THIS is LEUKODYSTROPHY #24 — Ethan

For most people, Facebook is all about travel pictures, political comments and dog videos, but for me it’s largely about connecting with the ALD and other Leukodystrophy communities. Last weekend, I stumbled on a post from a mom that I wanted to share. Much of the focus on our diseases lately has about getting an early diagnosis and the newest treatment options. It’s important to remember that some of our families have been living with ALD and similar diseases for a long time. It’s not as thrilling as the new stories, but our boys are beautiful and important too.

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THIS is ALD (ish) #24 — Ethan

9 years ago, Ethan’s father and I were sitting in a neurologists office listening to a doctor tell us, “Your son was misdiagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. He actually has an unknown leukodystrophy – a very rare disease that is progressive”. 

I’ll never forget that day. The doctor had no bedside manner and told me not to Google the disease because awful things will happen to Ethan and then he will pass away. I left that appointment feeling helpless and hopeless. The doctor’s words played over and over again through my head as we drove home and I cried on the highway. I remember looking back at Ethan in his car seat all smiles and happy, not knowing he was very sick. 

For over a year, I let that doctor rule my thoughts “Ethan is dying  — the doctor basically said there is nothing we can do, “Don’t Google the disease”. I would have constant nightmares about Ethan’s funeral and wake up in a panic. I would check on him while he was sleeping to see if he was still breathing. 

A couple years later, we finally met Dr. Eichler (the director of the Leukodystrophy service at MassGeneral Hospital for Children) who has given us nothing but hope and a positive attitude. He genuinely loves Ethan and has never once said, “Awful things will happen to him.” Or, “He is going to die.”

What Dr. Eichler does tell us is, “Look how far he’s come” and, ”Yes this disease is progressive, but Ethan is a fighter”. Ever since meeting Dr. Eichler my outlook on Ethan’s disease has changed. When a doctor actually looks you in the eye, answers your questions, hugs your child, laughs with your child, checks in with you via text, email and phone calls, then you know you have the right doctor. 

Shame on the doctor who gave Ethan a death sentence and no hope! Guess what? I Googled his disease and ended up connecting with amazing families all over the world who share the same life we do. Connecting with other families has been a wonderful experience. Seeing all their pictures and how loved these boys are by their family and friends like Ethan, makes me so happy. And now Dr. Eichler introduced us to another amazing doctor, Dr. Rodan, who has helped give Ethan a better quality of life! I’m so happy these two doctors never gave up on Ethan and I’m so proud of my boy who continues to fight and has an incredible will to live. ❤️

A couple of days later, this mom wrote something else on Facebook that took my breath away . . .

Ethan ten years ago. Before wheelchairs, seizures, helmets, daily medications, and intrusive medical procedures. But some things haven’t changed: Ethan’s giggle, his funny jokes, his amazing personality, his hugs and kisses, his “I love you momma”, his ability to make any task fun, his will to defy the odds, his outlook on life, his ability to live in the moment. All the medical issues might be happening to Ethan, but he doesn’t let them define him or change him. Ethan is still Ethan, he’s my son, he’s my everything. Love you Super Mario boy!

— Jennifer

Thank you Jennifer for allowing me to share a little of Ethan’s story. Ethan is almost 13 now – such a handsome (almost) teenager!

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THIS is ALD #21 — Jack M.

I have known Kerry for many years through social media. We both have sons named Jack and we both know how ALD can effect every inch of every life in an entire family – even when it only takes over one body.

Thank you Kerry for sharing Jack’s story.

THIS is ALD — Jack M.

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Jack was 8-years-old when our family was at my older son’s boot camp graduation at Parris Island. Jack suffered what look like a seizure — months later we figured out it was caused by an adrenal crisis. He was taken from Parris Island to the hospital and then we took him home to Miami the next day. The doctors refused to test for anything specific, simply saying he had Epilepsy. It took several months, and lots of doctors, before Jack was diagnosed with ALD and adrenal insufficiency.

Although the doctors in Miami told us there was no hope, I put Jack on a plane and went to University of Minnesota Hospital (a leader in ALD research and treatment) to see if he would qualify for a bone marrow transplant. They agreed and Jack was transplanted using the precious cells from his brother, the Marine.

After transplant, Jack continued to decline because the cells needed time to get to where they were needed. I’ve homeschooled him his entire life and have been able to adapt all curriculum to where he is at any given time. It also has allowed us to be flexible while we continued to pursue other treatments for him. Over the next several years I took him to North Carolina to see a rare disease doctors and several other states for answers which I eventually figured out on my own. Jack’s disease finally stopped progressing 2 years post-transplant, and he was left requiring full-time care. I am his full-time caregiver. Respiratory issues and adrenal issues keep me on my feet.

ALD has not been the only complication our family has faced. We recently went through hurricane Irma and YES we are still fighting the insurance company to repair the house so we can safely live here. Three times over the last year I have had to travel to take care of my mother who has heart condition and breast cancer. All of this has been the worst case scenario — like the board game, except I don’t hold any cards. I just do whatever is needed at the moment. One step forward, two steps back. I try to just keep pushing forward. My Marine son says I would have made a great Marine — I have been through The Crucible and back.

Since my Jack’s diagnosis and transplant there have been 5 babies born in our family and one expected this July — my grandchildren. All of my grandchildren are healthy. Jack’s ALD was a spontaneous mutation (meaning it was not inherited). ALD is now part of the newborn screening panel in Florida. I often imagine if ALD had been part of the panel when Jack was born – so much of this pain could have been avoided.

So much has happened since ALD struck our family and it’s effected a lot of our lives. I have had children graduate from college numerous times and missed their graduations. I’ve missed grand babies being born. Everything is on the back burner while I care for my son 24/7. It’s also changed the lives of my seven other children. My 23-year-old is my constant help. My 29-year old Marine just receive his third degree from college in bio medical and he also runs a tutoring company that caters to Veterans and hopes to raise money for research to develop an auto injector (to administer steroids) for those with Addison’s Disease. All seven of Jack’s siblings have been contributing to ALD awareness. They have learned first hand how ALD can effect a family. My ex-husband has moved on since Jack’s diagnosis. He is remarried and started a new family and we have no contact. Another dirty side of the storm no one talks about. 

Jack is now 18. When Jack is doing well he has a good quality of life — bowling and baseball, he has even played soccer in his wheelchair. When he’s not well I count the moments and do everything I can to keep him out of the hospital and give him comfort. Sometimes I question putting him through chemo and transplant, but I know I tried and did everything possible at each step of our journey.  Jack is still here. He is still fighting and I will fight with him. I know the Lord has the last say. 

— Kerry

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Kerry is also a children’s book writer and has been a very active volunteer with political campaigns, adding to the bone marrow registry and raising awareness for ALD and newborn screening.

Thank you Kerry for sharing Jack’s story and helping the ALD community spread the word about our not-so-rare disease.

#THISiswhatALDlookslike

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I do some of my best thinking at night. Thanks to a small (kinda broken) bladder, I wake up often and before I fall back asleep, I often have these brief moments of genius. Sometimes I wake up and laugh at the absurdity of my late night ideas, but sometimes I think I’ve actually stumbled onto something good.

I’ve been fighting a wicked cold and have found my late-night-mind-spinning-time has increased exponentially. Lying in bed, cursing my cough and trying to find my way back to sleep, I’ve been thinking a lot about our boy, ten years and ALD.

I’ve shared our story from the beginning of our journey with ALD for a lot of reasons. Initially, it was to keep people posted on Jack’s progress, then it was for me to process the madness in our lives. BUT I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest reasons that I continue sharing is that I want people to see what our lives look like.

Adrenoleukodystrophy is not a disease you can picture by Googling the word. What you find when you Google Adrenoleukodysrophy is words like “demyelinating” and “metabolic,” and “long-chain-fatty acids”. If you dig a little deeper, you find statistics about boys who develop Childhood Cerebral ALD and men who develop Adrenomyloneuropathy (AMN), the percentage of Addison’s Disease reported, even the effects a carrier can develop. But ALD is not just about these facts — it’s about the people that it touches. They each have a story. Some good, some horrific, some somewhere in-between.

In order to really understand the disease you need to meet the people.

I went to a seminar a few weeks ago (run by Maplewood Cultural Affairs) and the cool, young, hip speakers spent a lot of time discussing the importance of social media in promoting your work/causes/etc. Apparently my time on the Facebook (even calling it THE Facebook) was getting a little dated. The seminar gave me an education on Instagram, Twitter and hashtags.

I came home and tried to figure everything out and thanks to my personal IT person – Anna – I got some extra schooling on Twitter and Instagram and finally understand what a hashtag is (FYI #hashtag is not a cool thing to tweet).

I started not just adding #smilesandducttape to archive my writing/photos, but I added #THISiswhatALDlooks like.

A few nights ago while coughing uncontrollably I thought – wouldn’t it be cool if all the other ALD families did the same and we could have a giant archive of who we are? Not just the boys post-transplant with complicated lives, but the boys who have hope thanks to New Born Screening, and the boys on Lorenzo’s Oil, even the boys who have lost their battle but are still alive in the hearts of their friends and family. AND, I picture it being not just our boys, but their siblings, their families, their community.

I’ve come to know many families with our disease and each has a story. I would love it if we could band together and introduce ourselves to all of you. I think if the public can SEE our disease they will understand it more.
Let’s see if we can get this to work – could all the ALD families out there use #THISiswhatALDlookslike to show the public the PEOPLE behind the disease?

Love, Jess

OK – awake Jesse has done some digging now that I understand this whole hashtag thing. #savetheboys #adrenoleukodystrophy  #fuckALD and #aidanhasaposse are 100 steps ahead of me. Not just archiving family photos, but starting a movement to save our boys. Not sure if I am helping or adding to the confusion here. You tell me.

 

#THISiswhatALDlookslike