Tag Archives: Boston

Connor’s version of March Madness includes an MRI and sedation

So much going on this Month but we made it.

We gave him a playroom, and he acted like he'd been sentenced to Riker's.
We gave him a playroom, and he acted like he’d been sentenced to Riker’s.

We still have a child named Connor, in case my lack of blogging made you think he had packed up and run off to Borneo as revenge for us regulating his iPad time.

Let’s back up to February when we heard a loud thump followed by crying from his room. We ran in to discover that we had a Defcon 1 situation and Connor had escaped the crib. He wasn’t so much hurt as I think he was surprised by the floor, so he transitioned to the toddler bed that week. I did not expect it to go well. We moved more toys into the room, added a gate to the door and removed all potentially dangerous and/or greasy objects from his drawers. The first night he cried and yelled for two hours and I had to rock him to sleep. Not because of the bed, but because baby gates have always inspired great rage in him.

IMG_3673But after that, piece of cake. He would actually get in bed and stay there. I was shocked. I had expected him to trash the room and pass out in various spots on the floor. Instead, he stays in bed until light begins to peek through in the morning, and then he’ll either go play or drag objects into bed with him. In the beginning I’d find him passed out in a sea of pants and diapers he’d dragged from the drawers (yeah, no idea) but he has since graduated to his puzzles and trucks. The transition has been incredibly easy as long as he has his Pillow Pet dog to shine on the ceiling.

Staring into is even better than watching the ceiling.
Staring into is even better than watching the ceiling.

March was probably the busiest month we’ve ever had.

Washington D.C.

Chris and I joined other TS Alliance volunteers from around the country again this year to meet with our congressional representatives and senators on behalf of our state. I’m excited to say that the Alliance got the most signatures ever in support of the Tuberous Sclerosis Complex Research Program. Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson was one of the authors of the senate Dear Colleague letter, and in the House of Representatives from Georgia, both Rep. Hank Johnson and Rep. David Scott signed on in support again this year. We were fortunate that the meetings were set for Wednesday March 4 since a snowstorm blew in and shut down the government on Thursday. Despite the cold, Chris and I got a lot of sightseeing done. And I only busted my butt on the ice once.

Boston

IMG_3995We flew home from D.C. on a Friday, picked up Connor from my parents and flew up to Boston on Sunday morning. I had booked an early flight since this was our last trip given Connor is aging out of the TSC study and I wanted to make the most of the day. I was not aware at the time of booking that we would be losing an hour of sleep thanks to Daylight Savings. We boarded our 7:30 flight, took off, and landed right back in Atlanta 10 minutes later due to an issue with the landing gear. I was tired and disinterested in dragging a sleeping toddler off the plane so my thought was, if we gotta land on it, let’s just do it in Boston. If it meant spending the day in the airport waiting  for a flight we weren’t going, but crazily enough Delta had a plane ready immediately so off we went. Boston was still covered in several feet of snow from the big storms the previous month. Roads and sidewalks were cleared, but space was tight with the mountains of dirty snow and abandoned cups on each side of the sidewalks (because apparently trash melts too when thrown in a snowbank).

While we were there we scheduled Connor’s annual scans. He had a brain MRI and an ultrasound (the recently updated IMG_4016protocol recommends an MRI of everything, but I just couldn’t seem to get someone on the phone that would make that happen this time). Since kidney involvement is common, we prepared ourselves for the possibility that Connor would have some sort of involvement by now, even though his previous scans at birth and six months were clear. When the tech came back to take additional photos after showing the initial pictures to the doctor we were pretty sure we were right. Connor does now have signs of TSC in his kidneys–innumerable minuscule angiomyolipomas. They are not problematic or affecting his kidney function, so we will just continue to monitor for growth. Hopefully they will not ever require intervention.

Weirdly, though I prepared myself for changes in the kidneys, I did not expect any change in the brain. There is no rational reason for that, I just didn’t. Turns out that one of his SENs in the ventricle has grown from 5mm to 7mm. It does not require intervention at this time, but the doctor recommended a followup in six months to be safe, rather than waiting the usual year.

So, not the best news, but certainly not the worst, or anything too crazy for TSC.

My crowning achievement of the trip was while Connor was having his MRI. I fell asleep in the waiting room, and awoke to the nurse telling us we could come back and see him. I jumped up in a half-asleep state of confusion not realizing my leg was completely asleep. I mean absolutely 100 percent numb and unfunctional. I crashed to the floor drawing a gasp of horror from an onlooker. I tried to get up, but couldn’t. My leg could not support any weight whatsoever. I looked really cool, but seemed unhurt…until we flew home that night. Then began the first of several days of my ankle looking like this:

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But I must reiterate — I looked really cool.

Katie Beckett and IEP

Upon return I dealt with the immediate turnaround of Connor’s Katie Beckett renewal paperwork. They give you like a whopping two weeks to get it done, plus it came while we were out of town and was due when we would be gone again. Thankfully, we had an easy renewal this year (assuming we get re-approved), requiring only some basic forms and not the common 10,000 pages of therapy notes.

Then we had Connor’s first IEP meeting since he’s aging out of Babies Can’t Wait. He will begin at the special needs preschool in April, attending Monday through Friday from 8 until 12. It went pretty well. Their goals were well in line with what we were looking for. He will receive 45 minutes of OT, 45 of PT and 60 of speech a week. Plus he will continue with private speech, OT, music and aquatic.

Connor’s 3rd Birthday Party

We celebrated Connor’s construction-themed birthday a week early since we needed to be out of town for a wedding on his actual birthday. He was very accommodating in that he doesn’t know what date it is anyway and never has objections to being given trucks on any given day. Rosie the dog donned her construction gear and I even tried my hand at amateur cake making:

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A few days later Connor went to my parents and we went to Antigua, Guatemala to round out a whirlwind month…but that’s my next post. Stay tuned so I can get all Rick Steves on you.

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A New Diagnosis

When I fill out medical forms that ask me for Connor’s diagnoses, I write tuberous sclerosis complex, epilepsy and developmental delay. As of Friday, I will now write autism

When Connor was first diagnosed and we read all the possibilities that could possibly come with TSC, autism terrified me the most. I really didn’t understand it. I’d worked with kids with varying degrees of autism in the classroom, some of whom I was not remotely equipped or provided the training to work with and others that were favorites of mine. But I was terrified of the word. I thought that if the day came that we received that diagnosis, I would jump out of a window.

Two years changes a lot.

I can’t say it came as a total surprise. I refer to some of Connor’s behaviors as “quirks.” I guess I was just hoping they could stay “quirks” and not become a diagnosis.

We went to Boston for his two-year visit with the TSC study. It was a low key visit since Chris and I had both caught Connor’s cold from the week before and were not particularly energetic (and why I didn’t get in touch, Ann–we’ll be back next Feb!). We also had an appointment with the Boston TSC Clinic. Even though I suspected deep down that this day was coming, I didn’t actually realize it would be Friday. The study had sent his results from the autism scale given the day before to the doctor. The words “Connor has autism” were never actually spoken. We were discussing some of his behaviors and suddenly we were talking about therapy options in addition to what he already receives. An education specialist was brought in so she could help us find local resources and I found myself saying, “So this is it? Is this an official diagnosis?” It was. But the sooner the better and we now move forward.

We also finally got a little more detail on his MRI. It wasn’t as specific as I was hoping for, but we do now know his brain has somewhere around 20-30 tubers, probably closer to 20. They are scattered throughout. I thought he had two SENs in the ventricles of the brain, but he actually has three. However, they are so small that they are nowhere near being classified as a SEGA (which can block fluid in the brain and require either surgical intervention or use of Afinitor or Rapamune) and therefore aren’t currently an issue (and hopefully never will be).

I’m sad that we only have one visit left with the Boston study. I really enjoy going up there. I think I could actually live in that city in spite of the cold and that says A LOT. I was really touched by the fact that while we were there, non-stop coverage was being given to the deaths of two firefighters and who they were. It gave the city a close knit feeling and reflected a genuine interest in the loss of two heroes. It’s not something I’ve ever seen in the 20+ years I’ve been in Atlanta, where we just get the 6 p.m. death count.

These are the only photos I took which tells you how off I was this trip.

First big boy flight with his own seat. On the way back we were told we couldn't use this seat because it wasn't airline compliant. Gotta love consistency.
First big boy flight with his own seat. On the way back we were told we couldn’t use this seat because it wasn’t airline compliant. Gotta love consistency.

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Connor loved the noisy geese.
Connor loved the noisy geese.

Five months of great progress!

Connor’s first year was such slow development that I still can’t wrap my head around the last few months. I mean I vividly remember obsessing over him just lifting his head. It took forever. He sat somewhat independently around my birthday in October of 2012, and I thought here we go! But it was months before he could sustain it comfortably on his own. We put our old house on the market at the beginning of June this year. I vividly remember that his crib was still in the raised position as there was no worry that he would fall out. He could sit well, but couldn’t get into sitting on his own. It all started when he finally chose to roll from back to front. He went the other way on time, but refused to CHOOSE tummy time, leaving himself immobile. Since June 1, he

mastered pulling up to sit

become mobile through rolling and scooting

added consonants to his babbling

learned to crawl

pulled to stand

started cruising furniture

has shown recognition of more words

has become very (too) opinionated

and initiated his first game of peekaboo

Exponential progress.

His physical therapist almost cried when she saw him cruise. She had been away for a couple weeks as her granddaughter was having cancer surgery at CHOP for ganglioneuroblastoma. Ain’t life grand for our kids. Don’t worry. I’m aborting my angry Where’s God diatribe. (Side note: She said CHOP is the best for this surgery and they went in thinking they would be able to get 50%. They think they got over 90%!)

Cover of "Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Ty...
Cover of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type

He shows definite favorites in books — his two favorites are Click Clack Moo and Hand Hand Fingers Thumb. If I start reading from them, he comes crawling over. The other day I asked him if he wanted to read Click Clack Moo and he crawled out of the family room into the playroom to it and looked up at me expectantly (after a brief scrunched face short cry because we startled him with our enthusiasm).

I’ve given up trying to get the detailed results about his MRI from Boston. We got the standard report of no growth, but we were supposed to finally get details on number of tubers and locations so we can target potential deficits etc. But as no one ever gets back to me when I leave messages regarding that particular report, I guess we have to wait until we go for our next TSC study visit in February or March when we will schedule a visit at the clinic. Not very happy about that.

Connor still refuses to feed himself, and when we give him finger foods, he just destroys them. We’ve tried cracker type food items, but he crushes them, so his physical therapist suggested beef jerky. It’s easy for him to hold and he might like the taste. And wouldn’t you know, he sucked on that Slim Jim a couple times and bit it into pieces. He only swallowed one piece, and that was by accident, but still progress. Slim. Jims. If you had told me I would be feeding my toddler Slim Jims…

He also still won’t get off the bottle, which we think is another one of his stubborn things, kind of like refusing to roll over. His speech therapist has been pushing a straw with a squeeze bottle, since sippy cups get swatted across the room. He actually let me put the straw in his mouth without fighting me yesterday for the first time. Maybe we’ll get rid of these bottles some day after all.

I learned a valuable parenting lesson last week when we went to the North Georgia mountains with my parents. While we have had to deal with crazy TSC stuff, as far as the normal baby health issues are concerned, Connor has never really had any issues. He’s barely even had a cold. Well, last weekend we had a major bout of constipation. I never understood what the big deal was. They go eventually right? Give them some prune juice or whatever. My bad. Sorry about the flippant attitude. Almost two days of fussing and irritability. He went an entire day with no food or drink whatsoever. It wasn’t until the next morning when he willingly took his meds that I had the brilliant idea to give him milk, water and juice with the oral syringe. My mom shook her head at one point and said, “When people ask what we did this weekend I can tell them we waited for Connor to poop.” And so I deemed the weekend PoopWatch 2013. I’ll spare you further details, and only say that a couple days later I was looking for a cork.

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Toys are for chumps.

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Let me out! I promise not to try and make a break for the woods again!

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New cabinets to explore.

Our trip to the pumpkin patch a couple weeks ago:

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Please click on the Top Mommy Blogs icon to the right so I can move back up in the rankings!

It would be easier to come up with titles if I could stay on topic…

I love a good sunburn with such ridiculous lines, that most of my wardrobe will fail to hide my stupidity. But rather than take responsibility for my failure to apply sunscreen anywhere but my face, I will instead blame the organizers of the annual Miller Lite Chili Cookoff for moving it from the tree-filled shady location at Stone Mountain Park to the the black asphalt parking lots of Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers. No trees. Just asphalt. I will give them credit for a larger space that made it easier to walk around, but I’ll push people out of the way if it means the return to the sheltered haven by the park.

We like to go every year, but we missed last year–the final year at Stone Mountain–for a most hilarious reason. My mom went to the ER. Yes, I just referred to my mom going to the ER as hilarious. You read that right. Ok, it wasn’t hilarious at the time–at least not for a few hours–but it’s an interesting story. It had been a stressful few months with Connor’s time in the NICU and diagnosis, and that morning, another stressful issue (nothing to do with Connor or us) came to light. I called and talked to my mom about it that morning. About an hour and a half later, we arrived at my parent’s house to drop Connor off. This was the first time we had ever come over that my mom didn’t come out to meet us at the car (something I often like to point out she never did when it was just me coming over). When she finally came downstairs, she looked surprised to see us. “What are you doing here?” I thought she was joking. I reminded her they were babysitting while we went to the cook off. “Did I know about this?” she asked, confused.

Forgetting Connor was coming over? Yeah right. Something is weird. She usually only blocks out memories that involve me as a teenager. She looks at Connor and says, “Oh, aren’t you cute,” in a way that indicates this is some random baby mysteriously propped in a chair in her sunroom. My dad and I look at each other. Then she asks why we’re there again. And when we answer her, she clearly doesn’t remember that we just told her. She also can’t remember what she had for breakfast, where they went for breakfast or what neighbors they ran into while they were there. She’s asking the same questions over and over, and clearly isn’t forming any new memories. And me? Great. I realize when I called her that morning I gave my mom a freakin’ stroke.

So rather than downing 900 samples of chili, we head to the ER. My mom keeps asking us the same questions over and over. She’s on a repetitive loop. Then she declares, “I’ve had a stroke! Self-diagnosis for you!” She repeated that roughly 647 times by the time we reached the hospital, and thought she was figuring it out for the first time every time. Once we reached the hospital, since she wasn’t able to retain new memories, she kept thinking she just woke up there and continued asking the same questions. It was the weirdest thing because she was looping like a tape recorder. Same comments and questions, same intonations, same jokes. Blood pressure was off the charts. Scans, an MRI, and a few hours of me battling the urge to video this insanity with my phone, and they come back with an answer. No stroke. In fact, everything looks great. Diagnosis: transient global amnesia. Lasts roughly 24-hours and can be caused by a stressful event. She will completely recover, and it is unlikely to reoccur. It is also extremely rare. Yay us and our predilection for weird rare medical crap. It’s particularly weird because though you forget a big chunk of time and events, you don’t forget the basics, who you are and the basics of your life. So sadly, I was unsuccessful in convincing her she had promised to gift us $25,000 and turn over the keys to her ’66 Mustang.

So then the rest of the day could be spent repeating what was wrong with her when she would ask every three minutes. “Well that will teach you to call and give me bad news again!” I heard that 87 times before we left the hospital. At this point I was embracing the hilarity of the situation since I knew I hadn’t caused irreversible damage to my mother’s head. Regrettably, I did not record her at all. Though you can find YouTube videos of other people with this, and they pretty much sound the same. Hilarious that is. Especially hilarious, since she was going home with my dad who would have to field the questions for the next several hours. I did write a bunch of stuff down in a notebook though so my dad could tell her to read it when she looped.

Some people will do anything to get out of babysitting.

We’re pretty settled in the new house at this point. The dining room is still a mess, but pretty much everything else is in place. Chris has informed me he will not be meeting my two-month deadline to paint the entire house. He seems to think a year is more appropriate estimate for completing all the rooms. “But Becky,” as my friend Cat said, shaking her head “you stay home. Can’t you paint?” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Have you met my husband? I paint like I vacuum, it would seem. Willy nilly without leaving straight lines. I am but a hander-upper of necessary supplies.

Connor now has his very own playroom downstairs. It is chock full of fun and goodies for him, and secured so I can get stuff done. So what does he do?

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How am I supposed to get stuff done when he looks at me like that?!

Then his favorite toy, his jumperoo, finally gave out after extended use past the weight limit. It was a sad day. This is how he uses it now:

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I also decided the room I initially chose to be his was too small, so Chris got the honor of disassembling the crib again to move it. I’m delightful to live with.

Connor recently had a 30-minute EEG at his neurologist’s office, just to check in on the general state of things. Lo and behold, he actually had a seizure on it. Seizures are famous for not cooperating with EEGs, so getting one on a 30-minute test! Whoa. His neuro now believes what we have been seeing are complex-partials, pretty much what we’ve always battled, aside from infantile spasms. They are decreasing since putting him back on vigabatrin and hopefully we’ll get the just-right doses of vigabatrin and Onfi soon. He had his first ERG in quite some time on Friday. I’m not sure if he’s planning to be Miley Cyrus for Halloween or if he’s expressing his distaste for the boring peach-colored gown (where are my rockets?!).

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I’m still on my fruitless quest to get a detailed report from Boston on his MRI back in August. We have the basic results of no growth, but we’re also supposed to find out how many tubers, SENs and specific locations. So I will continue on my 9,000 phone calls quest that every person who deals with a medical issue knows so well. Why does everything have to be so hard with hospitals, pharmacies, insurance, doctors… The only doctor’s office that I feel comfortable with response time is his neurologist. But I have to play games with:

the hospital in Atlanta

now apparently the hospital in Boston (which saddens me cuz I gave them props earlier this year)

insurance

the ophthalmologist

the pediatrician

the mail order pharmacy

I hate when I like a doctor, but staff makes life hard.

My parents just adopted two kittens, and they seem even more fascinated by Connor than he is with them. And he loves kitties.

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Sunday was my birthday. A lot has happened in my 23 years. (Shut. It.) Pretty mellow affair that started with brunch with Chris and my sister-in-law Donna and dinner at my parents. It ended festively while I was in the shower that night and heard Chris yelling “Becky!” Oh my god. This is it. We’re going to the ER. Connor must be having a status seizure–something we’ve never had to deal with. I run down in my towel…nope. He vomited. Everywhere. On himself. On Chris. On the floor. On the new couch. So emergency bath time and snuggling. He was fine. Fortunately it was only once and he was perfectly fine before and after. Which makes me wonder if this is the stomach of a toddler issue or a vomit seizure. Either way, he’s great now and expending his energy on keeping me from doing vomit laundry.

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At least he’s helping spread Halloween spirit.

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If you need me, I’ll be following doctor’s order somewhere:

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My sister-in-law knows how seriously I take my health so she gave me this bracelet for my birthday:

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Happy anniversary to my parents!

Reminder:

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Informational meeting on financial planning for your special needs child this week! Wills, estate planning, a chance to ask questions, etc.

Thursday, October 10 at 7:00pm
Mount Vernon Baptist Church 850 Mt. Vernon Hwy NW Sandy Springs, GA 30327
Please RSVP to me at pin.the.map@gmail.com.

The scores are in…

Just received the results from Boston on his Mullen scores from the TSC study (nope, still haven’t heard about his MRI). Definitely a lot happier with the scores this time than last time.

Age: 17 months

Mullen Scale

Descriptive Category

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Age Equivalent

Gross Motor

Very Low

9 months

Visual Reception

Below Average

page1image26912 14 months

Fine Motor

Very Low

14 months

Receptive Language

Very Low

page1image33904 10 months

Expressive Language

Very Low

9 months

Obviously I wish there were no delays, but I’m pretty excited to see 14 months in two categories. That’s not too shabby considering all he’s been through. And I can’t say the low ones are a big surprise. He just started to crawl and he doesn’t have any words yet. But he is continually progressing and I believe he will get there, especially in motor skills. He’s pulling himself up on furniture constantly, and while he can’t quite get to standing, he is trying.

I’ve sent the results off to his Early Intervention team to get their thoughts…

Now if I could just get the MRI results.

Which is the bigger scam? Appraisals or the TSA?

The last couple weeks have been rather exhausting in good ways and bad ways. Good = trip to Boston. Bad = corrupt housing market.

Might I start by saying I hate property appraisers? I think I said that in my last post. It is still true. Despite the fact the houses by the same builder with the same floor plan have recently sold around the $200k within walking distance, our appraisal at $185,000, $20k below the agreed upon sale price will stand. We were already taking a hit from what was paid. And despite our complete makeover of the lawn from dirt to gorgeous grass, the addition of granite in the bathrooms, a thorough de-brassing of fixtures, a new water heater and a new roof, it’s still worth $25k less than it was appraised for in 2007. So dear, dear appraisers, yes, we all know you were oh so shady in your role (I say role, as banks and irresponsible buyers should not go blameless) in helping destroy our economy, and I’m so glad that you can continue to screw up people’s lives by swinging to other end of the spectrum and undervaluing everyone’s properties, as you once over valued them to line your pockets. I despise you and your industry. You have undervalued our house and taken money from us that should be going towards my child’s needs. I wish upon you a lousy life.

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Yes, we are going ahead with the move. It will hurt in the short term, but is best for the long-term. We had to heap much fertilizer on our money tree in the backyard to make it possible. Closing is in two weeks.

In brighter news, Connor is crawling like a fiend. He’s truly my child as he keeps making a move for the kitchen island wine rack and tries to steal one of my bottles. I couldn’t be prouder. He also knows that I have toys to sell stashed in the laundry room, and despite the nine kajillion toys strewn about the house, he wants  the ones in the laundry room. Emma has nearly lost her tail twice in his deadly jaws. I’m desperately trying to make him understand that bathrooms are grody mcnasty and that he should not follow us in there.

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We went to Boston last week for his third visit as part of the TSC study. He also had his annual MRI at Boston Children’s. Everything went smoothly, and I can see why Michael Jackson was hooked on propofol after an extensive period of time trying to wake Connor — not in a scary way, he just really wanted to keep sleeping. It’s waaaaaay better than my melatonin. We haven’t gotten the results yet. Hoping for no growth, of course.

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Connor’s veins continue to be elusive, proving that it isn’t just Atlanta that can’t get a vein in this kid. He always leaves looking like a retired pin cushion.

We’ve pretty much walked all over Boston at this point, so we just revisited some favorite areas.

We watched Harvard's sailing practice on the Charles River.
We watched Harvard’s sailing practice on the Charles River.

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We played with ducks in the Gardens.
We played with ducks in the Gardens.
We visited the only Curious George Store in the world at Harvard Square.
We visited the only Curious George Store in the world at Harvard Square.
Connor demonstrated that high chairs work best when you sit backward.
Connor demonstrated that high chairs work best when you sit backward.
He stole my bed.
He stole my bed.
Plane watching at Boston Logan.
Plane watching at Boston Logan.

I love going to Boston. I actually think I could live there in spite of the cold. The only negative aspect of the trip was the idiotic TSA. I’ve actually been feeling more kindly toward this waste-of-taxpayer-money organization as having a kid has miraculously made flying easier in a way. We get to skip the security line in Atlanta, they do a quick, problem-free scan of his milk, food and meds as they are oversized liquids and we get to board first. I even get to bypass the full body scanner and walk through problem free. But this time, coming home, my sixth flight with Connor, suddenly things change. They pull his diaper bag as usual due to the liquids, but this time, because of them, she tells me one of his parents must submit to a full-body pat down, as well as have their personal bag searched. Chris is already on the bench putting his shoes on, so in complete surprise, I begrudgingly volunteer to do so. Two questions: 1. What the hell does having oversized baby liquids have to do with arbitrarily patting me down and searching my purse? 2. What is the point of letting the parents choose? If we are indeed carrying a bomb, obviously the one who isn’t wired up is going to volunteer. She informs me that if I get all his stuff in 4 oz containers, I can avoid this. Hey pharmacist, I’m gonna need all Connor’s meds in a series of 4 oz bottles, please, and make it snappy! I inform her that I have flown with him six times and this is a first. No response. So apparently bottles of Enfagrow in your bag = right of government agency to stick their hands up your crotch. And they wonder why we don’t thank them for their service to this country. That and the fact that they’ve never stopped an attempted terrorist attack. That’s the job of the other passengers on the plane.

Anyway, our plan to try name brand seizure meds in hopes of better control did not work. We are now weaning off Trileptal and moving on to Onfi. His seizures have been increasing, and though they are short and he recovers quickly, he drops suddenly. He’s face planted on the floor three times now. We have to stop these before he walks. Please let Onfi be the one.

 

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Love For Lani

Day 20 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness

By guest blogger Kimberly Clisbee  (Los Angeles, California)


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When you are expecting a child everyone has advice to give. What diapers are the best, what to do for a fever, rash, or tummy aches. But no one prepares you to hear the words “your baby has brain cancer.”  I would like to bring you on Lani’s journey and share with you her struggle and successes with this dreaded disease that we now know to be tuberous sclerosis.

I moved to California from NH in hopes for a better life. It was 2009 and we were in a deep recession. I was unemployed and could not find work to save my life, so I enrolled in college in the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. I attended school for a year, but as my unemployment was coming to an end, I needed to find employment to pay the bills.

At the time I was teaching martial arts and had a great opportunity to open a school with a martial arts colleague of mine in LA. During a business meeting in September of 2009, I met Chris,  and we fell for each other almost immediately. For the next three months he would fly out to visit me while I was closing out my affairs in NH. We would drive out to California on December 27, 2009. In February of 2010 I discovered I was three months pregnant. The plan was that I would give birth, then go back to school to finish my degree and get a job to support my family. When I arrived in California, Chris revealed that he was disabled and could not work due to seizures. He was scared to tell me because he thought I would leave him. But I am not that way. If you love someone, you love them no matter what.

When Leilani was in my tummy everything was fine. I had placenta previa when I was pregnant, so I had monthly ultrasounds which never displayed any developmental childrens hospital 042problems. I was always told everything looked great. I also had an amniocentesis which came out fine. So when I had Leilani on August 26 I was expecting to have a perfectly healthy baby girl. From the first moment I held her in my arms I knew something was not right. She seemed to jump and twitch every couple of minutes. I kept asking the doctors if there was a chance these were seizures since her dad had a history of seizures, but I was told they were infant twitches, common to newborns.

Well I have been around a lot of newborns in my life and I knew it had to be more than that. Trying to breast feed was also a big challenge for Lani. She would start off fine but then start jumping and end up stopping a couple of minutes in. The doctors again said everything was normal. Finally two days before we were to go home I called the nurse in my room because Lani’s breathing seemed labored. They brought in a respiratory specialist that said that Lani did not get all the fluid out of her lungs when she was born and needed to go to NICU until they were clear. I was relieved.

I thought that was it; she was just having problems breathing and the everything was going to be fine. That was on Saturday the 28th. The next morning at 6:00am I was woken up by the NICU doctor in charge. She had informed me that Leilani had a seizure at 3:00 am and was down having an MRI. Since Lani was delivered by caesarian they told me they were just waiting for a wheelchair and then they would bring me to her. I never hopped out of bed so fast in my life and started down the hall towards the elevators. Radiology was all the way on the other side of the building three floors down, and I think I made it there in light speed.

I don’t even remember being in pain, it just went away right at that moment. All I felt was fear. They were only a level 3 hospital, so they did not have the ability to perform contrast MRIs. All you could see was a 7 centimeter shadow taking up ¾ of Lani’s right hemisphere. She was immediately sent to CHLA. She would get the care she needed there. Unfortunately I was stuck in the hospital until the next day, so I sent Chris and my mother with Lani. That was the longest night of my life! I was alone, I was scared and I was asking every five minutes if I could leave. Finally, the next day around 2 pm, I was released.

surgery 2011 022We went straight to the NICU. She was hooked up to so many machines and had so many people around her. I literally felt drunk. So many people were coming in and out, introducing themselves, telling me not to worry, as if that were possible. Finally one of the doctors came in and told me they were able to perform a contrast MRI on Lani and what they were seeing was a solid mass. They needed to do a biopsy ASAP to determined what it was. So on September 9th at 7:00 am Leilani went in for her very first brain surgery. She was only 13 days old.

Knowing that your child is going to be in the hospital long term not only holds an emotional strain but a financial one as well. We live 60 miles from the hospital, and in LA traffic that could take up to 2 hours both ways depending what time you left. For the first week we had to commute back and forth and since I couldn’t drive. My poor mother who came out for two weeks had to cart me around. This was very hard for her. Not driving me around but the whole thing. She came out to see her granddaughter come into this world and to help me and instead she got to take part in this nightmare.

She was only able to stay for a couple of weeks and in that time she had to rotate seeing the baby with Chris, hold her granddaughter in a hospital room full of sick babies, and leave without knowing what Lani’s fate would be. Thank you Ma, and I am sorry you had to go through that! We met with a counselor, Glenda. She helped us arrange everything we needed for Lani- business, personal and otherwise. She organized Lani’s baptism which was held in the hospital before my mother left, and she hooked us up with one of the greatest organizations ever! The Ronald MacDonald House.

They made things so much easier for us!!! They are right across the street from the hospital. They have a fully stocked kitchen at your disposal, your own fridge space and cabinet space so you don’t have to eat out. They have a laundry room, gym, counselors, and most nights, volunteers come in and make dinner for you. The charge $25 a night but it is based on your income, so if you can’t afford to pay they waive the fees.

We met a lot of other wonderful people there that were going through their own struggles with their children. We bonded with a few of the families, but sadly, over our 43 day stay we witnessed half of them lose their battle. That was one of the hardest parts. These people were people we had coffee with in the morning and exchanged stories with, we would take the shuttle back and forth with them, our children were in the same rooms. Until one day they weren‘t. And you see the other parents in the hall crying, and they don’t really want to talk to you because your child is still fighting and theirs lost their fight. I pray for those families every day, and I thank GOD it was not us. People don’t realize the ¼ of the children in a NICU never make it out. We were one of the lucky ones.

I decided early on that I was going to act as if this was a normal for Lani’s sake, so I was there 12 hours a day. I brought clothes, toys and bedding from home. No hospital stuff was to be used. I would be there at every feeding, bath time and doctors rounds. If I was going to do this I had to stay strong, so there was no crying allowed around Lani.

One of the first thing a child learns is emotion and they feel that through their parents emotions so I tried very hard to keep it as normal as I could. Don’t get me wrong, I lost it plenty of times!! But I would leave so she wouldn’t feel it. She was not able to feed from me so I pumped every three hours. I read her bed time stories every night and held her all the time. Singing to her and telling her all about her room, her family who loved her, and what we were going to do when she got home.

I really think that mental mindset made a big difference for everyone. It helped me cope with what was going on and gain control over my situation, as well as seal the bond between Lani and I. Mom had to leave and it was time for Lani’s biopsy. I was never so scared in my life. The surgery took three hours which felt like an eternity. We had to wait a week for the results so in that time we just tried to stay positive. Leilani was having a seizure about every 10-45 min. Her oxygen levels were always good which is what you want; no oxygen is what causes brain damage. But she was having infantile spasms which are very dangerous and usually don’t show up until 6 months of age.

I had to convince them that was what was going on. The nurses kept telling me no, she could not be having infant spasms as a newborn and moved Lani to the back of the room. They took her from having two nurses to having one nurse who was not even paying attention to her. Well that was my first run-in with the nurses, and not the last I assure you! I called the head of the department of neurology. Lani being such a rare case it was easy for me to access anyone and everyone. Everyone wanted to be part of her story.

I told him what was going on and insisted they look into her seizures so there was no more doubt or guessing. So he did. He called down to her room, reprimanded the nurses, and had them move her to the front and reassign the other nurse. They were not happy with me but I didn’t care. I was not there to make friends, I was there to save my daughters life. Most of the nurses were great I must say, but there were a few that just didn’t work for me and I let them know it. You have to. If you see something that seems wrong it probably is, and if you do not open your mouth and address it you have no one to blame for the outcome.

They performed an EEG and it confirmed they were infantile spasms, which in itself was extremely rare. The hardest part for the staff, as well as us, was that they have never seen a case like Lani’s before and they had no idea what to do for her. Finally the pathology came back and we were called into the conference room. When we got there we saw ten people sitting around the table, some we knew and some we never seen before. We were told that Leilani had a rare form of brain cancer called “Congenital Gemistocytic Astrocytoma” and that there were only three other known cases in medical history. The other cases were successful but Lani’s case was a little more complicated. She had one big tumor and two small tumors on the right. But she also had one small tumor on the left.

They could only operate on one side and it had to be the right, so they told us it didn’t look good. They said if I never had the respiratory nurse check Lani’s breathing and she went home she would have died in a few weeks. Then they went on to say that her chances of surviving such a big surgery for such a small baby were slim, and if she did make it, the left side would eventually grow, and if that happened than there would be nothing they could do. They suggested the unthinkable. Just take her home and let whatever happens happen. I told them that was not an option! If she dies in surgery then that is what happens, but I was not going to sit by and do nothing! I don’t care if you have never done this surgery on a 3-week-old! But either you take her to UCLA or I will, but she is going to have this surgery! At first they told us they were going to take the whole right side, but they only took the frontal lobe and part of the center portion.

The surgery was a success! Her seizures were gone. Her pituitary gland went into shock as a result of the surgery, so she developed diabetes incipitus (water diabetes) and renal disorder. She had to go home having two shots a day of DDAVP (a really dangerous drug that controlled her sodium levels) along with phenobarbital and topamax to control her seizures and hydrocortisone to control her adrenalin. All this adult medication for this 7 pound baby, but if it was going to help, who am I to question. I am not a doctor. Boy has that attitude changed! I was just so happy to take her home! She didn’t sleep the first few days because of the dark and quiet. She was so used to all the lights and noise of the hospital. We were so hopeful that this would be it.

Lani was released from the hospital on October 14. We were so hopeful that this was going to be it. That she would come home and recover and never have to have another surgery again. The first week home was great, she progressed so much! She was smiling and playing, doing all the things a two-month-old baby should do. A week later, mother came to visit. Everything went well, my mother got to see Lani out of the hospital, and Lani got to spend time with her Grandma. It was the night before my mother was to fly back to Boston and I was getting Lani ready for bed. She was lying on my bed while I was puttering getting things ready, when I looked down at her and noticed she was kind of breathing funny and her eyes looked red and a little watery. She almost looked as if she was scared. We didn’t make much of it and went on with our night hoping it was nothing.

Two days later I noticed it happen again. It was really hard to tell because it lasted seconds and she didn’t have any typical seizure signs. But I knew. My heart dropped. We called her doctor the next day and told her what we were seeing. She said it didn’t sound like a seizure but she wanted her to have an EEG anyway. So we went in for an EEG and it was confirmed that she was having seizures again. Her doctor told me that her visual signs and EEG results were so slight, it was hard to tell what was going on. She asked me, “What, do you do stare at her all day?” And I said, “Why yes, I do.” She laughed and called me the “seizure dog mom.” She said that they had to look at the video over and over again to see what I was seeing. I replied, “Well, I am a mom and moms just know.”

The performed an MRI just to be sure that it was a tumor causing the problem and they found one on her temporal lobe. They scheduled to have a temporal lobe resectioning on November 30. In the mean time Lani was still receiving two shots a day for diabetes insipidus, which I insisted she no longer had. But I would fight that battle after Lani’s surgery. This surgery was a bit of a nightmare. Before surgery (as most of you know) you can not eat for 12 hours, so when it is a baby they try to get them in ASAP. Well, the scrubber in the operating room was not working and since Lani’s doctor did not want to use another room, we had to wait three hours. She was seizing every hour, and she was hungry and scared. It took them five times just to get an IV line. Complete nightmare! They finally took her in and then the waiting game began. This time it was nine hours! I was so scared. I kept having them call to make sure everything was ok. Finally the doctor came up and told us he got it all out and she was on her way to the PICU.

The first person we met the PICU was Lani’s nurse whose name I can’t remember. She was a good nurse for the most part- nice enough. But the thing that I remember the most was when I walked in and she was ordering insulin along with Lani’s other meds. When I explained to her that she didn’t have sugar diabetes, that she had diabetes insipidus and needed DDAVP she said to me, “What’s that?” Scary right!? But then that was followed by, “Thank you for telling me! It gets so busy in here that I don’t always get time to read the charts.” Well needless to say, I didn’t leave that night! Thankfully we were only in there for one night. We were transferred to the main floor the next day and released two days later. This was a relatively easy surgery for Lani and she was back to herself in a couple of days. They used the same incisions, so there was no new scaring and most importantly, no seizures for three weeks…

So after three brain surgeries we are right back where we started. But this time she is having infantile spasms again, along with her regular partial onsets. They were not sure if Lani could have more surgery being so young so they wanted to go the medication route. What does this mean for Leilani? More medication. The upside is that her seizures would eventually be under control. The downside is that you are filling your baby with poison that could give her all kinds of other problems.

These medications have serious side effects and as a mother I had to research each and every one so I would know what I was willing to try and what was too risky. I do recommend you for the most part listen to your doctors, they didn’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and 8+ years in school to not know what they are doing. But the reality is, hospitals like anything else, are businesses and everyone wants to get paid including the pharmaceutical companies. So don’t be afraid to say no if you are informed about what it is you are protesting.

I was finally able to convince them that Leilani’s pituitary gland was functioning on it’s own so her endocrinologist took her off of the DDAVP and Hydrocortisone J. So now she is only on four types of anticonvulsants at adult doses, and she is still having up to 18-22 seizures a day that last almost 5-10 minutes each. She has been going like this for three months, which is how long I told her doctors I would give all this medication to work. Add some subtract some, it made no difference. So I told them I want to do something else because I was not willing to let these medications ravage her internal organs, they were not helping.

They recommended two alternatives: Sabril, a drug that could damage her peripheral vision, and carried no guarantee to stop the seizures. Or a high powered steroid called Actar. We went with the steroid after doing much research. This medication cost $25,000 for a two week supply! Thank GOD I didn’t have to pay for it. But it had to be administered intramuscularly twice a day which was the hardest thing I ever had to do. My heart broke every time.. She immediately started having side effects. She was inconsolable all the time!!!! And this is a baby who is always happy. She was swollen, hungry all the time, and just flat out miserable.

Her seizures did not stop or slowed down, so after two weeks of this I wanted to stop. We went to her pediatrician for a check-up and her blood pressure was 170 over 95. We immediately took her to CHLA. Her neurologist did not want to admit her. She said the when her blood pressure got under control she could leave, but I knew there was more going wrong. I kept telling them she was having problems peeing and that she had a history of DI. This was not true of course but I knew it would force internal scan, given the fact that ACTAR can shut down your kidneys and liver.

After doing some tests they discovered her liver was ¼ larger than it should be and had a gritty texture on it. She was admitted immediately. Because the medication was not appropriate for her seizures, all the bad side effects took place. This is why it is dangerous to take medication your body does not need. After four days in the hospital I went to see her surgeon to demand he rethink Lani’s surgery. I was not taking anymore chances with medications, nor would I let her keep having seizures that could cause permanent brain damage or, even worse, kill her.

He said that it would be too dangerous and the seizures would not cause as much damage as the surgery could. It is hard to know what to think or what to believe sometimes. He has performed three surgeries on her already. I thought he truly cared; he is an accredited brain surgeon. I said I would try one more thing but on my own conditions. I would try a ketogenic diet. It was medicating, but with food; it was been proven to reduce and stop seizures. I wanted her taken off all but one of her anticonvulsants, and if this did not work I was going to do what I had to do. With much fighting over trying Sabril, which was off the table for me, considering this last fiasco they agreed.

We were getting ready to go to Boston for a visit so I asked Leilani’s doctor for all of her medical records, tests, MRI results etc. The plan was to have a doctor at Children’s in Boston take a look at her case and get a second opinion. She gave me a consolidated report of Leilani’s case. She also gave us a referral for a doctor in Orange County and stated that she has been pushing for the surgery.

We made an appointment in OC before we left for Boston and that is where we met her new doctor. If you have ever had to deal with a surgeon you know that for the most part they are not very warm and fuzzy. Especially brain surgeons! I don’t know if it is the whole GOD complex thing, or they have been numbed from seeing so much. Our new doctor was the exception to this rule. He insisted we call him Devin and hugged and kissed Leilani as if she was his own child. This gave us great comfort. To Dr. Binder Lani is a person not just006 a patient. Every time we go to his office he is introducing us to the staff that does not know us. He even keeps a picture of her in his shirt pocket.

Chris and I did not come to our decision easily, this was a big surgery. For the most part, small children recover from it nicely. But Lani was only one year old and this would be her fourth surgery in a year, something that in itself is unheard of. The other issue is Leilani had a tumor on the edge of the left hemisphere. And there was a dispute on whether it was on the basal ganglia or the third ventricle.

The basal ganglia are associated with a variety of functions, including voluntary motor control, procedural learning, relating to routine behaviors or “habits” such as eye movements, and cognitive, emotional functions. And the other was the third ventricle, which is mainly responsible for storing cerebral fluids, and not as dangerous to operate on. But our doctor was sure it was the third ventricle and that it would be ok. So with that we put our trust in him and consented to operating on both sides. The decision was the toughest decision we have ever had to make. This could have stopped her seizures or left her paralyzed, but we wouldn’t know until it was all done. Sometimes you just have to trust in your gut and in GOD to that everything will be ok. And it was.

Leilani’s surgery took three hours and she was screaming “Mamma” in the recovery room. Music to my ears! She was on her way to a speedy recovery, eating and showing that she recognized us. Her surgery was a success! When they wheeled her to PICU I noticed she did not have a drain. I asked why and the doctor told me that neither he nor the hydrocephalus surgeon who assisted him thought she would have any problem draining the fluid naturally. Wrong! Within a few hours her head swelled up like a balloon. She was throwing up and screaming from the pain. I was so mad because I asked them right out of surgery if she needed it and they said no. This is something that can be done at bedside, so if they did it when I asked then she would not be going through this.

One mistake does not reduce him as a doctor to us. Yes we are still dealing with the effects because she has a little droop to her eye, lots of nerve damage, and is still on a feeding tube. But in the grand scheme of things she is alive and seizure free. So we still stand by our decision to have him as a surgeon and would recommend him to anyone. He has since told me no matter how small the surgery, because of Leilani, he will always drain, so lesson learned I guess.

She would spend the next month in the hospital recovering from this. I slept in the hospital every night. The only time I left was two hours at night to shower and eat, but other than that I was a permanent fixture in the hospital. For the most part the hospital was top notch and the staff was great. There were moments where I was glad I didn’t leave, like the time the nurse forgot to stop the drain and her CSF was all over her bed! Or the time I did leave and came back to find my baby sitting in her own throw up! Of course these instances were few and far between. We were there for a month and it was a very busy PICU. More so than any other I have ever been in. So on a scale from 1-10 I give them an 11. They were truly amazing.

We had a genealogist who was trying to uncover what caused all of this. She took one look at Chris and could see he had TSC. She asked us to talk to his doctor since he has had brain surgery in the past and was under the care of a neurologist, but his doctor said no, he had Sterg Weber disorder, so we all let the idea go. Lani’s heart was fine, and after all, she was born with cancer. As time went on, I did a lot of research online about TSC, and a week before we were to be discharged, I noticed the smallest white spot on the side of her leg.

I called the doctor in and asked if she could do a DNA test on her to rule it out. I need to know how to go forward with Lani’s treatment and what to expect. Her test results came back positive. This weighed heavy on our hearts, but it was better to know than not know. We later had Chris tested and he also tested positive for TS1.

Going forward, Lani sees every week: two physical therapists, one occupational therapist, an early interventions therapist, an eye function therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, a feeding therapist and a speech therapist. And this is just to be able to do all the things that all of us take for granted, like walk and talk and feed ourselves. We work with her every day all day! And that is what it will take. But she will be able to function on her own if I can help it! She is the strongest little girl I know and if anyone can do it she can. With all of this we still and always will feel blessed to have Leilani as our daughter. She has given us so much love and hope and we would not change a thing. GOD has a purpose for Leilani. I truly believe that.

Please check out Kimberly’s Facebook page: Love 4 Lani