Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 20
by guest blogger Melissa Marino (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Our story began in November of 2012 when we found out that we were expecting our first child. My entire pregnancy was a breeze, no morning sickness and no complications. Every ultrasound was absolutely perfect and we could not wait for our bundle of joy to arrive. Carter was born on July 11, 2013 weighing 6 pounds and 13 ounces. He was the most beautiful thing that I ever laid eyes on, with his perfect bald head and big chubby cheeks. The first two months were great and he was the happiest, most laid back little boy in the world. In September, shortly after turning 2 months, I began to notice that something was not right with him. He would squint his eyes and his right arm would raise into the air. This happened in clusters several times a day. I immediately took him to the pediatrician and she referred me to see a neurologist at our local hospital. I called that day to schedule an appointment, explaining to them that I believe my two month old is having some sort of seizures. I was given an appointment four weeks away. Seriously?? I am telling you that my baby is having seizures and you politely say that you can fit him into the schedule in four weeks??? I was devastated, so I started doing research using google and the more I read, the more anxious I got.
After about a week of him having these episodes, I finally had enough so we headed to the emergency room. The first thing they told me was not to worry, it is probably just reflux. I was not settling for that answer, so I demanded that they watch the videos and check him out anyway. Finally they ordered an EEG, and sure enough the EEG showed that he was indeed having seizures along with an abnormal heart rhythm. That evening, cardiology came in and told me that Carter has Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome. After a couple days in the hospital, they finally took him down for an MRI. The next morning, the results were in and his MRI was normal. The doctor explained that since they could not find a cause for his seizures, there would be a good chance he would grow out of them. Carter was started on Phenobarbital, which did not work. We were sent home on Keppra and Topamax, but the episodes continued. We went to our cardiology consult where they did an echo of his heart and everything came back fine. The WPW wasn’t causing any symptoms and his heart structure was perfect. I took him back and forth to the hospital for constant EEGs and everyday his seizures were only getting worse. Come October, we were back in the ER. The weird arm movements finally stopped, but now he was having full tonic clonic seizures. I just could not understand what was happening to my baby. His blood work was always normal and his MRI was normal, so again they had no answers for me. I finally agreed to let them do a lumbar puncture on him — at this point we were reaching for any answers. Yet again, another normal test result came back. His tonic clonic seizures continued to increase every day and Vimpat was added, which of course failed. They finally decided to give him high dose steroids through his IV. He would get a couple rounds of Solumedrol and we would take him home on a Prednisone taper. This combination would decrease his seizures by about 80%, but they would always return within two months.
He was developing and reaching his milestones through all of this, but at a much slower pace than normal. No matter how hard things got, Carter always kept a smile on his face. After failing all these medications, Carter was started on the Ketogenic Diet. Unfortunately, by the third day of the Ketogenic Diet, his seizures had tripled. He was having 40-50 tonic clonic seizures a day, so they immediately discontinued the diet. Onfi was now added on top of everything else. With every failed medication, my heart broke even more and I finally started to lose hope. So much for him outgrowing these seizures right? The neurologist decided it was time to do a genetic test, but she explained that she really did not expect to find anything. She just wanted to check everything before putting him through a muscle biopsy. She explained that they were looking for Epileptic Encephalopathies, but Carter did not seem to have any of them. Those six weeks were the longest weeks of my entire life. While we were waiting for the results to come back, Carter again developed a new type of seizure. The tonic clonic seizures had pretty much disappeared thanks to the Onfi, but along came the head drops and spasms. So now Banzel was added to his long list of medications.
In March of 2014, he was 8 months old and we finally received a diagnosis of Tuberous Sclerosis. My heart was shattered; I was confused and angry. How could six months go by and not a single person figure this out?!?! Well here is the reason, his heart is normal and as of now, his MRI is normal. He has no signs of TSC except the horrible seizures that do not respond to medication. He has had two scans of his kidneys, which both came back normal. Since he was a little older and we now had a diagnosis, another MRI was ordered. The results came back within a couple days and we were once again normal. Just recently, he started to develop white spots on his skin. Anyways, back to the dreadful journey. So now at this point, he is on seven medications including 250mg of Sabril that he just started. The head drops are getting worse, the spasms are increasing and my happy baby is now miserable all the time. So again, I take him back to the emergency room and they give him IV Solumedrol to slow the seizures down. The steroids always seemed to be a miracle drug, but it did not work for these new seizures. The seizures were getting worse, his entire personality was gone and all we could do was cry together. I asked on several occasions if he was having Infantile Spasms, but I was quickly assured that it was not IS. I went back and forth between doctors and the insurance company trying to get him out of state to a TS clinic. My everyday life consisted of waking up and arguing with someone all day, which only added to the stress of taking care of a very sick baby.
The reason why I decided to tell our story is because I want to pay it forward. Only four weeks into his diagnosis, I decided to reach out and ask for help through a support group on Facebook. I knew he needed to be at a TS clinic and I was fighting everyday to save my baby, but I was also losing hope at the same time. I wanted to know what was so different about a TS clinic? Can they really help him? If he had already tried every medication and failed the ketogenic diet, what else could they do? A very special lady reached out to me and convinced me to get him to Cincinnati right away. How was I going to do this? I have been fighting my insurance over a referral for weeks now! She put in a call for me and within 24 hours, I received the call from Cincinnati. I could not believe what I was hearing when they told me “Just get him out here and we can handle the referral from here.” I started a fundraiser and within 24 hours, we raised enough money to cover the very expensive last minute flights. It could not have happened at a better time because two days later, Carter’s condition took a turn for the worse. We changed our flights right away and the next day, we were on a plane heading to get my baby the help he needed. When we arrived, Carter had his first 24 hour VEEG and his medications were changed immediately. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, we were informed that Carter did in fact have Infantile Spasms. Being a new TSC mom and having someone keep telling me that it’s not, I eventually started to believe it. Well at least a part of me did, but my mommy instincts still said that something was not right. I suddenly felt relieved that someone had an answer and we were finally in the right hands. All of my hard work, along with the help of some pretty amazing people, had finally paid off. It has only been two weeks since all of this happened and his seizures are still not fully controlled. He still has his good days and bad days, but we work together everyday by phone to coordinate his care. Since being home from Cincinnati, he has started to smile again and for that alone, we are very thankful. The point of my story is, sometimes you have to fight for what you believe and stand up for these innocent babies who can’t defend themselves. Always trust your mommy instincts and follow your heart. If you feel that something isn’t right with your baby, it probably isn’t. Through this journey, I have learned that we are not alone and there are still some pretty amazing people in this world willing to help. Without the support of my friends and family, I would have fallen apart by now. I have also gained an entire new family over the past six weeks, my TS family, and their encouragement and inspiration is what helps me through the bad days. It takes 100% of a person’s time to care for these unique babies, but somehow everyone manages to still help each other.
Not knowing what the future will hold for my baby is probably the hardest part of this journey. I walk on egg shells each day just waiting for the next catastrophe to come along. Of course, I hope and pray every single day that my Carter will stay strong and fight his way through this. But there is one thing that I do know, no matter what happens, I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I did everything that I could to help him. I gave up everything just to spend every moment with him, I struggled to get him the best care available and most of all, I make sure that he knows just how much I love him!