My first child of four was born in 1971 . She lived until 2003, 32 short years. She was a joy, a beautiful baby , and I was a young 23-year-old teacher.When she was about eight months, she started crying for no reason. Then she seemed to stop smiling and rolling over, and later she started jerking her head down in a series of movements. Frantic trips to doctors’ offices found nothing wrong. I was an “overly concerned mom,” and ” it was nothing” I was told. The few funny white spots I noticed at three weeks, were also “nothing,” and the fact that she didn’t lift her chest or head up from lying on her stomach was “weak shoulder muscles.” Every doctor I saw dismissed my concerns. I wanted to believe it was nothing, but in my gut I knew something was wrong! Moms always do!
Finally, one day, she had eight separate instances of jerking her head and body in a series. I was alone with her and decided I was not going to take no for an answer any more. I drove to the emergency room and, probably hysterically, told the doctor there that I wasn’t leaving until someone told me what was wrong with my baby! Weirdly enough, the emergency room doctor was moonlighting from local AFB and had a patient, 12 years old, with TSC. He recognized the white spots and my description of the infantile spasms she was having.
He bluntly told me she had TSC and would be handicapped… Would not walk or talk and not live if her seizures weren’t controlled. I cried all the way home.
I was told so many things that proved to be wrong. How rare it was, life expectancy, IQ expectancy, etc. And that there was no definitive genetic or diagnostic test available. And that really there was not one damn answer to any question. Now I know to question, to not believe predictions, to do my research, to develop a tough skin, and to be assertive. Doctors aren’t God. But she taught me all that in time. I took her home, loved her and wondered how I would ever survive her predicted, imminent death, as we struggled to control her seizures, first with meds, and then with ATCH shots. Welcome to the world of medication, seizures, hospitalizations, fears, tears, more tears and special education. That was my new reality. I started to research tuberous sclerosis in many libraries, poured over medical journals, medical books, books on retardation, and epilepsy only to discover what was written about TS was minimal (no internet). The disease was considered very rare, and no real research or awareness had occurred in over 100 years since it was named Bourneville’s disease. No wonder doctors didn’t know much about it. Not much was known period!
I was starting to get angry now, and when I read in the American Association of Mental Deficiency book that the life expectancy was 25 years, I knew then that no one really knew diddly squat! My pediatric neurologist was advocating institutionalization and no one had real information. I became empowered with my anger about no answers and no knowledge. I was a teacher, a reader, and yet I couldn’t find answers. Maddening! I refused to believe there was no hope! By now, she was almost two and I was expecting my second child, Tanya, after a geneticist told us Stacia was a random mutation. My older sister told me about preschool programs for special needs kids and about a magazine called Exceptional Parent. I wrote to it, asking for other parents with TS children to contact me. I thought if there were others out there, we could unite and make our voices heard. We could demand research, a genetic test, and treatments. Support could happen! I dreamed it all!
In two weeks I got 15 letters from all over the USA. Three from California. And one from a mom of a 29 -year-old with TS ,who thought she was the only case in the world. Clearly no one had ever tried to find out how many cases there were (again, no internet yet). To make a long story shorter, I found Adrianne Cohen, Verna and Bill Morris, and Debbie Castruita in California.
We started to meet and plan, write letters, call moms, have meetings and contact doctors. We created a newsletter (run off on a school mimeo machine) and a medical research survey. Adrianne helped us get our first grant, a lawyer friend helped us incorporate as a non-profit and NTSA was born.We knew if we were determined enough we could make a difference. We talked to regional centers, hospitals, child neurologist associations, and put articles in magazines and newspapers. We also hoped for a celebrity to endorse us. We lived and worked on NTSA for years. Then slowly let go and let others take it over when it became a successful reality. Now the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance!
Along the way I had four children, got a divorce, remarried, became a special education teacher and struggled every day to raise my TSC child, Stacia Diaz, and battle her ever growing list of symptoms. She turned out to be severely involved, mentally about three years old, brain tumors, kidney tumors, sleep , appetite problems, autism, and aggressive behaviors. She was verbal at eight and was able to say I love you (and cuss:). She was funny, happy, and taught me and my other children so much. But she also suffered, and we suffered…
And when I look back on the day she was diagnosed and remember the stages of grief I went through to come to acceptance (to learn to love her for who she was, not who I hoped
she’d be), I remember how it was a long and difficult journey. The grief never really ends. Yet today parents have support!
The end, for her, was the hardest. We watched her die in a hospice, after her second remaining and only kidney was so full of tumors that nothing could be done. She could not tolerate dialysis and a transplant. The heartache never really goes away, and I miss her every day, but I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore. I know today the newer kidney drugs might have saved her. But knowing the TS Alliance is making strides in treating TSC kids gives her life…and her death, meaning. Maybe I was her mom for a reason? No parent should bury a child, but even her death made me a better person. She and TSC taught me many life lessons.
I now have Cll leukemia and am doing very well with my own medical battle. But I know Stacia’s courage, her smile through all of her battles with TSC, and seeing her still smiling when she died gives me courage and allows for no self pity. I just want each mom and dad and individual with TSC to know that, though it isn’t fair to have this disease, you CAN, as one person, make a difference in the fight to cure this disease!!!! We moms who started this organization believed that!
It is a battle we are winning. Things are better. There is hope. There is help. You aren’t alone! And every case of TSC is unique.