surgery – ever (impressive for a person 51 years old) and I wasn’t sure how he’d be as a patient and how PATIENT I would be with a new patient to care for. Dan, always wanting to limit my stress, often down-plays things. Leading up to the surgery, he’d refer to the recovery as “a day or two”. Even as we drove to the appointment last Thursday, he was sharing that he would be starting PT within a few days was looking forward to a party we were invited to on Saturday night.

I suspected that Dan was being a little overly optimistic, and when I walked into the recovery room my suspicions were confirmed. My strong, handsome husband looked like he’d been in a fight. When I set him up on the couch when we got home I started to really appreciate that he wouldn’t be able to do much for a while.

You never really appreciate how much someone does, until they can’t.

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Caring for Jack requires a lot, but after 11+ years, days go by without much thought about the details. I’m the primary caregiver during the week, but nights and weekends Dan and I split the responsibilities. Without any planning, we take turns brushing and bathing and feeding our boy. Not that there is never confusion over whether or not Jack got his afternoon meds and you might hear us bribing each other to take a turn feeding Jack when we’re out at a restaurant – but mostly things run pretty smoothly.

I’m used to taking 100 percent of the responsibilities when Dan is traveling, but this has been the first time that Dan is here and not able to help. He’s down an arm and caring for Jack requires two. So does cooking, walking the dogs, doing the dishes and the laundry, and driving. He’s making a great recovery, but I don’t think Jack duty (or Jack doody) is in Dan’s future any time soon. Jack is strong and I’m not sure he can appreciate how careful he needs to be with his Dad. For now, I’m in charge of all meals, bedtimes, showers, medications, errands, and poop.

It’s no ones fault and it isn’t the end of the world, but last night as I was falling asleep, I wondered if there was any way that I could plan a little surgery for myself sometime soon.

Love, Jess

Dan skipped that party on Saturday night. I went with friends and did my best to be festive enough to represented us both. Boy did I miss having Dan take the morning shift yesterday;)

I say I am doing things solo, but I do have some help. Thank you Lilly and Maria for everything you do for us!!!!!!

no need for a recount

I try not to get political on this blog. One reason is that I know that there probably isn’t anything I could say that would ever change anyone’s mind AND I’m guessing that considering I’m a pot-brownie baking, Latin American born woman who has a son with disabilities/pre-existing conditions and a daughter who is set to break many glass ceilings – you know where I stand.

In the last two years, the word president has taken on a new definition. Often more of a punchline than a title of respect and honor. So, when I saw this poster hanging on the walls of CPNJ Horizon High School a few months ago I was rather surprised. Who would want THAT job?

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You know our boy is always up for a challenge. Jack ran his campaign with the motto of being the “voice of the high school”. I can assure you that it was not an empty promise. Jack may not speak, but he understands everything and has the pulse on what is important to his classmates. He listens, he understands, and he knows how to get things done. My guess is that had he won, there would have been a few extra dance parties added to the calendar this year.

That’s right. Jack did not win. He lost to a very worthy opponent and Jack conceded with grace. From what I understand he shook the new president’s hand and wished him well (with his iPAD).

When I got the news, I can’t say that my first reaction was as full of grace. It was more, “What the F*%&!?!? How did my boy NOT win!?!?!”Jack’s life fell apart 11 years ago, but we glued (or taped) it back together and now he should get EVERYTHING he wants!!!”

Once I caught my breath, I laughed. Who needs all that work anyway? Besides, I love that his school doesn’t have an “all kids win everything” policy. Just because the students have complicated lives, doesn’t mean that they can’t handle some disappointments. In fact, I’d argue that this is a crew can handle more than most people in Washington.

Still, I worried a little about how Jack was feeling, so I picked him up early and greeted him with a big hug. He didn’t seem an worse for wear. I told him how proud of him we all are and that he should be proud that he ran an honest campaign without any outside interference from Russia. Then, I reminded him that he still won the popular vote at our house. He popped me on the head, smiled and got in the car.

Jack’s up for his next challenge. Maybe Prom King?
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Love, Jess

Halloween 2016 – we thought it was funny. Elections don’t always go as expected.

 

Our Thanksgiving Chime

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The calm before the storm

We have an alarm that sounds every time the front door opens — a two-note chime. It’s usually followed by Finn (bad dog) barking loudly and racing to see who’s arrived and how long he can get away with jumping all over them. Last week, the constant chime exhausted poor Finn so that by Wednesday, all he could manage was to lift his head off the couch for a second to see who’d walked in the door before returning to his nap. 

At the beginning of the week, I too would race to see who’d arrived so that I could give them some love and offer them a snack or something to drink. After a couple of days, I figured everyone knew that I loved them and how to walk to the kitchen.

Anna was home for Thanksgiving (THANKS GOODNESS) and our dear friends – the Mackays – joined us for the holiday week. An extra five people and a dog, adding some noise to our “far too quiet since Anna left for college” house.

We invited another ten people and two dogs for Thanksgiving Day. Nineteen humans, five dogs, two turkeys (one fried), six pies, two stuffings, bourbon sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, cranberry sauce, and more wine then our poor recycling cans could manage. Crazy, delicious, fun AND constant door chimes.

We said goodbye after Thanksgiving dinner to ten guests and two dogs, but added two more people on Friday (my best friend from college, Enger, and Katie Mackays roommate, Hanna). I feared we’d not have the energy to entertain them, but we managed. We even threw in a little party on Saturday night to round off the week!

The front door kept on chiming.

Yesterday we woke up and everyone did their part cleaning up the house, stripping beds and starting the laundry. Then, one by one everyone headed out – back to college, work, reality. I usually love the quiet after the storm of a holiday, but everything was so perfect last week, that I really didn’t want it to end.

I’ve been stressing lately about some things, but when it comes down to it, our lives are wonderful. Our friends, our family – they’re really all that matters. I can’t wait for the holidays to continue. We need some time with the Torrey side – and our door needs to go back to chiming!!

Love, Jess

PS Anna comes home in 17 days and the Mackays promised to come for New Years!!!!

 

give me some NOISE!!

In the old days – before Anna left for college – I loved that moment when I closed the front door after putting Jack on the bus. Besides my four-legged friends, I had a quiet house to myself for the next seven hours. The mornings at our house are rather chaotic, and the silence of that moment was a welcome guest. These days, I close the door and crave some noise.

The quiet is driving me nuts!!!

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I’ve always loved every inch of our girl, but I never appreciated the noise Anna omitted. The music blaring from the bathroom as she showered. The sound of her feet pounding up and down the stairs as she searched for her missing keys. Her screaming down from her third floor hideaway that she will be down for breakfast in, “JUST ONE MORE MINUTE!!”

And, the afternoons were filled with more noisy commotion. Anna would walk in the door from school sharing tales from the high-school hallways. Crazy teachers, teenage gossip, mean girls, unfair/interesting/unusual assignments. Often her boyfriend, Will, would be at her side filling any gaps in the conversation with stories of his own. I sometimes wished that they would slow down and catch a breath, but now I miss those loud afternoons.

It’s not just me who is missing the noise. I need to be careful about the silence with JackO, especially when Dan is away. Dan’s always traveled more than most, and our family has adapted over the years. I hate when he’s gone for more than a few days, but short trips have always been fine. A time to simplify dinners, finish house projects and catch up on Bravo. Now when he travels, I’m finding I need to fill our time and the silence with more than just frozen dinners, cleaning closets and Real Housewives.

Yesterday, I picked up Jack from school and we came home, made dinner, ate dinner and started our hydration/medication routine when I realized that we hadn’t said a word for over an hour. To be fair, Jack hasn’t said a word in 11 years, but I have no excuse. Just because he doesn’t speak, doesn’t mean that Jack doesn’t crave some conversation.

Last night when I noticed the silence filling our house, I quickly turned on some music and started telling Jack stories about my day. Then we sat down and face-timed Anna and then Dan. This morning I made sure to get through our morning routine with more than just CBS News filling the air. We chatted, looked at Jack Mackay’s video (one of our Jack’s oldest friends, favorite humans and now one of his heros) a dozen times, and took some pictures.

First he strangles — then he demands a kiss;)

 

After Jack got on the bus and I closed the front door, I thought of all the things I could do to continue filling my day with noise. I turned up the music and reminded myself that Dan gets home soon and our noisy girl gets home on Friday! Life is good.

Love, Jess

PS Next week I suspect I will be sharing that I need some quiet — 19 people and 5 dogs are coming for Thanksgiving. I can’t wait!!!!!!!!!

Mr. Bus

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Last week Jack’s bus driver told me that he was retiring. I’d be lying if I said that we had a close relationship. Sure, I’ve seen Mr. Bus every weekday morning for the last couple of years, but mostly it’s been a series of quick hellos and goodbyes. That said, I did make a point of telling myself to grab a little gift for him as a thank you.

I forgot.

Friday morning I remembered and started scrambling around the house searching for a gift. I usually have some Amazon gift cards handy (you should see the list of teacher gifts we deliver twice a year), but I couldn’t find anything. Then it occurred to me that I could give Mr. Bus a copy of Smiles and Duct Tape. I wrapped up the book with a big gold bow and as I handed it to Mr. Bus I said, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for Jack and his buddies. All these kids have a story. This book is Jack’s story.”

He looked down at the book and I couldn’t help but think he was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a gift card or a nice box of chocolates, but he said, “Thank you.”. I stepped off the bus, closed the door, waved goodbye and walked back into the house — that was it. People often come and go in life without much of an impact.

To my surprise, Mr. Bus returned to our house on Monday. He explained that the new driver couldn’t start for a few days. Then, he said that he’d started the book and wanted to thank me for sharing it, “All these years and I loved working with these kids, but never gave much thought as to how they got here.”

It was sweet and I was relieved that my gift hadn’t ended up on a dusty shelf. We spoke for a few minutes about Jack, our family and Mr. Bus’ retirement plans. Then I stepped off the bus, closed the door, waved goodbye and walked back into the house.

This morning Mr Bus arrived and announced that today was officially his last day. I put Jack in his seat and asked Mr. Bus if I could give him a hug goodbye. He didn’t hesitate. He got out of his seat, climbed off the bus and walked around to the sidewalk. We hugged like old friends, then he grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said, “Mrs. Torrey, I finished the book and I want you to know that before God comes to take you home, you’re going to hear Jack’s voice again. I had one of those dreams last night.”

I couldn’t really speak through the tears that were suddenly pouring out of me. All I could do was nod and say, “Thank you.”

Mr. Bus climbed back into the bus, gave me a wave goodbye and pulled away. I stood frozen on the sidewalk.

People often come and go in life without much of an impact. Sometimes all you need to do is give a little and it’s amazing what you can get back.

Love, Jess