Tag Archives: Neurological Disorders

It isn’t going to be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 3

by guest blogger Michele Stiefel  (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)

adam 5In March of 1985, our second son was born.  Adam was the baby I could relax with, knowing a bit more the second time around.  But by May, Adam was hospitalized with his first seizures and flown from our local hospital to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where he was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis.  No one in our family had ever heard of this disease.  No one had ever had seizures.  Our world felt like it had blown to pieces.  His four-year-old brother, Ben, felt like he had caused the baby’s illness because he had been so jealous.  Ben began to act out and we sought out counseling to help him and us.  Slowly over that summer, we started to try to find some kind of normal – going to the local mall, taking Ben to his swim lessons and so on.  We waited anxiously for Adam’s early intervention program to have his spot available in the fall, but before we could start – Adam was back in Children’s Hospital with infantile spasms.  The next three years were nothing short of awful as there weren’t the kinds of meds back then that are around now.  We never really got control of the infantile spasms and he went from a smiling baby at 4 months to a lump that didn’t cry, didn’t coo, and didn’t roll over…just laid where ever he was placed and kept on having seizures.  That was our beginning…

Fast forward two years and Adam is five.  The infantile spasms are fading out although his “Heinz 57” varieties of seizures are still around.  But he’s no longer in the fog of IS:  he smiles, has a beautiful face and people fall in love with him easily. He’s learned to sit and crawl. He’s standing but hasn’t taken that first independent step yet.  My husband and I hire his early intervention teacher to do respite with the boys overnight so we can celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary at a nice hotel.  When we get home the next morning, Adam greets us by walking independently around the corner!  Stinker took his first steps while we were away!  It was the best present we ever received.

Early intervention those first five years helped Adam and our whole family to survive.  We learned to hope and dream of a future, not just of limitations but of having him experience as much of a normal life as his older brother with the same opportunities and experiences – adapted Adam-style.   It wasn’t going to be easy but nothing worth doing ever is.

The first big “normal like Ben” goal for Adam was to attend weekend religious school at our synagogue.  There were no other children with special needs in adambmitzvahthe building and our rabbi wasn’t so good at “getting Adam.”   Luckily I’d met another Jewish mom in town whose son was a couple of years older, also non-verbal, who used a wheelchair.  I talked her into joining and we started our own class with our boys.  About the same time I volunteered to serve on the synagogue board of directors because the best way to make things happen is to become a decision-maker with a voice and a vote.  Then the rabbi who didn’t get our kids took another job in another city and the search committee started looking for a new rabbi who would be willing to do Bar Mitzvahs for kids with special needs.  We got a great one.  Our boys started studying extra with the rabbi, listening to Bible stories, handling ritual objects, and being recognized in front of the entire religious school just like the rest of them.

At 13, Adam had his Bar Mitzvah and it was wonderful!  He loved Jewish music, so we hired a Jewish folk singer who wove music throughout the service.  Adam is non-verbal so he couldn’t lead the service like a regular Bar Mitzvah boy would.  Instead he worked for two years to be able to hold a special wine cup upright throughout an entire blessing without putting it down or spilling it.  He learned to hold and “hug” the Torah scroll on his lap without letting go.  Being non-verbal he couldn’t read from the Torah in Hebrew so his brother read for him.  This was special – no one is allowed to touch the Torah scroll where the Hebrew is written.  One uses a special pointer to follow along.  Big brother Ben held the pointer and Adam’s hand at the same time as he read so that Adam could “read with him.”  To keep Adam from fidgeting, Ben used one finger to tickle Adam’s palm because it calms him — all while they were doing the Torah reading.  The sanctuary was full and there weren’t too many dry eyes in the house.  We followed it up with a great party and Adam definitely knew he was the guest of honor!

Adam went to a special needs summer day camp from the age of 8 to 21 and had lots of fun.  Swimming wasn’t his thing but music time was.  He participated in programs as a teen where he got to hang out with another teen or college student and do regular teen things.  He went to four proms and had a date for each one of them!  He discovered blondes… :)…he really likes blondes.

The summer after aging out of school at 21 was scary.  A rare malignancy was discovered in his colon.  Surgery to remove half of his colon and three weeks in the hospital with complications followed.  He was down to 85 pounds and took a good two months to recover.  Then it was time to begin his journey into the world of adult services.  We did not want Adam to be inside four walls all day in a sheltered workshop environment.  So he became one of the first participants in a new pilot program taking individuals with severe adam promdisabilities out into the community as volunteers.  He helped with Meals on Wheels – his staff would drive the car and knock on the door; Adam would hand the lunch to the senior citizen.  He made lots of elderly friends on the route.  He worked in local libraries, pushing the books onto the shelves (with hand-over-hand support by staff).  He was a busy young man and enjoyed being out and about in the community.

Through one of the programs, Adam met Matt who is also non-verbal and has autism.  Just picture two non-verbal guys making eye contact with each other and laughing and insisting on sitting together every day at lunch.  The program staff told me about how great they were together and said, “They should live together.”   I sent our contact info home in Matt’s backpack and his mom called me.  We started to get the guys together on Saturdays for pizza and we began to talk about the possibility of them living together.   News traveled through the system about these two guys and how great they were.  The head of the county intellectual disability department called us, said he’d heard about these two and were we ready for Adam to move into his own place with Matt?   Adam was 24 and we said yes because one of our dreams was that Adam would live with a friend, not just in a place where there happened to be an opening, but with someone he truly liked.  He’s lived there since 2009 and he loves it.  He’s thrived there, gaining in independence and doing things there that he’d never do for me at home!  He’s in a community he knows well, having grown up there.  We are able to keep an eye on things and be involved while we are still healthy and able because we’re in our 60’s and none of us live forever.   As parents our job is to give our kids “roots and wings”.  Big brother, Ben, went to college, started a career, got married, and bought a house.  Adam has his jobs, social life, and lives in a house set up just for him and Matt.

I mentioned that Ben got married.  Guess who was his Best Man?  Adam beamed with joy throughout the entire wedding weekend.  And boy!  Were they both handsome in their tuxes!

benadam

Finally, it’s important to know that we went through really hard times with his tuberous sclerosis, just like a lot of you.  Recently he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, totally unrelated to his TS, so he gets two chronic illnesses to deal with and it feels really unfair.  There have been times over the years when I fantasized about throwing my suitcase in the car and heading west and never looking back, but I never did.  Instead we used counselors, behavior therapists, doctors, teachers, compassionate friends and family to help us get through the worst.  Now after 29 years, I see what our family has accomplished and I know we more than survived, we thrived.  We are all better people because of having Adam, TS and all, in our lives.  So keep dreaming of possibilities for your kids – you never know what you can achieve!

 

I want new TSC parents to know that there is hope.

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Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 2

by guest blogger Brittany Schwaigert  (Memphis, Tennessee)

Our story begins in the spring of 2008. My husband and I had just welcomed our very first child into the world. Greyson was born a beautiful and healthy 7 lb., 10 oz. baby boy and there were no indicators at all that anything was amiss with his health other than a slight touch of jaundice. He was, and still is, such a beautiful child. We were so thankful that he was healthy. We never took it for granted.

Then at two months of age, Greyson had his first round of vaccinations and subsequently developed what looked like sun spots on the tops of his thighs. The vaccinations had been administered in his thighs, though, and I was aware that the appearance of the spots might well be purely coincidental. I was far from panicked, but looking back on it, I do remember that point as being the first time I had misgivings concerning Greyson’s well-being.

Things took a turn when, at approximately three months of age, Greyson started to develop a strange habit. His habit looked to me like the Moro reflex – a phenomenon that occurs when some babies are placed on their backs and respond by throwing their hands out in the air. But in Greyson’s case, this behavior kept happening at strange times, and in clusters. Close family members who witnessed the behavior or were told about it tried to tell me and my husband that it must simply be an immature nervous system, or said that “babies do all kinds of weird things.”  My gut instinct, however, told me that something just wasn’t right.

Then one afternoon, Greyson was lying with me in the bed and I was watching him sleep. All of a sudden it hit me: what if this behavior was a seizure? I practically ran to the computer to find out what I could about behaviors associated with infant seizures. What I found made my stomach sink into the ground. It hit me like a Mack truck that what I was seeing in Greyson was the outward manifestation of a dangerous and aggressive type of seizure called Infantile Spasms. It felt like my world was crashing around me in one split second.

I have always felt that it was the hand of God in my life preparing me for what was to come that, before giving birth to Greyson, I had worked for a pediatric neurologist managing an event facility that he owned. I called him immediately on his cell phone and left him a message. What followed in the next few weeks would be a complete blur.

Greyson was examined by the doctor in his office, but there was nothing that he felt he could definitively diagnose without an MRI. We scheduled the MRI and when the day came, I can say without hesitation that putting a three-month-old infant into an MRI machine was one of the scariest moments of my life. I sat in that MRI room with my baby, freezing to death, trying not crumple into a heap on the floor.

After the results came back from the MRI, the doctor called me at home. He said that he saw “indications of Tuberous Sclerosis.” The doctor explained thatdownload (2) Tuberous Sclerosis (TS) can cause epilepsy, learning disabilities and sometimes even blindness if victims develop the tuberous growths caused by the disease in their eyes (incidentally, this is the reason I feel it is so important to go directly to a TS specialist when anyone is diagnosed with TS. Though I’m thankful we got a diagnosis when we did, due to the relative rarity of TS, I was given barely a shred of information about the disease that would come to change the entire scope of our lives. The only thing I knew about TS was that my husband’s step-mother’s sister had it and she had been institutionalized for years). I looked at my precious baby lying there and suddenly was filled with fear for his future.

After a myriad of other diagnostic testing, including blood work, a lung x-ray, an echocardiogram, a kidney ultrasound, and several EEGs, the neurologist we had been referred to and his group came to the conclusion that Greyson’s condition was, indeed, TS. On top of that, Greyson was also diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). Because of the proximity of the genes responsible for both TS and PKD, in many cases of genetic mutation associated with TS, both of the genes deleted at the same time. They did in Greyson’s case, and our lives have not been the same since.

We continued going to this same neurologist for months, even after he said ridiculous things like “I can tell when someone has TS just by looking at them,” or “don’t Google this disease,” or “I guess we can try Vigabatrin (the first line of defense against infantile spasms, which was only available through international mail order pharmacies at the time) but you will have to get it on your own from Canada,” or my favorite (from his associate): “Are you asking me if every spasm is like a bullet to the brain? No, I don’t think so.” Meanwhile, my child was suffering intensely. He was crying every time he had a cluster of seizures and it was heartbreaking to watch. It gives me physical pain to think of it now.

At one point at around six months of age, when my child was incredibly doped up on Phenobarbital and ACTH for his seizures, and bloated to an unrecognizable state, I broke (I am not even going to mention the horror of sticking my child with a needle twice a day). I just couldn’t take the stress anymore and I demanded that he be admitted for a 48 hour EEG. During that hospitalization, Greyson had his life saved the first time. His blood pressure was so high from the ACTH and his PKD that he had to have emergency blood pressure meds put in through an IV. He could have had a stroke at any moment.

IMG00118After that hospital stay, receiving no answers as to how we were going to stop Greyson’s seizures, I made up my mind that TS was not going to get the best of us, or him. I immediately researched the nearest TS clinic. At that time, in 2008, the closest clinics were in St. Louis and Nashville (we are in Memphis). My in-laws live in St. Louis, so that was the obvious choice. I begged the clinic appointment coordinator to get us in as soon as she could. When we met Dr. Wong, the head of the TS clinic in St. Louis, he put Greyson on Vigabatrin/Sabril immediately. For one entire year afterwards, we had seizure control with a  combination dosage of Vigabatrin/Sabril and Topamax. After going through a huge amount of different medicine combinations, we had finally found one that worked. For that year, everything seemed like it might get better.

Then, out of the blue one day in 2010 at a therapy session, the seizures started again. They didn’t stop for two years. The seizures were intense and very frequent. Sometimes, Greyson momentarily stopped breathing and often fell and hit his head. Through all this time, Grey was getting farther and farther behind his developmental milestones. He didn’t crawl until 13 months, he didn’t walk until 21 months, and he didn’t talk until he was five. At this point, I feel I can’t stress enough how important it is to get your child into Early Intervention when he or she has TS. We scoffed at the idea at first because Grey wasn’t behind until he was close to a year old. But, looking back now I would advise any parent to go ahead and start it as soon as possible, since the TS diagnosis alone is enough for your child to automatically qualify for this free service.

In any case, after failing with ACTH, Phenobarbitol, Keppra, Sabril, and Topamax, Dr. Wong was ready to pronounce Greyson’s epilepsy intractable. So, we started to think about a surgery evaluation. Around this time, I noticed that the TS Alliance had designated LeBonheur in Memphis as a TS Clinic. I was thrilled to hear this! My husband made contact with them regarding the Tennessee Step Forward to Cure TS walkathon that I have chaired for the past few years and they offered to see Greyson and give us a second opinion.

This was the beginning of something amazing. Dr. Wheless, the head of the TS clinic in Memphis, and his staff at the Memphis clinic are miracle workers. I cannot say enough wonderful things about how much this man cares for his patients. One of the best things that a doctor can be is proactive and open to listening to patients and their parents. Dr. Wheless started us on the first of several medicine changes to see what would work. We went through combinations of Clobozam, Zonegran, Topamax, Depakote, and Onfi to no avail. He did more MRIs, multiple EEGs, an MEG, and a full surgical evaluation. That unfortunately told us that Grey was not a candidate for surgery, since a cluster of tubers were located in a dangerous area of the brain over the ear, where removing them could possibly do more cognitive damage than good. But Dr. Wheless stayed vigilant.

As a last resort of sorts, when Greyson was four Dr. Wheless suggested that we try Sabril again. By this time, Greyson was having several seizure typesdownload (3) including complex partials and tonics, along with myoclonics, which were the worst offenders in his case. Dr. Wheless said that there was some research indicating that Sabril was working well for complex partial seizures once a patient gets to be a little older. But, TS had something in else in store for us.

The same week that Grey started taking Sabril again, he started to act like he was getting sick. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him because there were no outward symptoms except listlessness and extreme lethargy, and some bruising on his feet. I took him to his pediatrician and, bless her heart, she said “I don’t know what is wrong with him, but I know it is SOMETHING. I want you to take him to the ER right now.” That began the worst month of our lives and marked the second time that Greyson’s life was saved.

After numerous tests and several days in the hospital, the ER doctors found that his blood work had come back with severe Leukocytopenia, which means that his body was extremely low in white blood cells. So low, in fact, that he needed a plasma transfusion. Basically, if he would have fallen and hit his head (which he did frequently with seizures and hypotonia) he could have had a brain hemorrhage and died. Dr. Wheless and his team, along with the hematologist concluded that Greyson had gone toxic on his Depakote. He was on a high dose at the time and his body had lost its ability to produce white blood cells. This was after they scared us to death with the possibility of his having leukemia and talk of his potential transfer to St. Jude down the street. We had no choice but to stop Grey’s Depakote dosages cold turkey. Those of you who are epilepsy parents will understand that there is a reason that you wean off AEDs – you never quit cold turkey.

Once we got Greyson stable after the transfusion and his white blood cell count started to improve, we were able to check him out of the hospital after a week-long stay. Mysteriously, he didn’t seize one time during our stay. This was the first time in two years that he had been seizure-free that long. But the horror was really only just starting. As soon as they stopped the Depakote, Greyson began smiling and laughing again after what seemed like an eternity of being doped up and zoned out from all the medicines. Before we checked out, though, I noticed that he was hyper and not wanting to sleep.

250804_3839084948335_1350123231_n-1He didn’t sleep for five days. Greyson had an experience akin to a drug addict  going through withdrawal from heroin. He would scream and cry and want to be picked up and then want to be put down and he would try to climb you like a tree. He ate NOTHING for five solid days, he barely drank anything, and he lost so much weight. It was the absolute most difficult thing that I have ever been through, and it wasn’t even me who was going through it. It was like an alien had taken over my child. His body was literally vibrating. I have never been so scared in my life. No one could tell us what to expect or how long this detoxing process would take, so there was no light at the end of the tunnel. It is difficult to express how horrible this two-week period was on our entire family.

On the fifth or sixth day of this hell week, he finally had a popsicle. We all breathed a little sigh of relief that maybe things were getting better. And slowly, he started to want more popsicles and more drinks, acting more and more like himself. We went through three different drugs that week to get him to relax, including Valium, Klonopin, and Risperdone. The Risperdone was just as scary as the withdrawal symptoms, however, causing Grey to drool and seemingly hallucinate.

After almost two weeks of hell, his body adjusted to the change. We ended up putting him back on the Depakote at a non-therapeutic dose (less than half of what he was taking previously) just to help with behaviors. As soon as he got that first dose back in his system, he fell asleep. It was like the clouds opened up and we saw the light of heaven. He has not seized since.

That seizure-free period has now lasted for 21 months. Every day I think about the next time he will seize. I often have nightmares about it. It is a fear that will never leave your mind when you are a parent of an epileptic child. Any strange movement makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up with alarm.

I am thankful, so thankful, that Greyson has had this respite from the continued seizures plaguing his mind, his growth, and his life. He has turned into a completely different child. He is a person who we feel we are meeting for the first time and we love every second of it. He still struggles with simple tasks like potty training, but the difference between Greyson at four and Greyson at six is 180 degrees. He began to talk at five years old, and he is now learning new words and phrases all the time.

What I want new TS parents to know is that there is hope. You should always follow your gut and keep pushing your doctors when you are not getting the answers you want and that you deserve. If your doctor will not be proactive and listen to you, then find another one.

I would also encourage TS parents to love your child today – not for what their future will bring, not for what they were before the seizures took over, not for what you imagined they would be – because none of us know what the future will bring. When Greyson was first diagnosed, my best friend said something to me that has stuck with me all this time. She said: “None of us are promised tomorrow. Tomorrow, my child might fall and hit her head on the stoop and be brain damaged.” And, however sinister a thought or remote a possibility that may be, in the end it’s true. We have to appreciate what we have right now, in this moment, because we really don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

She is not tuberous sclerosis. She is my beautiful daughter Estelle.

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 1

by guest blogger Jennifer Carpenter (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

me and Estelle HalloweenI remember thinking to myself, “What are you talking about?” as I watched the radiologist point to the small white dots on the ultrasound image of my 25-week-old baby. She was saying something about cardiac rhabdo-something and her heart, and I was really just hearing words but not comprehending anything. Then, about 10 minutes later, a woman came in the room and introduced herself as a genetic counselor and handed me an information pamphlet from 1995, (and this was in 2012). I briefly glanced at it and saw the words “mental retardation” and “tumors”. I sat there dumbfounded while she told me that my unborn baby likely had a genetic disease called Tuberous Sclerosis and would have significant disabilities and may not be able to walk or talk. Again, I thought, “what are you talking about? Are you saying my baby will not be normal?”

I got into my car after the appointment and sat there in stunned silence. I picked up the pamphlet and for some reason started reading about the origins of the disease; how it was discovered and what happened to people that had tuberous sclerosis. “Fits” and “convulsions” and “retardation” were the descriptions used early on by doctors to describe these patients. Many of these poor people ended up in mental institutions. I thought, “Will my daughter have to be placed in a mental institution? How will I be able to take care of her? What will happen to her?” Then my cell phone rang. It was the genetics counselor that I had just spoken with. She told me that she was sorry and that while I could not get a late term abortion in California, that Colorado would allow medical terminations up to 27 weeks, if that was something I wanted to consider. Termination? I had been watching my daughter grow in my belly for nearly 7 months, watching her hands and feet take shape, her face and lips develop. How could I end the life of my daughter after all this time spent together? Had others terminated their babies with this diagnosis? Was that the right thing to do, if she was not going to have any quality of life and be completely mentally and physically disabled? Were the doctors certain that she had tuberous sclerosis? All of these questions were swirling around in my head as I drove the 2 hours home that day. Two weeks later, her diagnosis was confirmed through genetic testing. A spontaneous mutation had occurred during her development. This was to be our reality and I had no idea of what that would mean to my life or to hers.

In the end, I knew that I had to continue the journey with my beloved daughter growing inside of me. I became hell bent on understanding the disease and photo-178learning all that I could about what may happen to her. I threw away the 1995 pamphlet and discovered that there’s much more information and treatment options available today than there were in 1995. Our knowledge about the disease has come a long way in 20 years. (And shame on that genetic counselor that gave me such outdated information; they should be the experts on the latest information out there on genetic disorders, even the rare ones).

On the day she was born, I knew that I was going to fight for her. To be her voice and her advocate. I knew that, while I couldn’t change the fact that she has tuberous sclerosis and there is no cure, I could get her the best medical care possible and be aggressive and proactive with her treatments. I got her into a TSC clinic and I immediately enrolled her in research studies to help learn more about the disease and to help find a cure, (and selfishly, to have more doctors track her development and provide early identification of potential issues). It gave me some sense of control over an uncontrollable diagnosis and an unpredictable future. At least I could take comfort in that.

Today, my daughter is a beautiful, smiling 15 month old toddler. She isn’t yet walking or talking, but we are working on it. She may have significant developmental delays and may require special education and assistance, we just don’t know yet. She still has those cardiac rhabdomyomas, but they are not causing any issues and her eyes and kidneys are clear for now. She does have mild epilepsy, which is well controlled with medication. But these days I just try to focus on the person that she is becoming, rather than the diagnosis that she has. She is not tuberous sclerosis. She is my beautiful daughter Estelle, who laughs and hugs and smiles and just got two new teeth.

Estelle 1 year

 

 

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.