Tag Archives: Neurological Disorders

Gearing up for TSC Awareness Month

Three therapists so far are kind of “meh” on the autism diagnosis. They recognize the “quirks” he has, but don’t particularly think of him as autistic. The diagnosis opens the door to more help, but it’s comforting to see a look of surprise from people who know him so well. It’s a tricky thing, the secondary diagnosis, when there are so many potential causes of issues. He’s social this boy. He may chew on your pants, but he’ll look you in the eye when he’s done.

Chris and I have decided to raise money towards this year’s TSC walk by selling awareness t-shirts. We initially thought about team shirts but decided a general awareness shirt would have a bigger reach. If you don’t want a t-shirt, you can donate directly to the walk at the link at the top of the page. But if you’d like a shirt from which a portion of the proceeds benefit the TS Alliance, go here. At the moment I am posting this the shirts are unisex, but I hope to have a woman’s cut available soon.

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Next month is TSC Awareness Month and I plan to do a month of daily guest posts from other people living and dealing with TSC. Last year was a huge success and there is a tab at the top of the page to check out last year’s submissions.

If you would like to share your TSC story this year, I need you to e-mail me the following at pin.the.map@gmail.com:

*Your general story or you can focus on a particular issue you have had to deal with (e.g. advocating in schools, a surgery, balancing family, LAM). I don’t make rules on length. Your story is your story. I’m also open to creative entries, such as inspirational poetry. I cut and paste to the blog so a word doc or just the body of an e-mail is fine.

*city and state or country (I would really love to have more countries represented this year!)

*1-4 pictures

*if you have an awareness page, blog or fundraising page, I will share the link

Hope to hear from you!

 

Medical Cannabis and Political Games

Guest post by Mixed Up Daddy

For those of you that have wondered, yes there is a Mixed Up Daddy that walks the path of life with Mixed Up Mommy.  Probably more astonishing to some (including my family and close friends), I even can write!  Although let me start by saying I don’t write nearly as well as my wife.

Also, before I get into the true reason of this post, let me just say how proud of my wife I am, not only for writing this blog and educating so many on TSC and our journey through it, but also for being an incredible wife and best friend to me, and of course the best mom ever to Connor (no offense to the other moms out there!).  I also want to thank the little man himself, Connor.  He is such an inspiration to me, and I only wish I could have a little bit of the strength and courage he shows every day.

Now on to the reason for my first foray into blogging — a certain state representative here in Georgia.  As I am sure you are all aware from reading Becky’s blog, there has been a push in 2014 to legalize medical cannabis oil in Georgia — oil that could potentially not only help with the quality of life for so many like Connor, but could potentially be lifesaving.  It goes without saying how wonderful it is to have State Representative Allen Peake of District 141 who was willing to champion this cause for so many on our side.  He did this knowing it was going to be a tough fight and one that could potentially end his political career.  It is refreshing having politicians who, even though they may lose their political career, are still willing to take on the hard issues because it is the right thing to do!  I applaud you sir!!!  I only wish we had more like you at every level of government.

But that isn’t the representative I came to write about.  I also didn’t come to write about my State Senator who, although he is in the state senate to represent myself and the rest of his constituents, never returns emails, voicemails, Twitter messages, stands you up for appointments, and doesn’t even show up for his own scheduled town hall meeting (and let me add this is not just my experience, but dozens of his constituents’ experiences).  Nor am I here to write about how wrong it is that our government (both at the federal and state levels) take off every other year from tackling the hard issues because “it is an election year”.  Again, there are some great politicians out there that don’t do this, but I am sick of hearing this. You are elected to represent us, each year and every year.  I am also not here to tackle the comment made on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives during the debate on HB885 by a freshman politician that when he took office he was told by other politicians that freshmen congressmen and congresswomen should be seen and not heard.  Since when do those who elected a new member to represent them suddenly not have a voice?  To me this is nothing more than bullying of politicians by other politicians. Thankfully the above referenced representative did not listen to those politicians, but instead gave a great speech and represented those from his district. On a side note, don’t get me started on the all too common practice in politics of “the more you donate, the more you matter and get access.”  Maybe that is how I can get access to my state senator?

Okay, so maybe I got to a few items, just not in the detail I could have.

No, I am here to talk about, and give my opinion — no one else’s — on Georgia State Representative Sharon Cooper of District 43.  I did not know who Sharon Cooper was before this process as I do not live in her district and did not get involved in state politics. But after this process, oh wow!  Now I readily admit I am biased when it comes to the topic of cannabis oil, but my issue with Sharon Cooper isn’t so much on this topic, but the way she has conducted herself during this process, and I can only assume, how she conducts herself in general down at the Gold Dome (the Capital in Georgia is referred to as the Gold Dome).  I also will say that she voted for this bill twice — once in committee and once in the full House vote. But looks can be deceiving.  In my humble opinion she has actually been trying to kill the bill behind the scenes.  I will get to that in a moment.  Some though will say, “Why would she vote for the bill if she didn’t want it passed in reality?” Well that is where I question how she does things.  Based on parents who were in the House during the vote, she was one of the last to vote. Again it is just my opinion, but my guess is that she was seeing how the vote was going, and in “old school politician” mode, chose to vote for it as it isn’t easy to be a “no” vote when the vote is 171-4, but it is easy to hide as a “no” vote if the vote were say 104-71. (I know old school dirty politics, I was born and raised in Chicago, where that was invented).  No, an “old school politician” would vote for it (knowing that is what the public would see), and then behind the “closed doors” of the capitol try to kill the bill (luckily the doors of the capitol of Georgia are not as “closed” as she thinks).  My issue here is that she has a responsibility to her constituents to show them how she truly votes on the issues, not resort to the all too common politics of today of “I will do whatever I need to do to get reelected”.  I have no problem with my elected officials voting contrary to my opinion on issues, as there is no way we would see eye to eye on every issue.  We should not have to ask that they vote accurately though so we can actually make an informed decision during elections.  We deserve that much!

Now you may ask, “How was she trying to kill the bill?”  Behind the scenes at the Gold Dome she was passing out a flyer on the “Truths” (my wording) of HB885, yet there were several facts that were wrong on it.  I am not sure if she just got the facts wrong and didn’t do the research, or if she did this on purpose, but either way that is unconscionable, and although it is common in politics, has no place.  Let’s also not forget that her position on some items is ever changing.  Take Epidiolex (a pharmaceutical cannabis product that is currently going through FDA trials and shows some great promise) for example.  At her committee meeting there was testimony by a woman — a family values advocate, not a doctor  –who said Epidiolex could be here in Georgia in 30 days, yet there was also testimony by a respected neurologist (Connor’s doctor, and many of the other children that could benefit from cannabis oil) who said he was in the process of getting DEA approval to run an Epidiolex trail, but it was a long and arduous process.  So who does she back during the meeting? The non-doctor testimony — never mind the fact that it was a lie.  She would correct that in later speeches and comments though.  She could have also found out more about how it is such a long process by watching the show Weed 2 that recently aired on CNN and was done by Dr. Sanjay Gupta.  Of course this is the same congresswoman who called into question Dr. Gupta’s credibility during her committee meeting.  Never mind Dr. Gupta is a well respected neurosurgeon, assistant professor, and journalist.  She also cut off more than one parent during their testimony, including one that she would later reference in her speech on the House floor regarding medical cannabis, although twisting and misrepresenting his story to fit her ways.

Representative Cooper’s big idea on the subject is that we have an alternative FDA medicine — Epidiolex — at our disposal.  Unfortunately that medicine is not readily available and we have no idea when it will be (most likely years based on other FDA timelines).  Currently it is only in trials, very limited trials (we are talking 125 people, and based on trials that are trying to get up and running, at most maybe 2000 people, but probably less, in the future).  She also has said that Children’s Hospital of Atlanta has told her they are open to do studies on Epidiolex, yet when contacted, CHOA said they have no interest in doing a study on Epidiolex at this time. I have no idea why the parents are getting different information than Representative Cooper, but we certainly aren’t being told what she says she’s hearing (maybe “old school politics” again).  What do these parents and adults do in the meantime?  Also, let me point out that most patients have exhausted all available FDA-approved meds that are out there for their conditions.  Let me also mention that although I am sure there are some incredible people working for the FDA, let’s not forget that the top levels at the FDA are political appointees, and that big pharma is an incredibly powerful lobby and big contributors to political campaigns.  Let’s also not forget the side effects that come with the FDA-approved meds that are taken every day — possible vision damage, kidney failure and liver damage to name just a few.  Or that there have been FDA-approved drugs that have then been recalled.

I am digressing though. There are some incredible parents we have met along this journey that are a lot better at giving examples of her lies, and if they cannot get them published in the Atlanta paper, I am sure my wife will give you a forum to get your message out.  Since the Atlanta paper allowed an editorial by Sharon Cooper though, I certainly hope they give “us” a chance to get the truth out there.  Again, this is about her shady politics, though.  This is what the general public has grown sick of in America.  We expect our politicians to act in a better manner.  I only wish I lived in her district to run against her.  In Georgia though, we are sort of set-up where the common man can’t run.  We only pay our politicians less than $18,000 a year (no, I am in no way advocating for higher pay), so unfortunately unless you are a business owner, or independently wealthy, it is almost impossible to run as you can’t raise a family on that pay.  As great as my company is, and they have been incredible throughout our whole journey with TSC, I am pretty sure they are not going to let me take the first three months of the year off.  And how I would love to run against our state senator so that everyone in our district could be heard and represented.  I deserve to be heard and represented; we all deserve to be heard and represented!

Sharon Cooper was passing out the original in black to members of Congress. The red print reflects changes made by two of the parents so it could be passed out by HB885 supporters to set the record straight.
Sharon Cooper was passing out the original in black to members of Congress. The red print reflects changes made by two of the parents so it could be passed out by HB885 supporters to set the record straight.

And another medical marijuana refugee is born…

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Janea and Haleigh left for Colorado yesterday. Haleigh is the little girl for whom HB885 is named “Haleigh’s Hope Act.” The awesome Rep. Allen Peake met her and immediately began his crash course into the world of medical cannabis and CBD oil, pushing this Georgia bill with everything in him.  But Haleigh’s declining health means she can’t wait. Her father must stay behind in Georgia because of his job.

HB885 has passed the senate committee but with major changes. Cultivation is out. Basically, it provides legal protection to a person caught with CBD oil. It does not help us obtain it. This was always a hurdle even with cultivation (there were different issues surrounding that). You’d have to get it in a legal state and get here without being caught. Frankly, places like Realm of Caring are not going to sell it to you knowing you plan to cross state lines against federal law because that puts them in danger of being shut down by the DEA. It’s important to understand that this bill, even if passed on the senate floor, signed by the governor and made law, would not allow everyone to run out and get it for their kids. It does prepare our state, however, for a change at the federal level. If the feds reclassify it with the DEA — as they need to — we are ready to go. And hopefully, passing this in such a conservative state will add more pressure to the federal government to get off their butts and help people.

Another twist is that a separate bill is now attached to HB885. The chair of the senate committee, Renee Unterman, has been trying to pass a bill for five years (Ava’s Law) mandating that insurance companies cover treatment for autism (Georgia is one of a minority of states that don’t require autism to be covered). A compromise bill that increases benefits up to age 6 is now part of a package with HB885 called the Kid Care Act. The autism bill has also been tacked onto HB943, which would prevent insurance discrimination over certain types of cancer treatment. The reason is that the autism bill alone would have to go through subcommittee in the House, and thus far, they haven’t been willing to hear it. By tacking it onto bills that have already passed the House, it bypasses the subcommittee when it goes back to the House for approval for the change.

Now the bill must go through the Senate Rules Committee and then go to the Senate floor for a vote. Then it goes back to the House for approval. Last day of session is March 20. Nothing like going down to the wire! Once again, if you haven’t e-mailed your Georgia state senator yet to support HB885, you can find out who yours is at openstates.org.

Also of note are two op-eds in the AJC today. Eli Hogan shares his experience living with Crohn’s Disease and it is a great read. It is followed by a  counter-point from Rep. Sharon Cooper. As you read it, please keep in mind that she voted to pass HB885 twice. First out of committee, then on the floor. I would also urge you to read some of the excellent comments from parents below the essays.

If you missed Sanjay Gupta’s follow up to last year’s special Weed, you can find it here. The original is here. Anyone who cannot invest the 45 minutes it takes to watch at least one of these has no right to question the people who are fighting for these changes.

Hitting Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

So much excitement over the last couple weeks. Where to begin…

HB885 passed the House vote 171 to 4. It now awaits a hearing in the Senate. If you haven’t yet contacted your Georgia state senator, please do so right away. If you aren’t sure who it is, check here.

Chris and I flew up to Washington, D.C. last week to meet with our representatives about the continuation of funding for the Tuberous Sclerosis Complex Research Program (TSCRP) which is part of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) in the Department of Defense (DOD). Yes, I am drowning in a sea of acronyms. Quick quiz: how many of these acronyms do you know?

AML, TSC, SEGA, LAM, SEN, CBD, CW, FDA, THC, DEA, RoC, VNS, CPS, TC, GW, IND, LGS, HIPP, KB, CHOA, PT, SLP, MT-BC, MAD

(Answers: angiomyolipoma, tuberous sclerosis complex, subependymal giant cell astrocytoma, lymphangioleiomyomatosis, subependymal nodules, cannabidiol, Charlotte’s Webb, Food and Drug Administration, Tetrahydrocannabinol, Drug Enforcement Agency, Realm of Caring, vagus nerve stimulator, complex-partial seizures, tonic-clonics, this is the name of a pharma company (I actually have no idea what GW stands for), investigational new drug, lennox-gastaut syndrome, Health Insurance Premium Payment Program, Katie Beckett, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, physical therapy, speech-language pathologist, music therapist-board certified, modified Atkins diet).

That fact that I know those in no way makes me smart. It just means I can do even less math than before because I’ve had to drop everything number-related dating back to second grade to make room for it all. To be honest, that only equates to a couple of years. It was all downhill from fourth. Also, don’t ask me to pronounce most of them.

Now back to DC…(see how I did that?) Volunteers flew in from all over the country and we swarmed the Hill in our sexy blue jackets. There aren’t words for how excited I was to discover these had thumb holes. I love thumb holes.

Fellow TSC mom Reiko and my hubby Chris helped me hit all the Georgia congressional offices.
Fellow TSC mom Reiko and my hubby Chris helped me hit all the Georgia congressional offices.

We secured promises of support from the offices of John Lewis, Hank Johnson and David Scott. The meeting with David Scott was my favorite as I had no expectation that we’d be promised support on the spot like that, and the staff member we met with immediately began asking questions about what was going on back in Georgia with HB885 when we mentioned TSC’s link to seizures. It was awesome to know they were talking up there. Don’t worry, fearless trainers from the previous evening’s dinner, Reiko got us right back on topic 🙂

Chris and I even got some time the first day to explore so we went to Ford’s Theatre and the house where Lincoln died. His blood-stained pillow and the tiny gun that killed him are on display. The balcony is preserved as it was, and I was actually surprised to learn that it is a working theater. We did some more walking around including a photo op at the White House where our phones died simultaneously only letting us each get one shot. I don’t want one more stupid iPhone model coming out until they can make a battery that lasts more than five minutes.

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The last night we were there was the Volunteer Recognition Dinner. Four people were awarded a Franny, the volunteer of the year award for 2013. Chris had broken down and told me he nominated me a couple weeks prior — so very sweet — but that did nothing for my slow processing as one of the winners was described as having a son Connor’s age, a blog with the same amount of hits and followers as mine and involved in similar activities. I thought, man, who is this person leading such a similar life? Oh it was ME! ME!

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Then, like a jerk, I forgot to thank Chris a la Hilary Swank and Sean Penn who ended up divorced after their Oscar acceptance speech snubs of their significant others. He swears it doesn’t matter, but just in case: THANK YOU, MY AWESOME HUSBAND!

All the winners.

Well, if you haven’t read it yet, check out my post from Sunday here. It is now my most read and shared post of all time. I’m thrilled to help get the message out on the potential benefits of medical cannabis. Though I can’t help but wonder why you all aren’t as intrigued when I blog about my repetitive dreams of my teeth falling out or weight loss powder shakes…

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With Chris Hawkey.
With Chris Hawkey.
With CEO and President of the TS Alliance Kari Rosbeck.
With CEO and President of the TS Alliance Kari Rosbeck.
Grandma and Grandpa took Connor to aquatic therapy while we were gone.
Grandma and Grandpa took Connor to aquatic therapy while we were gone. We did it! Four whole nights away! Guess we’re ready for the islands…

Please check out my latest post at Mommy Hot Spot.

The Side Effects of Medical Cannabis

I’ve posted before about Hunter, an eight-year-old boy from Georgia, whose family relocated to Colorado several months ago to try and treat his severe epilepsy with cannabis oil. Previously 12 FDA-approved meds, the ketogenic diet and a surgically-implanted VNS had failed to make him seizure free. He was not a candidate for brain surgery. Some of his meds made him sleep constantly or scream. Here is an update.

This non-psychoactive oil has made an incredible difference in Hunter’s quality of life. According to Mom, “His bad seizures (myclonic clusters) would happen almost daily before and last 5-10 minutes.  NOW, he is averaging one a week and they are under 2-3 minutes.  In the month of February he has had 4 so far.  This is HUGE! His quick seizures used to last upwards of 30 seconds and happen 10-20 times a day.  After a month or so we were still seeing them every day and several times a day but they were literally seconds and half the time we couldn’t tell if he was actually having a seizure.  Now, after 3 months, we are hardly seeing ANY!”

But in fairness, we must address the side effects of this medication. Sure, it might help kids with terrible seizure disorders that are damaging their brains and ability to function and learn, but surely there are SIDE EFFECTS? Well, you’re right. There are. Here are the side effects Hunter is experiencing.

1. Increased eye contact and the ability to maintain eye contact.

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2. He no longer needs Miralax and daily suppositories to go to the bathroom.

3. He is relaxed. His fists no longer remain in a clenched position with his nails digging into his palm, making his hands bleed.

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4. After eight years of only being able to sleep on his back, he can now roll to his side and sleep in a new position.

5. He now rides the school bus since Mom no longer worries about him having a bad seizure on the bus.

6. There have been no calls from the school for EMS.

But I guess a few side effects are the price a parent must pay for giving their child quality of life. That and leaving your entire life behind in another state.

Hunter with Charlotte Figi.
Hunter with Charlotte Figi.

Update 3/10/14: The Klepingers were on CNN today. Check it out here.

Merry Christmas! It’s a tonic-clonic seizure!

I can’t believe Christmas is over already. Seems like it was Halloween a week ago. Connor had a good Christmas, despite some not so fantastic developments beforehand.

I blogged previously about his bout with bronchitis and I mentioned that instead of an increase in seizures, which can happen in times of illness, he had a major decrease. Turns out many other parents have experienced this when illness causes their child to stop eating much. Hopefully, that’s a sign that the ketogenic diet will work for him. Did I say ketogenic and not modified Atkins diet? Yes, you read that correctly and I’ll come back to that.

Turns out, a week and a half almost seizure free wasn’t worth it because once he recovered and started eating again, they came back with a vengeance. They were longer, rougher and he was wobbly for a bit afterwards. His seizures for the last several months have topped out at 30 seconds. Now they were lasting two minutes. And they looked…odd. I sent a video to his neurologist who called me with the %&*# news that Connor’s seizures had morphed into tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures. Now, I knew they were rougher than the partials we have always dealt with, but you can read descriptions all day long of seizure activity and it still may not look exactly as expected. So they were rougher, but still not as rough as the grand mals I envisioned. I was shocked and not shocked at the same time.

So damn. A new seizure type. Common in TSC, but we had been lucky to go so long without that turn of events considering Connor’s seizures started at birth. Until now, other than partials, his only other confirmed seizure type was infantile spasms. I have sometimes suspected absence seizures, but those are tough to peg.

Shortly before this development, his neuro had changed his mind about the recommended course of action. As I mentioned in another post, we were trying to get him into the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite or Egleston ketogenic diet clinic for consultation regarding modified Atkins and seizure control. They couldn’t get us in until March, four months out from when we sent his records over. It took a month for them to even make the appointment, and our neuro was quite perturbed that after a month of trying to get started we had gotten nowhere and had three more months to wait. He did not say this, but my guess is that he was on board with MAD when he thought we’d be able to test out the efficacy quickly. Now, that we are facing several more weeks of seizures, I suppose he wants to take a more hardline approach. With the appearance of tonic-clinics, I’m very much on board now, whereas before — I was NOT thrilled with the idea of keto.

So we have continued our efforts to get in earlier at CHOA and they also referred us to Johns Hopkins and UAB in Birmingham, which also has a TSC clinic.  Johns Hopkins also can’t get us in until March. So far UAB is the winner with a date of Feb. 4. So unless we get a miracle at CHOA, we will drive two hours to Alabama, which is preferable to flying to Baltimore.

In the meantime, we have upped his vigabatrin, something we were trying to avoid. His seizures shortened again and were less severe, though they still leave him wobbly. Most days he’s had one. Until two days ago when he had five. Yesterday he had one that left his right arm almost useless for 30 minutes after.

But on a happier note, Connor sure cleaned up at Christmas. We opened gifts at home in the morning with Chris’ parents who were in town, then headed to my parents for the afternoon and dinner, then stopped by Chris’ brother’s house where Connor went hog wild with his 10-year-old cousin Cody and their dog.

We can now start a family band, hopefully less annoying than Laughing Pizza, with Connor’s new keyboard, drum and xylophone. I continue to live vicariously through him by getting him a tent for his playroom (I can’t wait until he’s old enough for the Power Wheels I never got in the 80s). One of the gifts my parents gave him is the rideable airplane from Cars. He likes it until he accidentally triggers the mechanism that makes it light up and make noise. He takes off like a bat out of hell, so I suppose I will remove the batteries for the time being so he can play with it without fear of being eaten or chopped up or whatever it is he’s afraid of. He otherwise adores spinning the propeller.

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The Christmas gift exchange between Chris and me was rather perilous…for me. Chris is not a “stuff” person. If it were up to him, we’d have a lot more bare square footage in this house. He always makes a list, and I always feel compelled to find at least one thing not on the list. However, I’ve completed his collections (that I started) of Chicago sports team Mr. Potato Heads and garden gnomes. I knew he wanted the Lego Rockefeller Center for his office, so score! An off-list item. Except when I got home, I made the mistake of asking for the updated Christmas list since I had only looked at his November birthday list. Guess what he had added? Dammit. So I gave it a shot by picking him up a button-up shirt at Belk. I stuck to his beloved Izod, but veered from his color palette. I knew there was a 95 percent chance of exchange. Mine’s on the left, his exchange is on the right.

The hubs prefers a more subtle earthy hue...unless the Bears are playing.
The hubs prefers a more subtle earthy hue…unless the Bears are playing.

For me he did a good job with three necklaces he picked out on his own, in addition to some Loft clothes I picked. He also got silly with this, which surprised me because my excessive mug collection drives him bonkers.

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He also picked up a cow chip clip that moos loudly, as I am obsessed with black and white cows and hold to a belief that if I can get it out of the pantry with no one knowing, the calories don’t count. Massive backfire on his part. The thing is so sensitive, that even after being buried in drawer, open the fridge — MOOOOOOO!. Pour some milk — MOOOOOOOO! Turn on the sink — MOOOOOOOO! Then on New Year’s Eve it went completely batsh** and wouldn’t stop mooing even when we were sitting on the couch partying hard with VH1’s Happy Endings marathon surrounded by laundry (jealous?) I was upstairs when I finally heard Chris lose it and yell, SHUT UP! I heard a drawer being yanked open, so I rushed down to save my cow from possible obliteration.

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I’m also thrilled to say we made it through all of 2013 without one hospitalization! Since Connor will be admitted in order to start the keto diet, we will not be able to say that of 2014. 2012 gave us five weeks in NICU, a brain surgery and an in-patient VEEG. Here’s hoping we all have a medically uneventful year.

One last thing — please keep in your thoughts that one of our newer TSC families entered our world of seizures last night and had to welcome 2014 in the ER. I’m hopeful they will quickly find seizure control. He’s doing well I understand.

I was contacted by Dave Terpening Insurance Company to be part of their “I Was Thankful for Insurance When…” post on their blog. I love any opportunity to get the word out on TSC so check it out here.

Clapping with Grandma (Chris's mom)
Clapping with Grandma (Chris’s mom) and remembering Lost back when it was good.
My brother came in from NYC and refused to change a single diaper.
My brother came in from NYC and refused to change a single diaper.

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Mommy is so awesome, i even lover her Mii.
Mommy is so awesome, I even love her Mii.
Christmas Eve bowl-off.
Christmas Eve bowl-off.
Mommy has lost her mind. I'm not getting in that.
Mommy has lost her mind. I’m not getting in that. Mommy is also questioning why her footwear looks so orthopedic here.

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Flying with Uncle Carey.
Flying with Uncle Carey.

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Connor loves Cleo the dog.
Connor loves Cleo the dog.
Dining out with Cousin Cody.
Dining out with Cousin Cody.
Escape at the bowling alley!
Escape at the bowling alley!
A cool cousin is one that gets down and crawls with you.
A cool cousin is one that gets down and crawls with you.

Medical maladies and eating strategies for the picky eater that will eat anything — sort of.

I had a physical last week. When I got home, I announced that I only had six months to live. My parents laughed and rolled their eyes, a natural reaction from anyone that has known me for 33 years (they were there to watch Connor since Chris was working upstairs). Chris told me to stop it. He never enjoys my macabre sense of humor. I’m not allowed to play games like “What If?” or “Would You Rather?” He doesn’t like hypotheticals, where as I thrive on knowing things like, If I died, would you keep the cats or give them to my mom?  Or, would you rather be married to a donkey or smell like a port-a-potty no matter how many showers you take.

My doctor confirmed that she thinks the headaches I’ve been having are migraines — mild as far as migraines go — but still migraines.

I also took Connor to a dermatologist for a wart he’s had on his foot for some time now. One $50 co-pay and $4 for parking later, off I go to Walgreens for standard over-the-counter Compound W. Sigh. I did like the dermatologist, though. He was an old guy that put out the vibe of an old-timey pharmacist. AND he was familiar with TSC! Even though we weren’t there for anything TSC related, he saw his history and asked questions about how Connor was affected, and he was familiar with various organ involvement. It sounded like he had even been the one to diagnose people based on facial angiofibromas, who were otherwise unaware of their condition. It’s always nice to come across a medical professional that actually knows what TSC is, and that he knew about the effects beyond the dermatological made me quite happy.

In other medical news, CHOA is once again trying to give me what I now know is a migraine. We finally got the call to schedule Connor’s first visit to the keto clinic so we can consult about the modified Atkins diet for seizure control. Want to guess when the appointment is? March 18. March. 18. Lots of four letter words when I hung up. I’m still not really clear on how this is going to go. She told me the nutritionist would call me. Possibly to start the diet before that? I couldn’t get a real clear answer, though I expressed my dismay at waiting three months. She also couldn’t tell me how soon the nutritionist would call. So I think we start the diet via phone consult, which is better than waiting three months, but I sure would prefer meeting with the expert before making such a drastic change to Connor’s diet. But like I said, I’m not even sure if that’s the plan yet.

I must also accept the blame for making Connor sick this week. Connor came down with his first normal, run-of-of-the-mill illness. We’ve had seizures, brain surgery and weeks in the hospital…but not one bout of ordinary childhood illness. He woke up late Wednesday night coughing and ran a low-grade fever most of Thursday. No fever this morning, but still coughing occasionally. Fantastically, though fevers typically lower the seizure threshold, I saw no seizures during the course of battling his temperature with Tylenol and Motrin. But why my fault he’s sick? I recently blogged about his superior health and just this week, I thought, man, we might just make it to his second birthday with no viruses! My bad, buddy. I know better. I’ve been sleeping on the floor next to his crib the last couple nights because it makes me feel better mentally — my hips hate me though. Chris would have done it, but Connor doesn’t tolerate snoring.

So it has been a lot of lying around and sleeping, along with more PBS than usual. If I see this Mouse King episode of Super Why one more time, I will scream.

Progress in the eating arena:

On the bright side, it appears we are making progress in the eating arena. His speech therapist has been providing tools to work on his sensory issues with his mouth. He does not appear to have any other sensory issues whatsoever, but try getting him to use a sippy cup or eat food with no degree of pureeing has been about as fun as…as…as trying to make an appointment for anything at CHOA. To eat non-pureed food, it had to be cut extraordinarily small and he would eat in very limited quantities. But this week has been far more successful at getting him to drink from this cut-out cup (which allows me to see how much he’s getting, as well as prevent it from hitting his face making him buck away).

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He also ate this whole serving of mac-n-cheese. Just a couple weeks ago, I had to cut the pasta up and mix bites with pureed food so he wouldn’t just store it in his cheeks like a chipmunk. But he demolished the whole thing with no mixing or cutting this week.

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He also did well with this, though he didn’t finish due to stubborness. The bites he did take, he swallowed, while before this one was almost inedible because he just built a fortress of peas and meat in his mouth.

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These are his other fancy tools:

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The blue and orange thingy can hook to his clothes or seat and its purpose is to prevent him from throwing his utensils. Unfortunately, they slide out anyway, so that’s not really helping. The purple and green spoon is bendable to work on getting him to feed himself. Angling it should aid in helping him put the food in his mouth. This is all theoretical as he shows little interest in anything other than being fed or throwing spoons. Or removing food from the spoon with his hand. The purple tool is a textured spoon to desensitize his mouth. He hated it at first, but now it doesn’t phase him. That’s a Nuk brush on the end. He hates that bad boy. It is also to desensitize his mouth. Not just for eating food, but also for rubbing it around in there. The therapist added the rubber grip so he could hold it himself, I suppose not realizing that his complete and utter hatred for it means that if you actually put it in his hand, it will immediately be on the other side of the room.

Now if you’ll excuse me, he just fell asleep and I’m going to check his temperature. He’s made it pretty clear that if I stick that thing in his ear one more time, I get a Nuk brush in my eye, so cross your fingers…

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By the way, my blog is nominated for a couple of awards over at WEGO Health. Thanks to those who have endorsed me already! It’s not too late 🙂 to do it here.

Relieved after talking to the neurologist.

Feeling much better this morning after an appointment with Connor’s neurologist. We were dismayed to hear about changes on the ERG, but I really freaked out yesterday when his medical assistant mentioned in an e-mail that he wanted to discuss the ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet is no joke–read here–it involves hospitalization to start it, measuring everything he eats and it’s more extreme than Atkins. I have never wanted to do the keto diet and have always hoped it would never even be a consideration.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not off the table and I understand why people do it, and some have great success, but it just seems like a nightmare to me. I hope to find seizure control another way.

I was really freaked thinking we were going to be told Connor MUST come off the vigabatrin immediately and that the keto diet would be on the immediate horizon. Thankfully, not the case. While a change on the ERG is reason for concern and close monitoring, our doctor said to also take it with a grain of salt. Many parts of the country, people aren’t even doing these because it’s somewhat unreliable at this age. It can’t tell you how much vision is being affected, if at all, only that the retina isn’t responding quite the same way with one of the wavelengths or something–honestly I don’t understand it well enough to explain it. Sometimes, later tests go back to normal and it was just an anomaly, and yes, sometimes the peripheral vision is affected, but the positives of the meds outweigh the negatives. In his experience, most of the time a kid has gone off due to changes on the ERG, they ended up back on it because it was simply the most effective med for them. Unfortunately, keeping the seizures at bay must take precedence over perfect vision. If it was an issue of blindness, I’d be much for freaked out, but hopefully, if he does suffer any loss to peripheral vision, he will learn to compensate.

We do have to decide if we go back for another ERG in a month, or wait the standard three months. He didn’t seem to think it was worth the sedation to go back in a month, though. Obviously, we could have to face decisions over again if we continue to see changes, but hopefully that won’t be the case.

As far as the keto diet goes, he brought that up more as a possibility, and he felt the modified Atkins diet was equally good (and less insane–my words, not his). We will revisit that in a few weeks after we see what happens with the increases in Onfi. We are also finally weaning Keppra- the drug that has been the unchanging constant through all this. We’re not sure it’s really doing anything, so we’ll monitor and see what happens.

He also said down the road, there are other drugs we haven’t tried, though he can’t vouch for them when so many have failed. And we can also revisit surgical options as well as VNS. VNS doesn’t thrill me, as I haven’t seen as much success with that online as I would like for such a major surgical/implant intervention. What is VNS? Read here. That being said, like any treatment, one person’s fail is another’s miracle.

Please cross your fingers for the vigabatrin/Onfi combo and no further change on the ERG!

Last night, we attended a meeting with a Met Life rep regarding financial planning for special needs. The truth is, we don’t know where TSC will have Connor as an adult. Maybe he’ll be doing great and self-supporting, but we just don’t know at this point. So it was time to look into how to plan for the possibility that he may not live entirely independently, possibly because of cognitive issues, or maybe because of health/epilepsy issues. Thank goodness, we did! It’s pretty easy to complicate your child’s situation and have no idea you are doing so. If you have a child receiving any government benefits, such as Katie Beckett or if they are over 18 on SSI, if they inherit anything adding up to over $2,000 they can lose their benefits! Who came up with that number as a cutoff? Seriously? And can so easily happen by accident–savings bonds purchased for them by a relative, naming them directly on a will, putting them as your life insurance beneficiary, or just not having a will and they automatically inherit. Once those assets are spent, they can reapply, but those of us who have applied for such things know how nightmarish it can be. And losing them even temporarily can wreak havoc. The presenter shared a story of a woman in her 50s or 60s living in a group home supported by Medicaid. She had been there for a long time. When her parents passed, they had no will and she inherited what they had, which wasn’t much. She had to move out of the home, and within a few months the assets were spent. She could then reapply, but her spot had been taken. She lost her parents and her home.

We will have to have a special needs lawyer help us with a special needs trust that will protect him from anything like that. Anything that he inherits must go to the trust. That way, if he’s receiving any benefits they won’t be affected. Don’t worry, the government gets theirs. This kind of trust is taxed at one of the highest rates, in case you were worried they’d run out of barricades for our national monuments.

 

 

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Join us for a meeting with new Atlanta TSC clinic director, Dr. Wolf!
Sunday, November 10, 2013
2 – 4 p.m.
Mount Vernon Baptist Church
850 Mt. Vernon Hwy NW
Sandy Springs, GA 30327

Dr. David Wolf will be spending his afternoon meeting the local TSC individuals and families of the TS Alliance of Atlanta/North Georgia. Join us for this valuable opportunity to meet both Dr. Wolf and other local TSC individuals and families!
There will be light refreshments available.

RSVP to Becky pin.the.map@gmail.com

Vigabatrin may be causing changes on the ERG.

I got a really aggravating phone call yesterday. It was the opthalmologist’s office after they reviewed Connor’s ERG from last Friday. Connor is supposed to undergo a sedated ERG every three months (description here) because he is on vigabatrin- a powerful seizure medication with the potential side effect of loss of peripheral vision. He was on it for nine months previously for infantile spasms. We weaned him off and began to see increasing seizure activity–complex partials, which vigabatrin is also used for. So we went back on it. Connor had two ERGs the first time around. Being that it is sedated and requires an IV, it is no simple procedure. It is handled by day surgery. So we didn’t adhere to the every three months suggestion. We chose not to have an exit ERG when we stopped because the first two ERGs showed no change or issues. We figured at that point, why put him through that, when it won’t change anything? Even if there had been some changes to his vision, he wasn’t having issues and it can’t be corrected. We had no reason to think there were any issues anyway. While there are definitely some stories of kids with some loss of peripheral vision, the stories of no issues seem to outnumber them. That is purely anecdotal by the way–not evidence based–just my experience online. So we don’t know if this occurred last time we were on it, or in the short amount of time this round.

I was so sure we would never have an issue. But the eye doctor reports “minor changes” likely related to the vigababtrin. The neurologist’s office referred to them as “early signs” that the vigabatrin is causing changes. That’s as much as I know. Connor’s primary neurologist is out of the office until Thursday, but we actually already had a followup scheduled Friday morning anyway, so at that point we will have to discuss our options.

Connor is not going blind, to be clear, but nobody wants to see any damage to their child’s vision. But I’m so frustrated. We’re seeing improved seizure control since restarting vigabatrin. Control we couldn’t get with Keppra or adding Onfi, and Trileptal was a total fail. Phenobarbital was used early on, but needed other meds added and is not the drug I want him on anyway. He was on Dilantin for a bit, but when his levels were checked they were nothing, like his body just ate it up (He’s currently on Keppra, Onfi and vigabatrin).

The issue was a no-brainer when we were dealing with infantile spasms. I wouldn’t have even considered taking him off, even with vision loss, because of how dangerous those are. But now that it’s complex-partials, I don’t know what to do. I mean if nothing else will control it, we need to stay on it and hope there are no further changes. He can’t have seizures all day long. But can there be something else that will work?

I just hope his neurologist has a strong idea of what direction to take, because to be honest, I don’t feel equipped to make the call.

It always has to be something. Suck it, TSC.

Fall explorations.
Fall explorations.

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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