Tag Archives: God

I like to think that God has given me other gifts to make up for me having such a rare disease.

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 23

by guest blogger Kate Carter  (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

297781_1483085518122_1098623929_nI was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis back when I was 2 ½ years old. I am now approaching my 22nd birthday. So, I have lived with TSC as long as I can remember but I haven’t let that stop me. As far as we know there is no genetic link so it’s just a mutation that happened to pick me. I have seen many things through my times at hospitals for annual visits. I remember being in one of the early MRI machines and watching the improvements in research and other medical developments. Sure, things got tough at times but I always maintained a positive attitude. I am very luck to have a “mild” case of Tuberous Sclerosis but still very affected. If it weren’t for such an active lifestyle and healthy diet, I wouldn’t be this “well” off. But through it all, there are still challenges. In my 8th grade year I suffered a grand mal seizure that lasted 90 minutes. I came away with no brain damage but still managed to get the flu. Somewhere up there someone is looking out for me. I haven’t had a specifically labeled seizure event since then. I have things that we are calling “spells” because they aren’t sure. It’s a mix of anxiety attacks and seizures but not bad enough to make me unconscious. It is very frustrating to not know what these things are and know how to treat them. I often think though, my life could be so much worse and I know all us TSC suffers all have things we 1450206_10201859552184922_1568234232_ndon’t understand. The world doesn’t understand. I hope that continues to change.

Of all the challenges, my learning disability has been the most difficult thing for me in terms of this disease. Some days I would remember things and
others I would draw a complete blank. I can’t thank my teachers, professors, coaches, and parents for helping me thus far in life. Since I just graduated from college, it is time to begin the next chapter in life and to learn to live on my own. Throughout my life I have never felt like I wasn’t “normal.” I like to think that God has given me other gifts to make up for me having such a rare disease. I have excelled athletically. In high school I was nationally ranked in the 800m by my senior year and all-American on relay teams. All of that lead to the wonderful scholarship to my respected university, my coach had no idea what my disease was but took a chance on me and I can’t thank her enough. Just because I 31393_1494934937388_733010_nhave a certain disease doesn’t mean I can’t do things like my peers. My parents have been by my side from day 1 but have to slowly pull back because I’m aging and have to take on my own responsibilities. I am both excited and nervous for the leeway. Wondering what will happen next, but I figure if I’ve made it this far. I’m sure I’ll be just fine.

To all those that are younger than me and or parents, I suggest if able get involved in sports. That has kept me healthy in more ways then one and always looks at life positively. Sure times will get tough and you will have breakdowns but just know there is always a tomorrow and another challenge to master. Always surprise. Let’s make the world aware of us.

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Our happily ever after felt as if it was being taken away from us.

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 13

by guest blogger Heather Lens   (Stilwell, Oklahoma)

Madilyn Rae Lens, was born on October 19th, 2012. She was born a perfectly healthy little girl. She was a dream come true! We had no reason to believe 1234820_4656475948570_2025514539_nthat she would be anything but healthy as she hit milestones in her first 5 months of life.

All of those thoughts changed when at 5 1/2 months old she started doing a weird twitch with her arms. I was feeding her and she kept throwing her arms in the air. My mommy instincts went off immediately. Deep down inside I knew something was wrong. Nothing she was doing looked like a seizure to me, but for some reason my mind kept going back to wondering if it was a seizure. After a day of seeing light twitches I took her to her pediatricians office. Unfortunately, her pediatrician wasn’t there so we had to see another provider there. He told me he didn’t think it was anything other than motor reflexes but he would refer us to a neurologist to calm my fears. I left his office that day full of mixed emotions. I was happy that the doctor said it was probably nothing but still had a gut feeling that he was missing something. I had been around my siblings when they were infants and I didn’t ever remember seeing anything like this. I cried the entire way home at the thought of waiting 2-3 weeks for the referral. How could I wait that long for answers? I called my husband and told him something wasn’t right. He immediately left the fire station and came home. That night I consulted the lovely library of Google. Everything I looked at said the term Infantile Spasms. I was sick after reading information about this catastrophic type of seizures. I knew that this is what she had. I cried and told my husband about it and he agreed we would take her to a children’s hospital first thing in the morning. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. My mind was going in all directions. The  next morning, while I was getting her ready to leave for the hospital, she had one of the most intense episodes. Her eyes started rolling up and she would cry like she was in pain. We loaded up and headed for the hospital which was two hours away. The car was silent the entire way. I was able to catch a few of her twitching episodes on the way to the hospital . We got to the ER and we were immediately admitted after the ER doctor saw a video of the seizure. Still at this point no one was calling it a seizure they were calling them muscle spasms, which gave me a false hope that maybe it was nothing.

558704_10100447182455011_1003519270_nAfter being admitted she was put through a million tests, blood, urine, MRI, EEG, EKG and probably more that I 10307367_10200927489788174_5094866193832748621_ndon’t recall now. After her first EEG it was confirmed that our perfectly healthy little girl was having Infantile Spasms and if we didn’t get them under control immediately it could lead to mental retardation. Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. We were devastated and couldn’t seem to figure out how she could have such an awful type seizure when she had been healthy up until now. After they explained her diagnosis of IS they said they also needed to rule out a rare genetic disorder that can sometimes coexist with IS. They were going to check to see if any of her organs were “marked” with a disease called tuberous sclerosis. I remember being 100% confident that they were wasting their time looking for this rare disease. They already told us she had IS, it couldn’t get worse than that. I recall my mom and husband trying to find information regarding TSC online and I got a little angry at them. I didn’t know why they were wasting their time looking at it because she simply could not have a rare genetic disease along with these seizures. I have no doubt that I was going through denial at that point.

The next day we got the heart wrenching news that she in fact had tumors on her brain and heart. She showed enough signs that she did have TSC. My heart broke into a million pieces that day. At one point I do remember feeling as though life was over. I was terrified of our daughters future. All of the things I had envisioned for my daughter was suddenly ripped out of my hands. We were told that she would be delayed, she may need brain surgery, she may never be able to live an independent life. She may never walk, talk, feed herself. It was all doom and gloom. Our happily ever after felt as if it was being taken away from us.

We left the hospital a few days later and were as well equipped as possible for her new type of care. After two days of taking Sabril her IS disappeared! And 1382781_4821538395028_1044385447_nabout a month of being on Sabril we started to see her personality shine through. Although we still had the fear of this disease. she was showing us signs of hope! We waited and watched her like a hawk, anticipating the next seizure.

Fast forward a year. We haven’t seen a seizure since April 26th 2013. We also have been beyond blessed that all those frightening things we were preparing for have not shown themselves. Madilyn is currently on track with her development and is a month away from starting the weaning process.

The past year has been such a whirlwind. Our emotions have been scattered all over the place. Thankfully we have outstanding family members and community that have helped us move forward with life, and have taken on our cause as well. We have seen an overwhelming amount of support for Madilyn and our family. Without the support and our faith we would be lost. I am so beyond thankful for this past year. She has shown me what it means to have courage and strength. She doesn’t stop fighting for one second, which means I wont stop fighting for her either. She is my little fighter, and my constant reminder of true love.

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Check out Heather’s blog Life with My Princess and her contribution to this blog for 2013’s TSC Awareness Month.

Waiting for a seizure to happen is no way to live.

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 9

by guest blogger Jamie Perry  (Deltona, Florida)

At the end of August 2011, I found out I was pregnant with my second child. My husband Joe and I had been married for 10 years and decided to have one more child so my 3-year-old daughter would have a sibling as we didn’t want her growing up an only child. I got pregnant quickly and we were thrilled. At the end of 2011 I found out I was having a boy. I had no problems during the pregnancy and the doctors said everything looked good.

image-1My c-section was scheduled April 18, 2012. On that day I had a beautiful 8 lb 3 oz boy and we named him Cayden George Perry. He was the most beautiful little thing and I was immediately smitten. There’s just something about that mother-son bond. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. The birth went smoothly and ,other than a weird red mark on his forehead, he was perfect. My husband and I asked several doctors about the red mark on his head and they would always tell us it was trauma from when he was inside of my stomach or it was a birthmark or it was a bruise. No one actually seemed to know what it was. No one seemed concerned either. Aside from the red mark on his head, he had several large white patches on his legs and arms. And again, we were told they were birthmarks.

After we got out of the hospital, we saw our regular pediatrician. We again asked about his white spots and red mark. We were told the exact same thing. Everyone felt comfortable guessing but no one could give us a definite answer. They said he was fine and we shouldn’t be worried. At 4 ½ months we figured out exactly what those ‘birthmarks’ were. As a mom, I notice everything. I noticed when I would cuddle Cayden sometimes, his body would stiffen up and he would scream out as if he were in pain. I called the pediatrician several times over the course of a week and each time I’d call, they’d tell me it was likely teething, give him Tylenol and that they didn’t feel it was necessary to see him. I told them I saw no bumps in his mouth but they insisted he was fine and I was overreacting.

After a week of dealing with this, I was extremely worried. Tylenol wasn’t helping and nobody seemed to believe me when I told them I suspected something was wrong with Cayden. I got the “you worry too much” speech from nearly everyone.  On the Sunday before Labor Day, he started having one of the episodes and I yelled for my husband to please take a closer look at him. I knew it wasn’t normal. “I think he’s having a seizure.” Those words from my husband will stick with me forever. He scooped up Cayden and took off to the ER. I got my daughter ready and we hopped in my car and followed. The ER doctor agreed with my husband that Cayden was definitely having a seizure but he didn’t know why. He was on the phone with a neurologist when the nurse came in to ask about the red mark on Cayden’s head and the white spots. We said we had asked several doctors and were told they were birthmarks. At that time, I was so confused. Why was my son having seizures? What could white spots have to do with it? A few hours later, Cayden was life-flighted to a larger hospital an hour away. The doctor felt the  white spots and the red mark were genetic markers for something called Tuberous Sclerosis, which I had never heard of. I made the mistake of looking it up online. I was terrified of what was going to happen to my little boy.

The next day, they did a full body MRI on him and confirmed the diagnosis of Tuberous Sclerosis. They mentioned a drug called Sabril that they’d order for imagehim and they were confident it would be helpful in stopping the seizures. He spent 10 days in the hospital and while the seizures didn’t come as often, they were still happening multiple times a day. Joe and I made the choice to move his treatment to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. From our research, this was one of the best hospitals to treat Tuberous Sclerosis. We started there at the beginning of October 2012. Much to our surprise, on our first visit there, Cayden was also diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. It seems the old hospital, while they did do a full-body MRI, never read the results. We had brought the MRI on disc with us for the new neurologist to review and the nephrologist reviewed it as well because after taking Cayden’s blood pressure and seeing it was through the roof, he suspected PKD. My husband and I were devastated. We were just getting over the shock of Cayden being diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis and now this??!!! It was just so much to process. They put him on blood pressure medicine and the neurologist made some changes to the dosage of his Sabril. Even at the max dose, Cayden’s seizures still continued. And from that point, they continued another four months until a miracle happened. For four months multiple meds were tried. Nothing seemed to help my son. Watching your son have multiple seizures daily is simply heartbreaking. I sunk into a depression and I dimage-2idn’t think I could pull out of it. I shut everyone out of my life. I was devastated that nobody could seemingly help my son. In January 2013, we discussed Afinitor. The doctor decided to take him off of Onfi (as the side effects were too harsh for Cayden). We began to wean Cayden off Onfi  and we were to start a medicine called Dilantin while waiting to get approved for Afinitor.  After three days on Dilantin, something changed with Cayden. When we woke up on a Sunday morning we heard Cayden in his crib moving around and making noises. I was baffled when I walked into his room. He smiled at me! Then he laughed! And then, of course, I cried! I hadn’t seen that beautiful smile in five months. He was so happy and I can’t describe the feeling I felt seeing him smile. I felt my prayers had been answered.

I felt like for the next few weeks I was waiting for the bottom to fall out. But waiting for a seizure to happen is no way to live. So I tried my hardest to just enjoy the seizure-free time that we got with Cayden. Prior to starting Dilantin, he was set up for brain surgery in April of 2013 at NYU Medical Center. The surgery wasn’t successful and while that was extremely disappointing, I was glad that we at least had Dilantin to help with the seizure control. Cayden just turned 2 April 18th of this year. He’s just learning to crawl and stand, he’s saying a few words and he’s sitting on his own. Six months ago, he was doing none of that. I have such a tough, strong, determined little boy! He is my hero and the absolute love of my life. I am so grateful that God gave me such an amazing child and I feel truly blessed to be his mommy!

We are our version of “picture perfect.”

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 5

by guest blogger Shannon Grandia  (Riverside, California)

My name is Shannon Grandia and my three children and husband have all been diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.  Rob and I were high school sweethearts with this “picture perfect” ideal of how our life would turn out.  Rob, my husband, had no idea he had the disorder until our first two born began having seizures and were diagnosed with TSC. When Rylee was born she was this perfect, beautiful baby girl and the picture Rob and I had painted for our life seemed to be coming true.   Over her first year of life Rylee was having these abnormal staring spells that her pediatrician was writing off as normal infant behavior.  At 18 months Rylee’s staring spells were lasting minutes instead of seconds and she was now salivating.  This is when her seizures spiraled out of control and she was hospitalized and diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.  At the time we had never heard of the disorder and had no idea what to expect. She had numerous calcifications covering her brain along with one distinct growth, ash leaf spots on her skin and focal seizures. Doctors told us best case scenario is that she did not develop any more growths and she could live a normal life on medication to control her seizures; worst case scenario could ultimately lead to death. Our “picture perfect life” was beginning to unravel.  Because at the time neither Rob nor I exhibited any signs of the disorder we were told that is was a “sporadic mutation” and unlikely any other children we had would have the disorder.  I was about six weeks pregnant at the time of Rylee’s diagnosis, but ultimately lost the baby at 12 weeks.  This put a strong desire in Rob and I to have another child and since we were told it was not genetic, we felt confident that there would be no complications with another child.

Jake was born two and a half years later. At birth he was a happy, thriving baby boy. Doctors told us it was unlikely he would have TSC, but they would monitor him when we brought Rylee in for her appointments.  At a few months old we noticed a couple white spots on his skin, but doctors told us it was a coincidence and he wasn’t showing any other signs of TSC. I am not sure how long we ignored the small staring spells Jake was having, writing them off as normal infant behavior once again but at 11 months old Jake was having a seizure every half hour and had to be admitted to the hospital and was soon diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex as well.  He too had the ash leaf spots, three distinct growths in his brain and was having focal and complex partial seizures.  This was devastating news and our “picture perfect” life was crashing in around us.

Two children with TSC was a sign that either Rob or I had the disorder. After genetic testing it was determined that Rob had the TSC1 gene that was passed onto the children, his dad and brother were also tested and found to have the disorder. We did a lot of research and discovered there was a 50% chance of passing the disorder onto a child. A year went by and life was manageable.  Both Rylee and Jake were hitting their developmental milestones, medication was controlling the seizures and it seemed both had a more mild case of TSC. We felt confident that if we had a third child, he or she would be TSC free. We also wanted our kids to know that we loved them so much and we did not want to let TSC guide the decisions for our life.  Looking back this may have been a naïve perspective, yet it gave us Luke, and we would not change that for the world.

We did an amniocentesis with Luke to determine if he had TSC before he was born. Words cannot express the feelings that ran through me when we got the call that our unborn child also had TSC. Because of the diagnosis we did further testing and also knew he had tubers in his heart before he was born.  Luke came into the world three weeks ahead of schedule and spent the first two weeks of life in the NICU monitoring SVT’s of his heart. Luke spent more days in the hospital than out his first year of life. At one point he was having over 80 seizures a day and was close to comatose. He also had chronic pneumonia, RSV twice, asthma and further heart issues. Then at two and a half he was hospitalized for liver and kidney failure along with Pneumonia and the H1N1. This was the closest we came to losing Luke and he spent almost three weeks in the PICU at Loma Linda. This hospitalization also revealed that Luke was aspirating with fluids and he got a GI tube for fluids only.  Was this really my life?

Luke’s complications were some of the most difficult and darkest days. With the focus on Luke, Jake’s behavior began to decline dramatically.  At three years old he was no longer hitting developmental milestones, and was actually beginning to decline.  Behaviorally, Jake was throwing constant tantrums and was extremely aggressive being asked to leave the private preschool we had him in at the time.  Rylee was also having a difficult time during this period.  She was struggling academically, had weight gain from seizure medications and ADHD.  All three of our babies were fighting and I will be forever amazed how their strength brought them and us through those rough days. This was a long ways away from the “picture perfect” life Rob and I had dreamed about.

We have now lived with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex for over 11 years.  Rylee is 13 years old and thriving. She is the least affected and is on the road to leading a long “normal” life.  Rylee still takes medication for seizures and ADHD, and school is not easy.  But Rylee is learning how to be a good student and stay focused.  She is also a good athlete, playing softball for the last 4 1/2 years and now playing club volleyball.  Mostly, Rylee is known for her bright smile, positive attitude, and love of life.  She is an incredible help with her brothers and has a heart of compassion that teaches us daily how to be a better person.  Jake is now 10 years old and has a diagnosis of intellectual delay and autism.  He too still battles seizures, but they are controlled the majority of the time by medication.  He also takes a concoction of medication for behavior.  Jake has recently moved to a severe autism class, in the hopes that we can get better control of his behavior.  The key with Jake is consistency and routine, which is actually good for us all.  He as an ABA, one-on-one aid with him in class and an outside agency now evaluates and helps with intervention weekly. It has been a rough couple years.  Luke is a 1st grader (in a more severe Special Day Class).  He is the healthiest he has been since birth.  We have never been able to get his seizures controlled, but at an average of five a day, he is on the most effective combination of medication so far and has begun the Modified Atkins Diet.  Also, the G-tube and not drinking fluids has kept the Pneumonia away and he has had a nice stretch of staying out of the hospital.  Because of his medical issues, Luke has an LVN that stays with him throughout the day.  Originally, we were told he may never walk, talk, or even live past the first few years of life.  Not only has he defied all the odds, but cognitively is trying to catch up and shocking everyone.  At 7 years old, Luke is saying more words everyday, can now ride a tricycle, can follow routine rules in the classroom and on the playground and makes anyone who comes in contact with him immediately fall in love with those bright, blue eyes and huge grin.

Rob and I take one day at a time and have no idea what the future holds for our children, but it makes for an interesting journey.  We have learned to celebrate the little things in life, trust God has a plan for us and our three children, lean on each other and those around us when we need strength, and see the daily blessings our children give us.  TSC is a horrible disorder, but it does not define who we are. Rob and Rylee are both considered mild, Jake is moderate and Luke is classified as severe.  We pray daily for a cure and that the seizures and complications will miraculously disappear.  But we also are so thankful for our three miracles, the difference they are making in this world and the joy they bring.  You will not meet three happier kids that appreciate life and each other more.  Watching them together is a beautiful thing and they teach us daily how to be better.  Over the years our idea of “picture perfect” has changed and our we are our version of “Picture Perfect.”

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Alee’s Advocate

Day 21 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness

By guest blogger Mindee Mata  (Kilgore, Texas)

photoWhen I was first asked to write about Alee I thought..sure ..no problem..I have been Alee’s advocate, her voice for 4 years. I can talk about her forever. As I prepared, I realized that on a daily basis I intentionally put all the horrible parts of her disease in the back of my mind. Her past…her future… I can not think about those things. I have to think about today and today is good! But in order for you to understand Alee I needed to revisit those things.

When Alee was born she was perfect…just like every baby should be but I was still scared to death. I had a 17-month-old and a 4-year-old. I wish I could say I enjoyed every minute of her infant stage but in reality I was on auto pilot until the day after her 6 month check up. She was falling asleep, but every time she started to doze off she would almost jump. It reminded me of the infant startle reflex. At first it just happened every now and then, but it gradually became so frequent that it happened every time she would try to sleep. It would happen all night long off and on with crying in between the clusters. I met with her pediatrician at the time but he had no answers. I called an old pediatrician I had used when we lived in Houston and even went to see her. She set us up with a neurologist but still nothing. Four months went by and she eventually stopped. I was relieved but deep in my heart I knew something was still wrong. My whole life changed one night when she was 11 months old. We were getting ready for bed and she seemed hot, so I gave her some Tylenol and thought she must be getting sick. We went to bed. A little while later I heard the awful noise…the noise I would start hearing so frequently I could hear it in a stadium of 100,000 people. Alee gasping for  breath. I looked at her and she looked like she was in a daze. She could not make eye contact and was completely limp. The only noise was her trying hard to breath. I had no clue what was going on. I had never seen a seizure before, especially one that started like this. My husband called 911. After 20 minutes of the blank stare, the all out seizing started and she stopped breathing all together. I had to do CPR on my baby girl…me…I just did it because I had no other choice. There was no time for an emotional breakdown. The EMT’s arrived, gave her an IV, and headed for the hospital. She was still seizing. At the ER we were able to stop the seizing but her breathing would not return to normal. They were forced to intubate and call for life flight to take her to the nearest pediatric ICU. My husband and I watched all of this basically in shock. I held her, sang to her, kissed her, but I held it together…until she was being loaded on the helicopter and we could not go with her. I looked at her little body all attached to wires and tubes with tears running down her face but no sound. I felt so helpless. The next 30 minutes felt like a lifetime as we drove entirely too fast to the hospital. In my mind the next part is just a haze of doctors, tests, sedation, and questions, but still no answers. We were in the hospital for five days until finally we had a diagnosis. There were eight doctors in the room when they came with her test results. I can remember watching the second hand tick by behind the doctors head because if I did not make eye contact it would not be real. She had tuberous sclerosis. WHAT!! What was that?  And there is no cure? What do we do? Do our other kids have it? We had so many questions, but we finally had a reason for why Alee was sick.

The next year was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through in my life. Alee was in the hospital 1 to 2 days every week. We could not get her seizures under control.  We were photo-18trying every medication available and we just had to wait and see if any would work. She literally ate, slept and seized. My whole life revolved around the seizures and the hardest part was it was affecting my other kids. My son was looking forward to kindergarten, so his first day of school we all got ready and headed out to walk him in and get some pictures. Our house was only three minutes from school, but it was just long enough for Alee to try to fall asleep and the seizures began. As we were walking in Alee started having a long seizure so I had to lay her on the grass in front of the school on her left side and start getting my emergency meds ready. My son was so nervous he was going to be late on the first day, so I gave him a hug and said, “I know you can remember how to get to your class so go ahead and go and I will be there in a few minutes to check on you.” He is so brave. He went and  I watched my 5-year-old have to grow up too fast because of this terrible disease. Alee’s sister went with me everywhere. I was forced to stop working because Alee need 24-hour care and I did not have any family in Waco. Alee was having to get blood work all the time because we were changing meds so frequently and we needed to know how much was in her blood. She had so many IV’s and blood draws that her little veins just collapsed. At one visit they strapped Alee to the board and started trying to get blood. No luck. By stick nine she was screaming and in and out of seizures. The tech was crying and I looked over at Isabella who was sitting like a big kid in a chair and tears were just running down her little face.  All she said was, “Mommy, please make them stop.” Well, I basically lost it then. After stick 14 there was still not blood so we called it a day and would try again tomorrow. I realized that we were all suffering. My husband and I decided to move closer to family so we could have some help with the older kids. And..well..that was God’s plan all along. We had not even started looking for a job yet when my husband received a call that there was a job opening in his home town.  So, within a few months, we moved to Kilgore.

Alee’s social worker at the time told me about a clinic for TSC kids in Houston so I got on the waiting list. After a long 4 month wait we were finally able to see the docs there. Her new neurologist wanted us to try an experimental drug, Sabril, and at this point I would have done anything. I gave it to her for the first time on a Monday and by Thursday she was down to three seizures a day. My prayers had been answered. But the downfall of this drug is it can cause permanent vision loss. Today Alee has lost a little of her peripheral  vision and once that is gone it will take it all. So, we were forced to make a decision. How much vision loss is too much? So when all of her peripheral vision is gone we will take her off the one and only drug that is keeping her from seizing out of control.  We will start the cycle all over again…this may be in six years or six months. We just have to wait and see. On top of the seizures she has tumors in her brain, heart, eyes, skin, face and kidneys. We will more than likely have brain surgery at some point. She will develop polycystic kidney disease, go into kidney failure, and be placed on a transplant list. I know the reason God made her so strong willed…it is because she is going to have to fight for the rest of her life! Her struggles are not going to get any easier, just harder as time goes on. When you think about your children in the future you picture them playing with their friends at recess at school, falling in love, going to college, getting married, having children, but that is not the life that was given to Alee. She has a different path. She is going to be an advocate for TSC. She will help find a cure for this horrible disease.

I wish I could say I was always this positive, but in reality, some days you just want to give up. The loneliest place in our house is the laundry room. That is where I go when TSC gets too big for me to handle. Many, many breakdowns have happened in there, but it is also where I pull it all back together. The emotional side of any disease is too much for most people, but that is not all that is involved when you have a sick child. We are struggling now with so many decisions because she is about to turn 5. Public or private school? What things do we fight for on her IEP? How do we handle that she does not sweat due to long-term use of topamax or her sleepiness from all her meds at school? How do you send your baby to school knowing that she cannot communicate well enough to tell you what is happening there?  I really do believe that God carefully chooses special needs parents and children. You have to be strong, patient, and sensitive at the same time. You have to be able to comfort your seizing child while fighting the ER doctors for her life. You have to be able to hold it all together when the specialty pharmacy forgets to send her meds and you know the outcome will be a life-threatening hospital stay.  Our entire family fights the TSC battle every day and we will not stop. We will give everything but up!!!

And now a word from another mother…..

I’m a guest blogger over at Captain Jacktastic today!

you don't know Jack

We are still in May
And that means

We are still in TUBEROUS SCLEROSIS AWARENESS MONTH!!

I asked my internet friend and mother of Connor– an adorable, sweet boy who also has TSC – to tell HER story.
Here she tells us about the diagnosis, and her journey…..

Please be sure to check out her son’s Facebook page here, and her blog here.

 

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I worried about so many things when I was pregnant. I researched the best prenatal vitamins (didn’t find much conclusive). I decided I would not have the occasional glass of wine until I was out of the first trimester, which turned into the second trimester, which turned into after birth. At most I had a sip or two at a wedding and indulged in an O’Douls. My doctor talked me into a flu shot, and then I spent the next two nights…

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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