Day 4 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness Month
By guest blogger Lana DenHarder (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Brian and I had been married for four years. Like most first-time parents we were excited to be expecting a baby and equally excited to have an ultrasound to learn the gender. We had spent weeks talking about names and imagining how the child would look, wondering what personality traits they would have, if they would get my clumsiness gene or Brian’s athletic abilities.
My first ultrasound was around nine weeks to verify dates, and I had another ultrasound around 16 weeks to learn the gender. We were pleased to learn we were having a boy. Brian’s visions of teaching the baby to play ball and coaching little league were starting to become a reality. Shortly after we learned we were having a boy we decided on the name, Cole Ryan.
My prenatal visits went along as planned. I jokingly told my doctor (whom I absolutely love) that I was disappointed that we didn’t get any good pictures of Cole at the first ultrasound and maybe I needed to have another. We both laughed! As my pregnancy moved along, around 30 weeks my doctor said that Cole was measuring small and maybe it was time for another ultrasound just to make sure we had the correct dates and that there was nothing wrong. I was thrilled because that meant I would have more pictures for his baby book. The ultrasound was scheduled a week or two later at our local hospital and I met Brian there…with a full bladder, as instructed. The tech took us back to the room and we were geeked to see Cole on the monitor. We asked goofy questions and the tech quietly answered them and then told us to wait and she would be right back. That should have been our first indication something was wrong. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, she didn’t return. Brian went out to try and find someone because my bladder was still full! The tech said we needed to wait in the room. Ten more minutes had passed and the tech returned with a doctor who looked at the monitor some more. He then said to get dressed and wait in the waiting room. Brian and I looked at each other oddly because after my previous ultrasound we didn’t need to wait around.
Waiting was torture. The doctor walked in and said he had spoken with the radiologist and they found a tuber on Cole’s heart. My heart sank. Brian and I were not expecting this at all. Ten minutes ago we were joking around and now our world was falling apart. That was the first time we heard the words Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). He told us we needed to follow up with our doctor in the morning. Brian and I walked out to our cars, a million things spinning around in our heads, hugged and said we would talk when we got home. I watched Brian pull away as I sat sobbing while trying to call my mom on the phone.
Our doctor referred us to a high risk OB to assess the situation. They confirmed that it was likely that Cole would have TSC but an official diagnosis had to wait until birth. I had weekly appointments and ultrasounds. At 37 weeks the doctors believed that the tuber was blocking blood flow to the heart and they needed to get Cole out. They tried to mentally prepare us for heart surgery within hours of birth. I was induced on September 4, 2006 (Labor Day that year) and Cole was immediately taken to the NICU. After additional scans, we learned that Cole also had tubers in his brain, too many to count. The next 25 days felt like months. Most nights I would go home and quietly cry myself to sleep, hoping that Brian wouldn’t notice.
Cole was touch and go for a while but didn’t need heart surgery after all. He developed complications and one night we almost lost him. I will never forget the day he turned grey. September 13th. Looking back, at the time we didn’t realize just how sick Cole was. The day before we were supposed to take Cole home he had his first shutter spell (seizure). He left the hospital on a seizure medication.
The first couple of months were normal, or as normal as we thought they would be as first-time parents. Cole was eating well and very snuggly, however he was starting to miss typical milestones. We started Early On Therapy, and eventually physical therapy, to help strengthen his core. Cole started to have infantile spasms at 6 months and the day after his first birthday he had his first grand mal seizure. Within Cole’s first year we had tried various seizure meds and nothing worked. Our one last hope before trying ACTH was the Ketogenic Diet. Brian and I thought about it and it made sense to us. Cole wasn’t eating solid table foods yet, and he hadn’t developed a taste for bad foods that we would have to take away for the diet, so this seemed like a good time. Cole was admitted to the hospital and three days later he went home on the diet. Within a few months we noticed a reduction in his spasms and no more grand mals. He was on the diet for three years. In the end, we decided to stop the diet because he started to fall off the growth chart.
During a routine urology appointment, after the doctor preformed an ultrasound, he had to tell us that multiple tubers had started to grow on both of Cole’s kidneys. Cole was three years old. We are fortune to live in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a fantastic Children’s Hospital, Spectrum Health and DeVos Children’s Hospital. Up until this point, all of Cole’s care could be managed by various specialists locally. After learning of the kidney tubers, we contacted the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance and asked for recommendations for a nephrologist. That is when we found Dr. Bissler at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. We spoke with Dr. Bissler over the phone and made an appointment to get a second option on a care plan. Dr. Bissler was fantastic. He took the time to talk to us and make sure we understood all of the options. We agreed with Dr. Bissler and decided to move forward with kidney surgery to embolize the largest tubers. They were the size of golf balls. During Cole’s six month post op visit with Dr. Bissler, we discussed the benefits of Afinitor for Cole’s kidneys and SEGA. Dr. Bissler had also introduced us to Dr. Franz. Dr. Bissler discussed Cole’s history with Dr. Franz, and they both agreed that Cole could benefit from Afinitor. He started it in February 2011. We have noticed many positive changes in Cole, in addition to the kidney tubers shrinking and a slight decrease of the size of the SEGA.
In addition to the heart and kidney tubers, Cole has tubers on his eye and skin lesions.
Cole is considered globally delayed and is on the autism spectrum. He started attending a special needs preschool when he was two. Watching the bus drive away with my son was scary, but I realize that was one of the best decisions we have made. Cole’s development slowly improved. He learned to crawl when he was 2 1/2, walk when he was 3 ½ years old and his speech continues to improve. Today, he has close to 60 words and phrases. He currently attends a special needs school where he has fabulous teachers and support and continues to make positive strides. I believe the Afinitor has helped him come out of the medical haze he was in and is allowing him to move forward with his development. We have noticed the biggest change in him in the last two years since starting Afinitor. He is making intentional eye contact, attempting to repeat new words, initiating play, self feeding, and demonstrating appropriate responses when asked to do simple tasks.
We often hear people comment and ask how we do it. There are definitely challenges to raising Cole, but he was our first child and we don’t know any different. In our minds, this is normal. We also have a three-year-old daughter, Lauren. Brian and I were tested and we do not have the TS gene. Lauren does not exhibit any characteristics of TS so we decided not to have her tested. Our lives are full of doctors’ appointments, therapy sessions, sleepless nights, stress, worry and wonder. Cole has closed the gap on his physical challenges (walking) and now we struggle with behavioral (biting and scratching) and emotional issues. In spite of these challenges, Cole is a lovable, happy, determined 6 ½ year old little boy who loves to snuggle, sing (in his own way), spin balls, ride his bike, swing and run around the backyard. He is on three different seizures meds and is seizure free. It is difficult to look too far in to the future because we never know what will happen, but I can say that things are starting to calm down and feel a little normal.
Cole’s care continues to be managed locally and with the Cincinnati TS Clinic. We are very fortunate that Brian’s and my family live close and are willing to help with whatever we need. We definitely couldn’t do this alone. Cole is such a joy and we are very blessed to be his parents.