Tag Archives: Houston

Focusing on Today

Day 22 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness Month

By guest blogger Cassie McClung  (Houston, Texas)

Avery1My husband and I learned that we were pregnant in the late spring of 2007. Married just two years, we were a bit surprised, but honestly thrilled beyond words. We had a ton of fun preparing for our new addition, even despite the fact that I was so horribly nauseated for the first five months that I lost 12 pounds. Her development, however, was always right on track, and every test and check-up went well. Just a month before her due date, we decided it would be fun to get the new 3-D ultrasound photos that we kept seeing at the doctor’s office. We ended up trying three different times. Every time we went, the baby had her arms up around her face, completely covering every feature. The first time was kind of cute. The second time was a little frustrating. The third time I asked the technician, “Isn’t it a little unusual to have her arms up every time?”

“Yes,” she said, flat out, “I’ve never experienced this before.” I remember my heart went into my throat. Could something be wrong? The doctor dismissed my concern later, telling me not to worry. I tried not to.

The next thing I knew my delivery date was around the corner but the baby was in breach position, so a C-section was scheduled. In late January of 2008, we were blessed with our beautiful daughter Avery. The surgical delivery went well, but within an hour of her birth, I was surrounded by a number of doctors with very serious faces.

They were concerned because it appeared that our precious newborn was having small but frequent seizures while under observation in the nursery. They bombarded me with a million questions at once. “Was she seizing in utero?” is the one that still stands out. WHAT?? What does that feel like? This was my first pregnancy. She kicked a lot, does that count? Were there other signs I should have noticed? I was stunned. Immediately, the doctors sent her away to a bigger hospital with a higher level N.I.C.U. I remember my Avery2delivery doctor turned to me and said, “I’m sorry,” before walking out the door, not to be seen again.

My husband and I were absolutely shocked and terrified.There was no holding, cuddling or bonding.  I tried to recover quickly from surgery, all the while imagining my baby girl across town under the care of who knows who, doing who knows what. Complete and utter torture. This was when I started thinking about the genetic condition that runs in my husband’s family. We were told previously by family members that we should not worry about it…that it was basically no big deal. Then I heard someone at the hospital say it for the first time. TS. Tuberous sclerosis. We hadn’t a clue.

I broke out of the hospital early and rushed to the N.I.C.U. I couldn’t believe how tiny she was, hooked up to so many tubes…all of the nurses knew her name. My Avery. They already knew so much about her. They’d spent so much more time with her than I had. It felt so strange. At first glance, she looked pretty and pink, sleeping peacefully like a typical newborn. And then I saw it. All of a sudden, she puckered her little lips, turned bright red, and her right arm extended straight out. It faded quickly, but there was no mistaking that she was seizing. Nothing could ever have prepared us for what happened next.

We were shown into a large meeting room across the hall. A doctor sat across from me and five or six med students and residents sat next to her. I’ll never understand why they were invited…why they needed to sit and watch this intrinsically personal experience unfold. They never spoke, just watched. The doctor slowly explained to us that Avery had been born with a rare genetic condition called tuberous sclerosis. Benign tumors grew willy nilly in her brain and heart. She had many of these growths in the left side of her brain, which were causing massive abnormalities and resulting in seizures. She also had a few in her heart, but they were not affecting her breathing, and we were told they would eventually disappear. Small victory. The ones in her brain, unfortunately, would not just go away.

Avery3So that’s when Avery’s brain surgeon appeared. Yep, my daughter has a brain surgeon. Surreal. And that’s when we found out that our newborn needed a radical brain surgery that was meant to end her seizures, or she would not survive: a hemispherectomy. The two sides of the brain would be disconnected from each other, and large portions of “bad brain” would be removed from the left side. Before we could even begin to digest this information, the surgeon went on to explain that he had never performed this surgery on a baby less than nine months old, and most of his colleagues had told him he was crazy. But that it was her only chance.

This is the part where I have to pause and breathe. Because more than two years after the fact, I can still feel the residual effects of this man’s words pulsating through my mind and body. I can still close my eyes and remember the breath-stealing sobs I cried as I said goodbye to my week-old daughter and heartbrokenly handed her to the nurse that would take her to the operating room. We waited hours and hours, hardly breathing, wondering if we made the right decision. It was, and Avery did beautifully. Her strength amazed us. It still does! She was in and out of brain surgery three times in her first month of life. She came home after one month and five days in the hospital, eating on her own, cooing and wiggling. The seizures had completely stopped. We had renewed hope, renewed faith. Her future appeared so much brighter.

We were told by the doctors that there was really no way to predict her future as far as cognitive and physical ability; but the upside was that the earlier the surgery, the better– i.e. giving the “normal” side of her brain time to take over tasks that the opposite side can’t handle anymore…and we couldn’t have done it any earlier!

Avery actually needed two more brain surgeries, at three months of age and at five months, before the seizures stopped returning. She continued taking Vigabatrin (Sabril) for the next four years as a back-up, in case they did try to come back. It was the only drug that had ever slowed down her seizures before.

For four years, Avery thoroughly enjoyed a total break from seizures, as did her parents. We were busy attending to her other many needs, like the fact that the surgery had resulted in the left side of her body being extremely weakened (hemiparesis). No one ever mentioned this side effect before surgery. It was then, and is now, our biggest challenge among many. When she was still not sitting up by herself at 18 months and after lots of therapy, we knew we needed a lot more help. We were lucky enough to find an amazing, private special needs preschool that had experience with children just like Avery. They taught her to sit and scoot. They taught her sign language, how to drink with a straw, and how to use a fork and spoon. And they continue to teach her now. I don’t know what we’d do without these amazing teachers that love my daughter for exactly who she is, and not what she lacks.

Sadly, this past year the seizures returned. We were devastated of course, but not surprised. We knew it was a miracle that they stopped for as long as they did. They are under Avery4control again now with new meds: Onfi and Vimpat. She seems a little more tired now, but overall a happier disposition.

Walking is still our biggest goal. The left side of her body just doesn’t want to cooperate! Although still extremely developmentally delayed, her cognitive skills continue improving. No words yet, but lots of sounds. We have three PT’s, two OT’s and two SP sessions every single week, on top of her school “work.” Avery works harder than any kid I know, and she does it with a smile. She has taught us endless lessons about love, grace, and the simple joys in life. Almost two years ago, we were blessed with another sweet girl! A healthy, TS free little sister, who dotes on her older sister.

As many special needs moms have said before me, it’s impossible to focus on the future right now. In order to get there, we have to focus on today. Today she is healthy, happy and working as hard as she possibly can to reach her potential. What that is, no one knows, but we will move heaven and earth to get her there.

Please check out Cassie’s blog at www.abubslifeblog.blogspot.com

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!!!