Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 31
by guest blogger Sandy Rhodes (Altoona, Pennsylvania)
My husband and I were married two years when we decided to start our family. We had it all planned out to try for a child in the late fall so that I could deliver between semesters. I was accepted into a school for my Family Nurse Practitioner degree in 2012 and didn’t want to take a semester off. The stars must have aligned just right, because we found out in October we were expecting our first child! I cannot begin to tell you the emotions of seeing two positive pregnancy tests after trying for three months with no luck (I am aware that isn’t a really long time). I was so excited I called off work thinking the OB/GYN doctor would want to see me that day.
We had our first appointment in late November that confirmed our pregnancy. We told our families on Thanksgiving. They had to know something was up when I volunteered to do the blessing before the meal. The pregnancy was not anything unusual. I was sick the first twenty weeks with horrible nausea. I was sick daily and spent my fair share of time in the bathroom. My husband was a superstar during my pregnancy. He made it to every appointment, dopplered the baby’s heartbeat daily with our home Doppler, and cared for me on top of working full time. Our labs and ultrasound were all normal. We found out we were having a boy right before Easter 2013.
The labor and delivery of our son Camden was uncomplicated. I had a great epidural! My son Camden weighed in at 8 pounds ½ ounce born July 20, 2013. No one could believe the size of him. We brought Camden home July 22nd with no complications. Things would stay relatively normal for approximately seven months.
February our lives changed forever. My husband was explaining an episode Camden had when he was giving him a bottle before bed. He said his arms flew up several times, and he was really fussy. I am a nurse and wrote the entire situation off as the startle reflex. It was two days later walking through Walmart when I witnessed an episode for myself. It made me uneasy to see Camden’s arm rising up to the left and his head turning that way in a series of pull like motions. I told my husband I would call the pediatrician in the morning because Camden seemed fine before and after the episodes. I thought maybe he was teething or had a low grade temp. That night as I was rocking Cam to sleep he had an episode in my arms. This is when I knew things were more wrong than I could figure out. I called our pediatrician on call who told me if it was his son he’d go to Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital. We packed a bag, called our parents, and drove the two hours to Children’s. My father and mother -in-law made the trip with us, thankfully.
We checked in and were taken to a bay in the ER. They were very slow that night and we received several ideas that seemed like minor fixes. The ER physician said he believed Camden was having intestinal pain and a minor laparoscopic surgery would easily correct this common retropulsion issue. Camden’s electrolytes came back with high potassium, but that was later found to be hemolyzed and inaccurate. That would’ve required the administration of medication to make him poop out the extra potassium. While in the ER bay Cam had another episode. I yelled at my husband to find a doctor and pulled my cell phone out to record what I was seeing.
We were admitted and Cam was given an IV bolus of Keppra. This made things so much worse. He had several more episodes when we reached our room. We were hooked up to an EEG machine in the wee hours of the morning for an hour long study. Cam only had one episode during this time. When the tech came to remove Cam’s leads he received a call stating he was to be left on the machine. My heart sank. I knew there had to be something wrong for the EEG to continue. Three hours into the EEG a neurologist came into the room. He explained that the EEG was showing hypsarrhythmia. This was a common feature of infantile spasms. I was kind of optimistic in the next few seconds thinking how minor most spasms are. The optimism was short lived as the physician continued to say the word epilepsy. How could my baby have epilepsy? We aren’t epileptic, our family has no history, there were no problems during my pregnancy, and he was an uncomplicated delivery! He ordered an MRI for that day.
So much had happened in half a day. I was sitting in the noisy MRI machine as my sedated baby underwent his testing. I remember praying to God to make things ok and get us home. I remember picking him up off of the table to go to recovery where my husband was waiting. I laid him down on the table so the nurse could get vital signs. The BP had not even come up yet on the machine when two physicians entered the room. We were prepping Cam for a lumbar puncture to rule out infection at this time. Then another nurse came in and removed the LP tray. The doctors looked at Mike and me and asked us to sit down. I lost it. I knew in that instant there was something drastically wrong. My mind was running wild thinking about tumors and defects and malformations.
The neurologist from earlier started by saying your son has a textbook case of tuberous sclerosis. I was sobbing and had no idea what tuberous sclerosis was. I remember trying to write down the name so I could relay it to our family, but the pen in my hand felt foreign. The doctor explained there was an amazing website to look for information because we might become overwhelmed if we use Google (TS Alliance.org). They told us our son would most likely be autistic, have delays, and had potential for other organ involvement. They remained with us for about ten minutes of crying questions about outcomes, treatments, and pathology of TSC. I asked them to spell vigabatrin about three times before I just gave up. They left us with our sedated son and the nurse.
How could this be happening to our baby? We had prayed and planned for him. We had zero neurological history anywhere on our family trees. Could things be any more crazy and devastating!? We stayed in our devastated state for several hours, inconsolable. Our parents were trying to be positive, but we were stuck with the reality our son would have TSC for life. He could potentially some day want to have children and have to deal with this ugly disease.
It was later that night a nurse sat down with us and brought us a computer to look at the TS Alliance site. We read about others with the disease and actually watched videos of other babies having infantile spasms. It was uplifting to read positive stories of achievements and children reaching milestones. This was our first glimmer of hope that we held onto and used to fuel us to remain positive. Camden had an echo, renal ultrasound, and EKG that were normal. We used this as motivation as well. The entire four-day admission our son was pleasant and cooperative with testing.
On Sunday February 10 they decided our son was a candidate for Sabril. We signed consent forms and had our supply for home delivered that evening to Children’s Hospital. Cam received his first dose in the hospital. Monday he had his eyes dilated for an eye exam which was normal, and we were discharged home. Our five day stay in the hospital revealed more than anyone could’ve ever guessed. We had a diagnosis no one locally had ever heard about.
At home we continued Sabril. Camden’s last episode of IS was February 16. He has become an even happier baby with the use of Sabril. I rely on the TS Alliance for updates and support on a daily basis. This diagnosis is not a death sentence. The overall vibe from Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital was professional and geared at being prepared for the worst. They have been excellent with our follow up care, and we have grown extremely found of Dr. Thodeson who will be leaving in June. We found our way to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for a research study and felt a completely different vibe. They are all more personal and positive. It has been amazing to have exposure at two TS Clinics. We are in this for the long run to do everything in our power to better our son’s life. We will go anywhere, pay anything, and be there 24/7 for every up and down. This disease is filled with ups and downs. We are pretty new to the TS community, but the welcoming and support has really kept our faith alive. We pray every day for our son to live a long life, learn from everyone, and love all. We are not going to let TSC define our baby. He will show TSC who is boss! He’s come so far already. He is 10 months old and has not yet had any delays. He rolls, crawls, babbles, and has the greatest smile. We are thankful every second of every day to have Camden the baby we prayed and planned for!