Tag Archives: Paige Figi

The hearing on HB 885 and a diet decision

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I guess blogging really can be therapeutic. After I posted Friday about our trip to Birmingham regarding the ketogenic diet, I just didn’t feel right. I had a tightness in my chest that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. Anxiety? I couldn’t stop obsessing over our appointment with the neurologist and how she just wasn’t on the same page at all. I guess it’s true what people say about going with your gut. I looked back over my correspondence with CHOA. I had never cancelled our March appointment just in case. Connor is already responding so well to the tweaks in his diet that aren’t even the full-blown MAD or ketogenic diet. I went upstairs to find Chris and said, “you know…we still have the CHOA appointment, and the nutritionist said she could help me start MAD at home…” And within seconds it was confirmed that neither of us were comfortable moving forward in Alabama with that neurologist. So I emailed the nutritionist that we would be sticking with CHOA and I am waiting to here from her.

Yesterday I attended the first committee hearing on HB 885. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t what I got. It started late as the morning session had gone long. Some members came in late to the hearing as they were at other meetings that overlapped. Paige Figi — Charlotte’s mom featured in the Sanjay Gupta special — flew in with Joel Stanley from Realm of Caring to testify about what they are doing in Colorado and the success they are having. They are in the process of getting FDA-approval and they are doing studies, but it is a time consuming process and children with severe seizure disorders don’t have time to wait. They explained that they are a heavily regulated industry. They also said they now have a waiting list of over 2,000 people nationally and internationally, hoping they will be allowed access.

Dr. Mike Green then testified and shared that the Medical Association of Georgia supports the bill. Dr. Smith testified about his experiences having a child with a seizure disorder (Doose syndrome) and the awful side effects that can come with seizure medications. He and Dr. Green also shared about the Epidiolex drug trials that are going on. Epidiolex is manufactured by GWPharma using CBD as the active ingredient. Dr. Smith tried to get his child into one of the studies, but they were full. Dr. Flamini also testified. He is the neurologist to many of the kids whose parents are fighting for this. He is actually the mysterious neurologist I frequently refer to in this blog. He is very supportive of CBD studies and is applying for Investigational New Drug status (IND) so that he can work with Epidiolex in his office. It is a very lengthy, difficult process to work with a schedule 1 substance, but even if he is approved he is very limited in how many people can use it. Though he was testifying in support of HB885, he is actually excluded by the bill because he has a private practice. It would only be available via research hospitals.

I also want to point out that Epidiolex is in trial phase and not yet FDA approved. It has been granted orphan status, which speeds things up, but we’re still talking years. May I remind you that vigabatrin was not FDA -approved in the U.S. until 30 years after the first trials. Ahem.

Several parents shared their heartbreaking stories. Janea Cox shared about Haleigh, pleading with the committee not to let her daughter die. Aaron Klepinger shared about the amazing success their son Hunter is having in Colorado and how badly the family wants to come home. One dose stopped him from clenching his fists so tightly that his hands would bleed. Jonathan Jiles shared about his son Kason’s battle with Ohtahara syndrome. Sgt. Chris Clark, a 26-year veteran of the police department shared about his family and how his wife and child are in Colorado for treatment while he remains behind to provide income and insurance. He also shared that his son had a brain surgery that caused a stroke. I wished they could have had more time, but were all rushed because of time constraints and the impending bad weather.

Then came the oppositional speakers with lengthy presentations. Sue Rusche from National Families in Action opened with a YouTube video she took of an advertisement for Indispensary in Colorado. Dispensaries are where you can buy marijuana products. It took me a while to ascertain her point, but it seemed to be, hey, look at all these recreational marijuana products. These are available in the same place as where some of these Colorado parents are obtaining their child’s medication. It was a long, slow video with lots of silent footage of recreational products. Personally, I was shocked it was allowed to play out in full considering the rush for time and that testifying parents had to talk quickly. It was also quickly pointed out by Rep. Kaiser that it was irrelevant. Georgia is not Colorado. This is not what we are doing here. That is simply a place in Colorado where medicine may be picked up, but we wouldn’t have that here. We are interested in a non-psychoactive oil that can’t get you high only ONLY; recreational is not on the table. We want an oil form, not buds. Rusche was clearly not supportive of products such as Charlotte’s Web which has saved many lives in Colorado. She pushed the Epidiolex trials repeatedly and insisted it was not hard to get, that any doctor can apply for IND status and have it in 30 days. This was after Dr. Flamini already testified that it was a difficult process. The doctors behind her were also shaking their head as she spoke. But no matter what was asked, she insisted that Epidiolex, courtesy of GW pharmaceuticals was the only suitable option. She was so insistent that one of the reps eventually questioned whether her organization received money from GW. A representative then asked her if Epidiolex is so easy to get, why aren’t these parents doing that? “I wish they would!” was her response. And at this time, I ask you to recall above where I mentioned that one of the testifying doctors tried to get it for his kid and couldn’t. At that point, Rep. Peake asked her, ‘Would you tell Aaron Klepinger to stop giving Hunter Charlotte’s Web and get in line for Epidiolex?” She said no.

Some doctors from CHOA spoke. While they have reservations, they are very interested in possibilities of CBD oil. Then Rick Allen of the Georgia Drug and Narcotics Agency spoke of the challenges of getting it here due to it’s classification as a schedule 1 substance — no doubt a major hurdle. He said that where we stand, something like Charlotte’s Web cannot be brought into the state legally. University of Mississippi is the only place permitted by law to supply as part of research projects.

Then came, what was for me, some of the most disturbing testimony. Karen Tinker gave lengthy testimony as a mother of a son with epilepsy. I was confused at first. Why was she at the end rather than with the other parents? Why have I never seen her or heard her name before? As it turned out, she wasn’t testifying for the bill. She was testifying against it. She started out with a similar story. Many meds failed her son and he recently received the VNS implant, which she acknowledged comes with it’s own dangers, and wasn’t guaranteed to solve the problem. She talked about her methods of evaluating treatment options for her son, and said that she had chosen not to use Onfi because of potential side effects (a med that I felt we had to try for Connor). But she stated that CBD oil did not have the research to back it. That we needed wait to several years to see what studies would say. She likened the passing of the bill to opening Pandora’s Box and said she worried that all the positive headlines about marijuana would lead her teenage son to try recreational pot. After the fact, I saw her Linked In profile. It turns out she owns a company that provides mobile drug testing of employees to companies. She doesn’t seem to differentiate between medicinal and recreational.

It was heartbreaking that a parent of a child with seizures would do this to other parents. Especially after Janea Cox had cried and shared that Haleigh has stopped breathing 56 times in the last month.

I respect the right of every parent to choose the course of action for their child. Not every parent is comfortable with medical cannabis at this point and I respect some would not opt to use it. Just as Tinker chose not to use Onfi, we did choose to use it. I do not respect someone that tells others they shouldn’t do something that could save their child’s life. I am so lucky that Connor’s situation is not as dire as the situation of the testifying parents. It’s cruel to try and stand in the way of something that could save their lives.

After that, a couple doctors testified that had been recruited by Rusche. I’ll be honest. I didn’t hear much of what they had to say because I was still in shock over Tinker’s testimony. At that point the hearing had hit three hours and it was an hour and a half past when it was supposed to end. The remainder of speakers were asked to return to the next hearing.

I’m not sharing all my thoughts at this time on the hearing in the blog. If interested, I can talk more one-on-one. I will provide more detail at a later date. All I can say is that yesterday was an eye-opening experience.

Looks like we’re trying the modified Atkins diet.

IMG_5584Sigh. I really hoped this wouldn’t be necessary, but the last increase in Onfi didn’t make much of a difference and we’re still at 1-4 seizures most days. I e-mailed his neuro and asked if he thought there would be any point to another increase, or should I just bite the bullet and move forward on the diet. I knew when I sent it what the answer would be since he had brought up the possibility of the ketogenic diet a few weeks ago. I was relieved that at least he thought modified Atkins was a reasonable alternative to keto. Not that I think MAD will be easy, but just the thought of keto intensely overwhelms me.

I keep reminding myself that if it works, it’s worth the extra effort, and if it doesn’t, we only do it for a few months. We”ll be meeting with a nutritionist at the CHOA keto clinic to start.

But if it doesn’t work…then what?

We’ve tried seven different medications, and even more effective cocktails only decrease seizures — they don’t stop them altogether. Sure, there are more meds we haven’t tried, but as I shared in my previous post about medical marijuana:

…less than 1% of patients who failed to respond to three anti-seizure drug regimens achieved adequate seizure control on subsequent drug treatments even though some were treated with as many as nine different drugs or drug combinations. -WebMD

I’m going to start this diet fully optimistic that it will work. Because if it doesn’t, the other options are to explore surgery again or live with the seizures. Sure would be nice to have the option of pediatric cannabis in Georgia. Please watch this clip from The Doctors in which Paige Figi explains what a miracle it has been for her daughter with Dravet Syndrome.

I am also seeking guest posts from people who are either legally using medical marijuana to treat their children, or are seeking it’s use — possibly entailing a move to another state. E-mail pin.the.map@gmail.com.

Petition for legalization of medical marijuana in Georgia.

Get out of the way of medical marijuana.

Medical Cannabis Growing Operation in Oakland,...
Medical Cannabis Growing Operation in Oakland, California (Photo credit: Rusty Blazenhoff)

Marijuana is not my thing. I know there are many people who would say that it’s just a matter of finding the right kind, but I’m more of a glass of wine kind of girl. That’s just my taste. I’ve never been big on the legalization of recreational marijuana, but I also didn’t oppose it. I’ve been pretty indifferent to the whole thing.

Then intractable epilepsy entered my life. To date Connor has tried seven seizure medications. He is currently on three and being slowly weaned off one. All have the potential for some pretty serious side effects, and he still has 1-4 seizures most days. And we’re lucky. As much as his seizures suck and play a role in his delays, they are not nearly as bad as what other families are dealing with. (Knocking on wood) Connor has never had a tonic clonic (grand mal) or status seizure (requiring medical intervention to stop). I’ve never had to watch him thrash painfully on the floor, or see him intubated because he’s been pumped with so many meds to stop an unrelenting seizure that he stops breathing on his own.

That is the reality for many people, and Connor is at risk for this as well. I may yearn for full seizure control, but there are people that would kill for the degree of control we have. They watch their kid have 300 seizures a day and ER visits are a regular occurrence. This isn’t some random anecdote. I KNOW these people. Mostly online, but I know them (as I write this, Connor just woke up from his nap on the couch next to me and had a seizure within a couple minutes).

Some people oppose medical marijuana because they can’t see beyond Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. Others oppose it because we don’t have the studies to prove it or to indicate the appropriate dosages for pediatric patients. Some are just too caught up in the fact that people will abuse the privilege of medical marijuana by obtaining a card under false pretenses. Yes, people abuse it. They claim pain and just want to smoke weed. So what? The solution isn’t to punish the people that really need it. Shall I name a few of the far more dangerous legal medications that people abuse?

Unfortunately, thanks to the arbitrary demonization of marijuana, decades upon decades of opportunity for study have been wasted. The people who want to try MM for their children are desperate and don’t have time for politics. There have been countless stories of kids who have found their miracle in the form of a plant. That doesn’t mean it will work for everyone, and I’m not advocating it be a frontline med until we have more data, but it’s no easy task to complete clinical studies and gather that data when you are dealing with an illegal substance.

From WebMD:

Half of all epilepsy patients who are initially started on one anti-seizure drug remain seizure-free for at least a year, a new study confirms.

Among patients followed for as long as 26 years, initial response to drug treatments strongly predicted future seizure control.

Yet less than 1% of patients who failed to respond to three anti-seizure drug regimens achieved adequate seizure control on subsequent drug treatments even though some were treated with as many as nine different drugs or drug combinations.

The findings make it clear that epilepsy patients who are candidates for surgery or other non-drug treatments should be considered for these procedures earlier rather than later, says neurologist Patricia E. Penovich, MD, of the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Epilepsy Group in St. Paul.

“These patients don’t have to wait until they have failed five or six different drug regimens,” she tells WebMD. “If their seizures are not controlled by the first few medications it is reasonable to consider surgery.

And when surgery doesn’t work? Or if you aren’t even a candidate for surgery? Or in the case of TSC, you have a successful brain surgery only to have another tuber fire up?

If you can stand in the way of desperate parents and individuals struggling against the devastating effects of constant seizures, then congratulations. You’ve clearly never seen your loved one suffer. But it’s selfish to further your own agenda at the expense of others.

There’s no more time to argue. We’ve wasted enough.

Articles:

Paige Figi appears on The Doctors to share Charlotte’s story. (video)

A New York Times blog about the potential of medical marijuana and how the laws are preventing researchers from effectively studying it.

Medical Marijuana: a Patient Perspective, a patients’s use for depression and anxiety.

Families are having to move to Colorado to treat their children including this family battling infantile spasms.

Paige Figi’s story and living with Dravet Syndrome (mom used to vote AGAINST weed legalization).

Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s essay on why he changed his mind on weed.

Would medical marijuana help Lorelai?

Parents suing the state of Arizona because their son benefits from MM.

A family that has had to split up in order to obtain the MM their daughter needs.

Boy with tuberous sclerosis and autism benefitting from MM.

10-year-old with Doose syndrome finally seizure free.

NYU medical conference on use in seizures and other neuro disorders.

Marijuana timeline by PBS.