Day 10 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness Month
By guest blogger Annaka Vimahi (Utah)
I have wanted to be a mother as long as I can remember. You can imagine the heartache my husband and I experienced when we didn’t have our first child for almost 9 ½ years. I felt so much joy when our son finally arrived, but I also felt a twinge of fear. I couldn’t explain it. I just didn’t feel that everything was all right. After Nami’s birth I was told both apgar scores were 9, and I tried to have that great news reassure me that we had a healthy boy. It didn’t. I just couldn’t shake the feeling inside me that something was wrong. I tried to convince myself that it was just because I wasn’t used to receiving good news, considering many challenges I’d had up to that point in my life. I tried to tell myself that I was being a pessimistic person and that I should enjoy my dream to be a mother finally coming true.
A couple of significant things happened in the hospital after Nami was born that didn’t seem quite so significant at the time. First, he basically came out arching his back. My mom questioned my dad (Nami’s pediatrician) about it. I could see my dad trying to keep an open mind and discussing many possibilities of why this was. One was that sometimes babies with neurological issues do that. Second, a CNA noticed a weird heart beat and notified the other staff. An EKG was ordered and the results came back as normal. We left the hospital being told we had a healthy baby boy.
I kind of succeeded in being able to relax for the first three weeks of Nami’s life, enjoying lots of cuddle time. When Nami was three weeks old, I took him to my parents’ for my sister to take some pictures of him. Near the end of the photo shoot, I noticed two white spots on the back of Nami’s leg. I am embarrassed of my reaction now, but at the time I started freaking out. I started to cry and ask, “How could my beautiful child have to have such ugly spots on his leg? Are they birthmarks? Is it vitiligo? This is so unfair!”
I remember badgering my dad with questions about the marks. He remained calm like he always does when I’m frantic about something. I told him that I had had a dream about my son having vitiligo and I just knew that’s what it was. He told me not to get ahead of myself, but that he would call the dermatologist and see what he thought. I left that night feeling angry that my son’s physical appearance wasn’t perfect. I thought, “How could this happen to us after we endured so much before he arrived?”
Over the next couple of days I noticed more white spots appearing. (I now know that Nami was born with the white spots, but as his jaundice went down and the pigment of his skin appeared, the white spots started to appear.) We finally heard from the dermatologist who suggested using a cream to see if it was eczema and we could clear it up. I was a bit suspicious that my dad wasn’t telling me everything so I pressed him about what else these spots could mean. He said that sometimes spots like this could be ashleaf spots and are a sign of a very rare neurological disorder, but that he didn’t want me to have to worry about that until we ruled out eczema. I let the issue go, but I felt that my dad was trying to protect me from something he knew was a possibility…something that was really bad.
For the next couple weeks I put the cream on Nami religiously. I checked his spots multiple times a day and even convinced myself at one point that they were getting better. Then I checked the next day and they were still there, as clear as ever. We made an appointment to see the dermatologist. I continued to feel like my dad knew more details than he was telling me. I feel now that he was hoping that he was wrong in thinking that it was TSC and he wanted to get the dermatologist’s opinion before verifying the horrible news.
While at the appointment, I could quickly see that we were not going to receive good news. The dermatologist tried to mask his sadness for us as he confirmed that the white spots were ashleaf spots and that he felt our son likely had Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). He printed off a couple of pages from one of his medical books to read over. I felt my body instantly go numb. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. That night I cried and cried and cried. I hugged Nami tight as my tears drenched his head. The dermatologist and my dad tried to keep reassuring me that there was so much variation within this disease and not to think of the worst. But, there that feeling was again. I knew something was horribly wrong. I felt my child would have it all.
It’s amazing to me how little I knew about TSC at the time considering the knowledge I’ve gained with my new obsession over the last four years. I recorded my thoughts in an email to my family the next day:
“So, what do I know? This is most likely a genetic mutation that can cause many problems. The problems range from neurological problems such as Parkinson’s and seizures to a 50% chance of mental retardation. ADHD, autism and tumors on various organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys are all possibilities. Major skin problems, eye problems and teeth problems are also possibilities. It’s difficult for us to know what Nami will have to endure until he gets some testing and experiences things as he grows. Dad is a lot more familiar with correct side-effects than I am. My mind is not too sharp right now, so I don’t want to say something wrong. I know the biggest thing we need to do is some genetic testing. It seems that dad also told us of about 5 specialists we’d need to see right away. We’ll need to get an EKG and brain wave test, an MRI and eye testing as well as some other tests that I can’t remember. He will have to get an MRI and eye test yearly. Whew…this is overwhelming!
This summer will be very different than what I expected and it’s only the beginning. I kinda feel like I deserved more of a break than I received with struggles, but I guess that’s selfish. Salesi and I have been through so much and grown through it all. During our most difficult times I felt that we were being prepared for something else. Those thoughts SCARED me but I guess I was right. It seemed quite a pessimistic view on life, but I’ve learned to be very tentative with good news. I’ve learned to try not to get so excited because it seems like disappointment is always around the corner. Throughout Nami’s birth, I took all good news in stride but had a dull gnawing sense that I didn’t know everything. My thinking throughout his short life and in the past has been that our child would be autistic. I am wishing that was it. I am wishing that what was first a disappointing discovery of what I thought were birthmarks were just that. My perspective on life has changed in an instant. Now I can see that ALL the difficulties I’ve experienced in my life have prepared me to be ready to take care of this special child. I am not shocked at this news although I can’t express the heartbreak I feel. I think I was prepared to receive this news so that I would be able to stay sane and make the choices I need to that are in Nami’s best interest.”
So far it has been a really tough road for us. Nami didn’t get the easier road with TSC (I say that knowing that “easy” and “TSC” do NOT belong in the same sentence). We have been told he has hundreds of brain tumors (no one is able to count exactly how many because there are too many), both cortical tubers and numerous SENs. He has an eye tumor, dozens of heart tumors (including one on his mitral valve which makes his blood kind of backwash), kidney tumors and cysts, and he already has 3 skin manifestations of the disease. He started having infantile spasms when he was 4 months old and has endured seizures most days of his life. He is currently having anywhere between 100-300 seizures daily despite being on 4 anti-epileptic medicines. We have made numerous trips to the ER due to seizures we cannot stop. Most of the time he is admitted. Our son has stopped breathing twice and had to be intubated and life-flighted both times. Nami is autistic. He can only say a few words and most of the time he only says them with prompting. He has major behavioral issues and at times he lashes out and can be destructive. He does not have good sleeping patterns. I feel like Nami would be much worse off were it not for my dad, though, the best pediatrician in the world (no I am not biased =).
I think back on the day I first saw Nami’s white spots. Oh how I wish now that the marks had just been birthmarks. It’s amazing how perspectives change so quickly. In a few short weeks I went from being extremely vain to wishing for all my son to have is some simple marks on his skin. Despite all of Nami’s challenges, I would not change him for anything. He is the light of our lives. He endures so much yet he smiles and laughs a lot. He loves his little brother. He sees the world in a unique way and teaches us to take time to see things his way too. He brings light to everyone who comes in contact with him. He hugs people. He makes us want to be better people. Every accomplishment he makes is a HUGE celebration. He is a FIGHTER! We are so blessed to have him as our son.
- Advance in tuberous sclerosis brain science (medicalxpress.com)