Tag Archives: rhabdomyoma

Happy Birthday, Little Man!

Two years ago at this time I had no idea how much my life was about to change. I mean, I had some idea considering I gave birth just a few hours prior after a spectacular epidural after checking in the night before to be induced as a precaution related to findings on the ultrasound.

Right now, two years ago around noon, Connor was off being checked out. He was having the ordinary newborn exams, but he also had a cardiac exam by a specialist due the abnormalities found in his heart ten weeks earlier. They had never grown or become problematic, so by the time ten weeks went by, Chris and I thought it was some flukey thing that would require monitoring, but nothing more.

I did not know that in a few hours Connor would begin seizing, or that he wouldn’t go home for 37 more days.

I did not know we would be returning for brain surgery in four months.

I did not know he would develop infantile spasms in five months.

I did not know he would be developmentally delayed.

I did not know that as I had walked around for the first 30 weeks thinking, “lucky me! No morning sickness!” that chromosome 16 had mutated right away resulting in the later development of heart rhabodomyomas and brain tubers.

I did not know what tuberous sclerosis complex was.

What I know now is that Connor is awesome and funny, loves books and is the coolest, most adorable two-year-old on Earth.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MONKEY! YOU ARE KICKING TSC BUTT!

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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

And now a word from another mother…..

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

you don't know Jack

We are still in May
And that means

We are still in TUBEROUS SCLEROSIS AWARENESS MONTH!!

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

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

 

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

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Humor Gets Us Through the TSC Battlefield

Day 16 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness

By guest blogger Renee Seiling  (Westbury, New York)

tsc walkMy husband and I married in 2007 after dating for over six years. We always planned to try and start a family in September 2008, and we did get pregnant that month. But we never planned for our daughter to be born with an incurable disease.

May 15, 2009 we heard devastating news; they found rhabdomyomas on our unborn daughter when we were 35 weeks pregnant. That is when we first heard the words tuberous sclerosis. I remember crying at home that night and my husband said to me “She can feel everything from you. You are stronger than this and she is going to get her strength from you, so no tears, so she’s as tough as you are.” He was right, so I started doing research, met with genetics doctors, cardiologists and had sonograms every 3 days to check on her. They induced our pregnancy three weeks early and admitted her to the NICU.

It was so hard to not have your baby in the room with you and having to go down to the NICU for feedings and for the doctor’s rounds. But the hardest was watching the days when babies were not well and they would be crashing right before your eyes. I did not know any of the moms there, but we all felt for each other. Seeing babies that have lived there for four months made you realize that you did not have it so bad.

When she was 4 days old a brain MRI confirmed TSC. Zoey was born with countless tubers on her brain and a subependymal giant astrocytoma (SEGA) as well. We were told by her neurosurgeon that it is the second largest SEGA he has ever seen, lucky us.  Fortunately we were also told that if it ever grew it is operable. Zoey had blood work to find the strand of TSC she might have and at 8 weeks old it was confirmed she has TSC-2.

We had Zoey start early intervention when she was 4 months old, one of the greatest decisions we ever made. She was granted physical therapy, and we met Sonny. Sonny was Zoey’s first best friend. He came to our home 3 times a week, and Zoey just loved him. He helped us through all of the hard times. He was there for her no matter what. When we intubatedmoved from Queens, NY to Long Island, he even followed us. He made sure he found a company that also worked with Long Island early intervention so he could stay with her. He was with us for 3 years, and I cried on his last day. He will always be remembered.

Zoey also had speech therapy and occupational therapy at home three times a week. We met Hadiah, a no nonsense OT who always made Zoey work harder and still have fun, and Kelly, her speech therapist ,with whom Zoey fell in love with immediately. Her bubbly personality helped Zoey sit through her 45 minute sessions.

Zoey is developmentally delayed; she has been going to school since she was 2. Zoey has a team of therapists and teachers that have helped tremendously. Zoey can wave hello and goodbye, blow me a kiss, give high fives, climb stairs, run, jump and loves spinning to get herself dizzy. These are simple gestures that I thought she was never going to be able to accomplish. While she is non-verbal, we always have hope that one day she might find her voice.

Zoey has been through more in her four years of existence than most go through in a lifetime. When she was 6 ½ months old she started having infantile spasms, I remember calling the on-call pediatrician because it was a Sunday, and she told me, oh she’s probably just teething. Zoey would cry, and when she stopped, her arms would go above her head and her thanksgiving at columbia presbyterianeyes would roll to the back of her head while her legs crunched up. I knew it was not teething, so I called her everytime she had a spasm and had an EEG appointment made in two days.

Zoey spent her first Christmas Eve in the hospital and started a steroid, ACTH. I had to give her an injection every morning in her thigh. I remember the first time I had to do it at home. My dad came over to help me and hold her leg because I was so scared she was going to move. Lets face it, this steroid was a nightmare. All she wanted to do was eat, sleep and poop. But thankfully, because of the TS alliance, I was able to make contact with a fellow TSC mom, Cindy. She helped me get an appointment with a new neurologist, Dr. Orrin Devinsky, at NYU. He wanted her to start Sabril immediately. I am not even sure if Cindy remembers helping us, or if I ever thanked her enough because with Sabril, Zoey’s spasms stopped after the first dose and she still has to take this medication twice a day.

Zoey’s development had worsened after the spasms. She had a difficult time trying to crawl because she had gained five pounds in three weeks from the steroid, but Sonny, our superhero helped her. She was crawling at 9 months and started walking at 15 months old.

Then when she was 17 months old, Zoey vomited and turned blue. She was rushed to the hospital, where countless medications were given to her, and even a defibrillator was used on her. I thought we were going to lose our little girl. Once they put a central line in her thigh, the medication finally stabilized her after two hours, the longest two hours of our lives. They diagnosed her with Wolf Parkinson’s White, an extra electric charge in your heart causing dysrhthmia.  Zoey spent eight days in the hospital trying to find the right dose and right kind of medication to help keep her heart beat at a normal rate. She takes flecainide and amiodarone still, just to maintain her rhythm.  We spent Thanksgiving in Columbian Presbyterian Hospital that year, and you know you’re supported when your sisters and brother-in-law show up with Thanksgiving dinner, crockpots and all. We ate a very thankful meal that year for having our Zoey with us.

Well wouldn’t you know it, two days after she was released, Zoey was unresponsive again; we assume it’s her heart and call 911. She gets to the hospital, and it’s now seizures… hospitalized again, and prescribed Keppra. Well that month of December 2010 proved to be a crazy one. I stayed with my parents because they live so close to the hospital. That was a good decision because she had a seizure every 2 weeks that she could not get out of; she was hospitalized a total of eight days in December, including New Year’s Eve.

Some years are good, and some are bad. Last year, 2012, Zoey had some rough seizures. Zoey never gets out of her seizures. She always needs diastat, an emergency seizure medication, to stop the seizure. But then she has shallow breathing so she needs to be intubated…that happened six times last year. Most of Zoey’s seizures have been febrile as her immune system is slightly weakened, since she is on a newly FDA approved drug called Afinitior, a chemotherapeutic drug. Afinitor is prescribed to try and shrink a TSC person’s SEGA. Zoey’s SEGA has shrunk and is now stable. Her doctor said that she still might need brain surgery one day because of how large her SEGA is, but for now, thanks to the medication, she does not need to have any surgeries. We also had her start a vitamin, probiotic, and that seems to help her fight off any illnesses she might receive.

While my husband and I never planned to have a special needs child, we do. Now we just try to keep our sense of humor about everything, and realize she is the strongest person familywe both know. I mean when you get a needle stuck in your arm to take blood for the umpteenth time, and you just look at it, and then just start playing with your iPad like the needle is not there, that’s pretty amazing for any child.

Zoey is also one of the happiest kids you would ever meet. She is always smiling, laughing and hugging everyone. Everything she goes through has not changed her demeanor. She refuses to let TSC run her life and chooses to just be happy. Her outlook on life has helped us keep our sense of humor and live everyday to the fullest.

I like to find the humor in the fact that you never thought you would be writing her teachers asking if she had any bowel movements because of how constipated she gets from her medications. Or your mom texting you that her poop was “hard like little nuggets, I gave her some prunes.”  But it’s humorous and gets me through the hard days.

We try to find the humor in everything we do, even the hospital visits, especially when you are dealing with doctors who sometimes forget how to talk to parents. Zoey had been intubated and was being moved to PICU when her tube came out and she started crashing in the hall. They had to rush her back to the ER to fix it. Everything was fine in a few minutes, but the ER doctor turns to me and goes, “Well that was scary, huh?” Really doc, is that appropriate to say to the worried mom? And then he high fives your husband and says ,“Until next time.”  Your husband just replies back “Well, I hope not.”

Nurses have also told us that we are the calmest parents they have ever met. We have learned in Zoey’s 26 hospitals stays to just kind of stay out of the way, let them do their job and when she is stable you can hold her hand and lay with her. We remember a nurse saying, “You guys are amazing. I mean you are sitting here watching and just waiting patiently, when we have moms here who have a kid that stubbed a toe and they are freaking out.”  See, humor gets me through these times.

Our family refuses to receive a “pity party”. Instead of people feeling sorry for us, we decided to try and raise awareness for an unknown disease. We have attended the TSC walk in Wantagh Park, NY every year it has existed; this will be the fourth year. Our team is Zoey’s Entourage. All of our family and friends come and support TSC and our team has raised over $15,000.00 for the TS alliance. This year the walk is on September 21, 2013. You can find our team page below, with pictures of Zoey and her story:

http://my.e2rm.com/personalPage.aspx?SID=3720000&LangPref=en-CA

We’ve also met an amazing family, the Spears, whose daughter, Ally, also has TSC and they are the chair people for the Wantagh walk. Their family has a fundraiser every year for TSC before the walk to raise donations. We finally got to attend last year and donate some baskets for the raffles. It was a great time. I met fellow TSC families, watched people empty their pockets for an unknown disease, and win a couple of baskets as well! If you are in the NY area and want to get out and have a good time, and raise donations to help find a cure, join us or if you know a company or yourself would like to donate items to for the raffles, contact me and I can give you some information:

August 12, 2013 from 6PM-11PM.

The Nutty Irishman

323 Main Street

Farmingdale, NY 11735

 Just $10.00 entry fee, for a fun time, with live music, raffles, Chinese auctions, food and a cash bar.

 

This year our local High School’s Key Club had a fashion show honoring Zoey. They were raising donations for our family’s medical expenses and helped raise awareness for TSC. The halls were covered in blue TSC ribbons and the crowd there was their largest yet. Even the elementary school wanted to get involved and had a “Zippers for Zoey” day. They all wore zippers and if they did not have one, the teachers put zippers on pins and the kids wore them all day. The Key Club made a video raising awareness for TSC and sharing Zoey’s story. I might be a little biased, but it’s the best video ever made, it should win an academy award. The link is below if you would like to learn a little more about TSC:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEK9N4NgwEY

Our family will always raise awareness and give everything but up in trying to find a cure. Zoey has had seven MRI’s (so far), been intubated six times, has had 14 EEG’s, and too many blood tests to count, but she gets up from all of her procedures with a smile on her face. So we just take it one day at a time. Some days are harder than others, but Zoey does not let that bring her down.  She gives the greatest hugs in the world and is our warrior. I can listen to her laugh all day long. So no pity party please; we are way too busy laughing, hugging and smiling the day away.

 

Renee

Email: Rseiling3@gmail.com

Fighting for My Child

Day 14 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness Month 

By guest blogger Jessica Sharon  (Virginia Beach, Virginia)

I will never forget that day in November three years ago when my son Joey was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis at the age of 7. At times it seems like it was only yesterday, and at other times it seems like it was forever go.

I went to wake him up for school like any ordinary day only to find he wasn’t responding to my voice, which was often typical being that he was NOT a morning person; only to roll him over and discover his eyes were rolled back in his head and he began convulsing. My initial thought at first was that he was playing a joke on me as children often do and being silly, but I very quickly realized that was not the case. It was the longest 30 seconds of my life and it seemed to go on forever. When he tried to get out of bed and walk, he immediately fell to the floor and had no feeling in his arms or legs. He began to cry in fear that he couldn’t walk and had to crawl to get around. I called 911 because I had no idea what to do or what was wrong with him. After all, he was a normal healthy child and had never had any health concerns before.

After admission to CHKD (Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters) in Norfolk, Virginia and numerous neurological tests, it was determined that he had TSC with lesions on his brain and heart. Thankfully, over time, the spots on his heart just went away, but spots had formed on his kidneys. I had never heard of this disorder before and had so many questions and concerns.

Fast forward three years to May of 2013. He is still averaging 3-4 absence seizures a week while on five epilepsy medications. We have tried just about every epilepsy medication out there to no avail. I always thought the seizures would be the worst of it all, but honestly, it’s the learning disabilities, mood changes, and just the overall change in his personality that has affected him and our family the most. He doesn’t want to be involved in any sports or activities that put him in a position to be surrounded by people with the possibility of a seizure occurring. It was such a struggle and an upward battle to get him an IEP within his school. As parents you truly must fight for them and be their biggest advocate because no one else will. He needed one desperately because his confidence was very low. He never felt smart, and he just struggled every day within the classroom; he is so bright and intelligent, but all the medications just seem to suppress much of that. He will be undergoing resection surgery in June at VCU medical center in Richmond to remove the cyst they confidently believe is causing the seizure activity. There is no guarantee that this will be the end of seizures for him, but as his mother, all I can do is give him the best chance at normalcy and a life free of seizures. After all, isn’t that what all of us want for our children, for them to be happy and healthy?

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It Could Be Something, But It Could Also Be Nothing…

Day 13 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness Month

By guest blogger Alison Walsh  (Buckinghamshire, England)

a few hours oldI was about 16 weeks pregnant and had just been to see my cardiologist about my heart murmur, when he mentioned having the baby’s heart scanned just in case he had a valve defect like mine. I replied that it would be really cool to see a baby’s heart scan as I had never seen one before, and I was never offered a scan with any of my other children. As I wanted to see a baby’s echocardiogram, I mentioned the heart scan to my baby consultant and she said that it sounded like a good idea for just in case, so she sent off for an appointment for me.

I received a phone call from Oxford University Hospital a week later to confirm an appointment. I got a bit nervous for a few days because I thought the heart scan would be at my local hospital. My partner gave me a lot of reassurance that my other children were fine so this baby should be too. At 18 weeks pregnant we were driving to Oxford at 7 am. I was nervous but excited all the way there.

The prenatal heart doctor took her time to scan me, being quite quiet throughout the scan. She just explained and showed us the heart chambers on the screen. After the scan she told us that she may have seen something that she wanted to keep an eye on, but for us to try not to worry as it could be something, but it could also be nothing. She asked us to return in four weeks just so she could be sure.

At the next scan in Oxford, the prenatal doctor brought in a colleague to help her have a look. It was then that she told us that our unborn son had rhabdomyomas (heart tumours) Theo's new hatand she was worried about three of the tumours as they were quite large. Also, one of the tumours was positioned next to his heart valve. The doctor also told us that my baby had a very high chance of having TSC, and the worst case scenario was that he would die before being born.

I went home and cried for a few days, when I suddenly thought that my other children could have TS, and if they did, they were all fine. So my baby would be, too. This thought reassured me until we returned back to the hospital two weeks later and the two doctors were waiting in the scan room for us. They scanned the baby’s heart, then told us that one of the tumours they were worried about was moving in and out of the valve with the blood flow. If the tumour got any fatter, it would get stuck in the valve and stop the flow of blood, resulting in the baby’s death. She made us another appointment and said, “Hopefully, if everything is okay with the baby, I will see you in two weeks.” She gave us a sad smile goodbye.

Well, my heart just broke. I started grieving for my baby as I waited for him to die inside me. I couldn’t sleep or eat for a week. All I did was cry, and when I stopped crying, and he stopped kicking, I cried even more thinking that was the last kick that I would feel him give me. It was the worst two weeks of my life.

Baby Theo was oblivious to my suffering, and he was growing well. Two weeks later, we went back to the hospital where the doctor said she was so glad to see us back, and she had been worrying about us. The tumour was growing longer instead of fatter, and they were still worried about it interfering with Theo’s blood flow as the tumour was causing a lot of pressure in his heart.

I was told that Oxford University Hospital head cardiologists and Southampton head cardiologists had been having a meeting about Baby Theo, and if he survived until I was 30 weeks pregnant, they would give me a c-section and operate straight away.

DSC_0042A few hospital appointments later the cardiologists had another meeting. They decided that as the pressure in his heart was high but stable, and as he was really too small to operate on, they would only do it as a last resort for him. We were told that if he survived until I was 34 weeks pregnant they would take him out then. But I had to have fetal echo appointments every week from 30 weeks pregnant. I was also told to prepare and starve myself before each appointment as I might need an emergency c-section if the pressure in his heart got any worse or if the tumour grew fatter.

The pressure in Theo’s heart grew slowly and steadily but didn’t seem to affect his growth in any way. Theo shocked the doctors again by surviving and thriving. We were told his heart would not take the pressure of birth, so he would be delivered by c-section at 37 weeks all being well. He would have to be in a special care baby unit for three weeks at least as his heart wouldn’t work properly after birth due to all the tumours, but they also explained that the tumours would regress after birth.

After Theo’s delivery he only had to stay in SCBU for three days because his heart was working normally and he was feeding well.

Theo was talked about by so many heart specialists that they all came to visit him in SCBU just to see for themselves how well he was doing. They couldn’t believe it, and one of the doctors even wrote a presentation on him, as they said his heart should not have really coped with all the tumours and their postitioning.

Theo was allowed home on the condition that if he looked strange or blue that we would phone an ambulance straight away, and that he was to go back for appointments every week.

Theo continued to thrive at home. We received confirmation that Theo did have TSC2 when he was three weeks old as they had taken blood from his cord at delivery.

I was ecstatic that Theo was still with me. He was a fighter and had survived against all the odds.DSC_0079

Theo did worry us for a while as he didn’t smile until he was ten weeks old and didn’t give a full on belly laugh until he was eight months old. I am very pleased to say that Theo is growing well, and though he gets a bit behind on his development, he then seems to catch up really quickly.

Theo has ash leaf spots on his legs and belly and sometimes stares off into space, which could be absence seizures. I try to catch them on camera to show the doctors, which is just hilarious as they only last 30 seconds, and by the time I get my camera, he has snapped out of it. He has had an MRI and we know he has multiple tumours in his brain and still some in his heart, but he is the happiest baby around. He’s always smiling. He is 10 months old now and he loves to cruise around the furniture, dribbling on everything as he goes. I think he would walk all day if I let him.

He loves his sleep and has slept through the night since he was a month old. He loves Mickey Mouse and he waves his arms and legs every time he sees Mickey on the television.

We live in hope that TS has affected Theo enough now and won’t affect him anymore.

Love you lots my gorgeous little boy! x x

A Few White Spots

Day 10 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness Month

By guest blogger Annaka Vimahi  (Utah)

I have wanted to be a mother as long as I can remember. You can imagine the heartache my husband and I experienced when we didn’t have our first child for almost 9 ½ years. I Baby Viliami 092felt so much joy when our son finally arrived, but I also felt a twinge of fear. I couldn’t explain it. I just didn’t feel that everything was all right. After Nami’s birth I was told both apgar scores were 9, and I tried to have that great news reassure me that we had a healthy boy. It didn’t. I just couldn’t shake the feeling inside me that something was wrong. I tried to convince myself that it was just because I wasn’t used to receiving good news, considering many challenges I’d had up to that point in my life. I tried to tell myself that I was being a pessimistic person and that I should enjoy my dream to be a mother finally coming true.

A couple of significant things happened in the hospital after Nami was born that didn’t seem quite so significant at the time. First, he basically came out arching his back. My mom questioned my dad (Nami’s pediatrician) about it. I could see my dad trying to keep an open mind and discussing many possibilities of why this was. One was that sometimes babies with neurological issues do that. Second, a CNA noticed a weird heart beat and notified the other staff. An EKG was ordered and the results came back as normal. We left the hospital being told we had a healthy baby boy.

I kind of succeeded in being able to relax for the first three weeks of Nami’s life, enjoying lots of cuddle time. When Nami was three weeks old, I took him to my parents’ for my DSC00515 (2)sister to take some pictures of him. Near the end of the photo shoot, I noticed two white spots on the back of Nami’s leg. I am embarrassed of my reaction now, but at the time I started freaking out. I started to cry and ask, “How could my beautiful child have to have such ugly spots on his leg? Are they birthmarks? Is it vitiligo? This is so unfair!”

I remember badgering my dad with questions about the marks. He remained calm like he always does when I’m frantic about something. I told him that I had had a dream about my son having vitiligo and I just knew that’s what it was. He told me not to get ahead of myself, but that he would call the dermatologist and see what he thought. I left that night feeling angry that my son’s physical appearance wasn’t perfect. I thought, “How could this happen to us after we endured so much before he arrived?”

Over the next couple of days I noticed more white spots appearing. (I now know that Nami was born with the white spots, but as his jaundice went down and the pigment of his skin appeared, the white spots started to appear.) We finally heard from the dermatologist who suggested using a cream to see if it was eczema and we could clear it up. I was a bit suspicious that my dad wasn’t telling me everything so I pressed him about what else these spots could mean. He said that sometimes spots like this could be ashleaf spots and are a sign of a very rare neurological disorder, but that he didn’t want me to have to worry about that until we ruled out eczema. I let the issue go, but I felt that my dad was trying to protect me from something he knew was a possibility…something that was really bad.

For the next couple weeks I put the cream on Nami religiously. I checked his spots multiple times a day and even convinced myself at one point that they were getting better. Then I checked the next day and they were still there, as clear as ever. We made an appointment to see the dermatologist. I continued to feel like my dad knew more details than he was telling me. I feel now that he was hoping that he was wrong in thinking that it was TSC and he wanted to get the dermatologist’s opinion before verifying the horrible news.

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While at the appointment, I could quickly see that we were not going to receive good news. The dermatologist tried to mask his sadness for us as he confirmed that the white spots were ashleaf spots and that he felt our son likely had Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). He printed off a couple of pages from one of his medical books to read over. I felt my body instantly go numb. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. That night I cried and cried and cried. I hugged Nami tight as my tears drenched his head. The dermatologist and my dad tried to keep reassuring me that there was so much variation within this disease and not to think of the worst. But, there that feeling was again. I knew something was horribly wrong. I felt my child would have it all.

It’s amazing to me how little I knew about TSC at the time considering the knowledge I’ve gained with my new obsession over the last four years. I recorded my thoughts in an email to my family the next day:

“So, what do I know?  This is most likely a genetic mutation that can cause many problems. The problems range from neurological problems such as Parkinson’s and seizures to a 50% chance of mental retardation. ADHD, autism and tumors on various organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys are all possibilities. Major skin problems, eye problems and teeth problems are also possibilities. It’s difficult for us to know what Nami will have to endure until he gets some testing and experiences things as he grows. Dad is a lot more familiar with correct side-effects than I am. My mind is not too sharp right now, so I don’t want to say something wrong. I know the biggest thing we need to do is some genetic testing. It seems that dad also told us of about 5 specialists we’d need to see right away. We’ll need to get an EKG and brain wave test, an MRI and eye testing as well as some other tests that I can’t remember. He will have to get an MRI and eye test yearly. Whew…this is overwhelming!

This summer will be very different than what I expected and it’s only the beginning. I kinda feel like I deserved more of a break than I received with struggles, but I guess that’s selfish. Salesi and I have been through so much and grown through it all. During our most difficult times I felt that we were being prepared for something else. Those thoughts SCARED me but I guess I was right. It seemed quite a pessimistic view on life, but I’ve learned to be very tentative with good news. I’ve learned to try not to get so excited because it seems like disappointment is always around the corner. Throughout Nami’s birth, I took all good news in stride but had a dull gnawing sense that I didn’t know everything. My thinking throughout his short life and in the past has been that our child would be autistic. I am wishing that was it. I am wishing that what was first a disappointing discovery of what I thought were birthmarks were just that. My perspective on life has changed in an instant. Now I can see that ALL the difficulties I’ve experienced in my life have prepared me to be ready to take care of this special child. I am not shocked at this news although I can’t express the heartbreak I feel. I think I was prepared to receive this news so that I would be able to stay sane and make the choices I need to that are in Nami’s best interest.”

0501011136So far it has been a really tough road for us. Nami didn’t get the easier road with TSC (I say that knowing that “easy” and “TSC” do NOT belong in the same sentence). We have been told he has hundreds of brain tumors (no one is able to count exactly how many because there are too many), both cortical tubers and numerous SENs. He has an eye tumor, dozens of heart tumors (including one on his mitral valve which makes his blood kind of backwash), kidney tumors and cysts, and he already has 3 skin manifestations of the disease. He started having infantile spasms when he was 4 months old and has endured seizures most days of his life. He is currently having anywhere between 100-300 seizures daily despite being on 4 anti-epileptic medicines. We have made numerous trips to the ER due to seizures we cannot stop. Most of the time he is admitted. Our son has stopped breathing twice and had to be intubated and life-flighted both times. Nami is autistic. He can only say a few words and most of the time he only says them with prompting. He has major behavioral issues and at times he lashes out and can be destructive. He does not have good sleeping patterns. I feel like Nami would be much worse off were it not for my dad, though, the best pediatrician in the world (no I am not biased =).

I think back on the day I first saw Nami’s white spots. Oh how I wish now that the marks had just been birthmarks. It’s Boys photos 2012 250amazing how perspectives change so quickly. In a few short weeks I went from being extremely vain to wishing for all my son to have is some simple marks on his skin. Despite all of Nami’s challenges, I would not change him for anything. He is the light of our lives. He endures so much yet he smiles and laughs a lot. He loves his little brother. He sees the world in a unique way and teaches us to take time to see things his way too. He brings light to everyone who comes in contact with him. He hugs people. He makes us want to be better people. Every accomplishment he makes is a HUGE celebration. He is a FIGHTER! We are so blessed to have him as our son.

Please check out Annaka’s blog at www.afteritsoaksin.com

Finding Family Through TSC

Day 8 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness Month

By guest blogger Karren Nelson  (Brunswick, Ohio)

feb3_2011My son Joel was born on February 3, 2011. After struggling for a couple years with infertility, my husband and I felt extremely blessed when we were finally able to hold our precious miracle in our arms! Doctors did routine exams on Joel after he was born. They told us he was healthy, but they did notice a long white patch (almost looked like a blister) on his right arm. They had no idea what it was or what caused it, so we were sent to a dermatologist when he was around three months old. By the time we saw the dermatologist, the white patch on his arm had changed in appearance and texture. The dermatologist told us it was linear epidermal nevus–just a cosmetic thing and we had nothing to worry about. We went home that night feeling relieved.

Months later, when Joel was seven months old, he began doing a strange head nodding thing. He would slowly drop his head and then quickly jerk it back up. The first time he did it we weren’t sure what to think; we had never seen anything like it before. When it continued the following day we knew we needed to see a doctor. We quickly scheduled an appointment with his pediatrician, and we tried our best to video record the heading nodding episodes to show the doctor. The pediatrician watched the video but almost sent us home, telling us he didn’t think we had anything to worry about. I knew in my heart there was something wrong, so I spoke up and questioned whether it could be somehow related to the white patch on Joel’s right arm. He was honest and said he had no idea, but he would call the dermatologist to discuss it. The next april2013eegmorning the pediatrician called me and said we needed to see a neurologist because Joel needed to have an EEG as soon as possible.

An hour after Joel’s EEG we were able to see the neurologist to discuss the results. The neurologist walked in the room, sat down and said, “The EEG showed abnormal activity which we believe is seizures, mostly on the left side of his brain, so we would like to do further testing to rule out a condition known as tuberous sclerosis complex, which can cause tumors to grow on the brain.” We had no idea what she was talking about. We had never heard of TSC before that day. I honestly can’t even remember anything else that was discussed during that appointment… All I could hear was my baby might have tumors on his brain!

The next step was for Joel to have a sedated MRI. We were terrified. I couldn’t handle being in the room and seeing Joel be sedated so Jeremy stayed by his side. When he walked out with tears in his eyes, I lost it. He told me he never wanted me to see that. It was the hardest thing he ever had to do. The nurses told us to go have lunch while we waited. We walked to the cafeteria but we could barely eat anything. We kept looking at the clock, wishing time would speed up so we could see our baby again.

When we finally received the MRI results we were devastated. The MRI showed Joel has tubers on his brain. Further testing also revealed he has rhabdomyomas on his heart. The good news is we were able to control his seizures very quickly after trying only one medication.

teamjoel_seattlewalk2012The hardest part of this whole thing was that we were miles away from any sort of family support system. We were living in Washington state for my husband’s career with the Navy. Jeremy’s unit was supportive, but we still felt so alone. During our first Step Forward To Cure TSC walk we realized we were wrong–we did have a support system there. A group of military friends came out to walk with us so we wouldn’t have to walk alone. That meant more to us than any dollar we were able to raise! I still get emotional talking about it!!

These days Joel is doing well. We have to monitor his weight very closely though, because if he gains too much weight, he starts having staring spells and we have to increase his dosage of medication. We are also watching his developmental growth very closely because TS can cause delays. He is in a grey area, right on the border of having delays in certain areas, so I’m constantly fighting with early intervention services to get Joel the help he needs. It’s frustrates me that we have to wait until he is extremely delayed to get help. You would think it would make more sense to be proactive with speech and occupational therapies BEFORE he is too far behind!

We recently moved to Ohio to be near my husband’s family. Moving here has been great because we are able to see a TS specialist. It’s amazing to be able to talk to a doctor that actually understands the condition and everything that comes along with it!

In February I had the amazing opportunity to join the TS Alliance for March the Hill. A very special lady named Dee told me that every time the Alliance gets together it’s like a big family reunion… She couldn’t have been more right! Everyone was so welcoming and instantly supportive. I don’t know how to explain in words how it felt to be surrounded by people that understand what we’re dealing with. I’m counting the days until we can all get together again though–I can’t wait to see everyone at the next “family reunion!” 🙂

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Please check out Karren’s blog at http://www.nelsonfamily2008.blogspot.com

Cole’s TSC Diagnosis

Day 4 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness Month

By guest blogger Lana DenHarder  (Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Brian and I had been married for four years. Like most first-time parents we were excited to be expecting a baby and equally excited to have an ultrasound to learn the gender. We had spent weeks talking about names and imagining how the child would look, wondering what personality traits they would have, if they would get my clumsiness gene or Brian’s athletic abilities.

My first ultrasound was around nine weeks to verify dates, and I had another ultrasound around 16 weeks to learn the gender. We were pleased to learn we were having a boy. Brian’s visions of teaching the baby to play ball and coaching little league were starting to become a reality. Shortly after we learned we were having a boy we decided on the name, Cole Ryan.

My prenatal visits went along as planned. I jokingly told my doctor (whom I absolutely love) that I was disappointed that we didn’t get any good pictures of Cole at the first Coleultrasound and maybe I needed to have another. We both laughed! As my pregnancy moved along, around 30 weeks my doctor said that Cole was measuring small and maybe it was time for another ultrasound just to make sure we had the correct dates and that there was nothing wrong. I was thrilled because that meant I would have more pictures for his baby book. The ultrasound was scheduled a week or two later at our local hospital and I met Brian there…with a full bladder, as instructed. The tech took us back to the room and we were geeked to see Cole on the monitor. We asked goofy questions and the tech quietly answered them and then told us to wait and she would be right back. That should have been our first indication something was wrong. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, she didn’t return. Brian went out to try and find someone because my bladder was still full! The tech said we needed to wait in the room. Ten more minutes had passed and the tech returned with a doctor who looked at the monitor some more. He then said to get dressed and wait in the waiting room. Brian and I looked at each other oddly because after my previous ultrasound we didn’t need to wait around.

Waiting was torture. The doctor walked in and said he had spoken with the radiologist and they found a tuber on Cole’s heart. My heart sank. Brian and I were not expecting this at all. Ten minutes ago we were joking around and now our world was falling apart. That was the first time we heard the words Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). He told us we needed to follow up with our doctor in the morning. Brian and I walked out to our cars, a million things spinning around in our heads, hugged and said we would talk when we got home. I watched Brian pull away as I sat sobbing while trying to call my mom on the phone.

Our doctor referred us to a high risk OB to assess the situation. They confirmed that it was likely that Cole would have TSC but an official diagnosis had to wait until birth. I had weekly appointments and ultrasounds. At 37 weeks the doctors believed that the tuber was blocking blood flow to the heart and they needed to get Cole out. They tried to mentally prepare us for heart surgery within hours of birth. I was induced on September 4, 2006 (Labor Day that year) and Cole was immediately taken to the NICU. After additional scans, we learned that Cole also had tubers in his brain, too many to count. The next 25 days felt like months. Most nights I would go home and quietly cry myself to sleep, hoping that Brian wouldn’t notice.

Cole was touch and go for a while but didn’t need heart surgery after all. He developed complications and one night we almost lost him. I will never forget the day he turned grey. September 13th. Looking back, at the time we didn’t realize just how sick Cole was. The day before we were supposed to take Cole home he had his first shutter spell (seizure). He left the hospital on a seizure medication.

The first couple of months were normal, or as normal as we thought they would be as first-time parents. Cole was eating well and very snuggly, however he was starting to miss typical milestones. We started Early On Therapy, and eventually physical therapy, to help strengthen his core.  Cole started to have infantile spasms at 6 months and the day after his first birthday he had his first grand mal seizure. Within Cole’s first year we had tried various seizure meds and nothing worked. Our one last hope before trying ACTH was the Ketogenic Diet. Brian and I thought about it and it made sense to us. Cole wasn’t eating solid table foods yet, and he hadn’t developed a taste for bad foods that we would have to take away for the diet, so this seemed like a good time. Cole was admitted to the hospital and three days later he went home on the diet. Within a few months we noticed a reduction in his spasms and no more grand mals. He was on the diet for three years. In the end, we decided to stop the diet because he started to fall off the growth chart.

During a routine urology appointment, after the doctor preformed an ultrasound, he had to tell us that multiple tubers had started to grow on both of Cole’s kidneys. Cole was three years old. We are fortune to live in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a fantastic Children’s Hospital, Spectrum Health and DeVos Children’s Hospital. Up until this point, all of Cole’s care could be managed by various specialists locally. After learning of the kidney tubers, we contacted the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance and asked for recommendations for a nephrologist. That is when we found Dr. Bissler at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. We spoke with Dr. Bissler over the phone and made an appointment to get a second option on a care plan. Dr. Bissler was fantastic. He took the time to talk to us and make sure we understood all of the options. We agreed with Dr. Bissler and decided to move forward with kidney surgery to embolize the largest tubers. They were the size of golf balls. During Cole’s six month post op visit with Dr. Bissler, we discussed the benefits of Afinitor for Cole’s kidneys and SEGA. Dr. Bissler had also introduced us to Dr. Franz. Dr. Bissler discussed Cole’s history with Dr. Franz, and they both agreed that Cole could benefit from Afinitor. He started it in February 2011. We have noticed many positive changes in Cole, in addition to the kidney tubers shrinking and a slight decrease of the size of the SEGA.

In addition to the heart and kidney tubers, Cole has tubers on his eye and skin lesions.

Cole is considered globally delayed and is on the autism spectrum. He started attending a special needs preschool when he was two. Watching the bus drive away with my son was scary, but I realize that was one of the best decisions we have made. Cole’s development slowly improved. He learned to crawl when he was 2 1/2, walk when he was 3 ½ years old and his speech continues to improve. Today, he has close to 60 words and phrases. He currently attends a special needs school where he has fabulous teachers and support and continues to make positive strides.  I believe the Afinitor has helped him come out of the medical haze he was in and is allowing him to move forward with his development. We have noticed the biggest change in him in the last two years since starting Afinitor. He is making intentional eye contact, attempting to repeat new words, initiating play, self feeding, and demonstrating appropriate responses when asked to do simple tasks.

We often hear people comment and ask how we do it. There are definitely challenges to raising Cole, but he was our first child and we don’t know any different. In our minds, this is normal. We also have a three-year-old daughter, Lauren. Brian and I were tested and we do not have the TS gene. Lauren does not exhibit any characteristics of TS so we decided not to have her tested.  Our lives are full of doctors’ appointments, therapy sessions, sleepless nights, stress, worry and wonder. Cole has closed the gap on his physical challenges (walking) and now we struggle with behavioral (biting and scratching) and emotional issues. In spite of these challenges, Cole is a lovable, happy, determined 6 ½ year old little boy who loves to snuggle, sing (in his own way), spin balls, ride his bike, swing and run around the backyard. He is on three different seizures meds and is seizure free. It is difficult to look too far in to the future because we never know what will happen, but I can say that things are starting to calm down and feel a little normal.

Cole’s care continues to be managed locally and with the Cincinnati TS Clinic. We are very fortunate that Brian’s and my family live close and are willing to help with whatever we need. We definitely couldn’t do this alone. Cole is such a joy and we are very blessed to be his parents.

Meeting with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance

Last night I attended a meeting led by Kari Luther Rosbeck, President and CEO of the TS Alliance, and Dr. Steve Roberds, Chief Scientific Officer. The Alliance is located in the D.C. area, so being able to hear directly from them about the accomplishments and goals of the organization was comforting for someone who is still pretty new to the TSC world. The difference a few years makes is incredible. So much more is known about this disease now than just a couple decades ago. It’s incredible to think that the two genes that have so far been found to cause it, as well as their function, were only identified in the 90s which lead to a genetic test to confirm the disease (research is being done to see if another gene is involved). This in turn has led to clinical trials of the mTOR inhibitors now used to treat the tumors.

Some recent studies have shown, with animal models, that these inhibitors can prevent the onset of seizures and cognitive deficits in the young, as well as treat seizures and reverse cognitive deficits in adults. I just remind myself how much change has taken place recently, and how much more is being done, when I start freaking about about the fact that we have no idea what kind of course Connor’s TSC will take. And thank you to the couple that spoke last night about how their son is a sophomore in college. It helps keep my anxiety in check.

Given the genetic nature of the disease, and the fact that the majority of the cases are spontaneous mutations, rather than passed down by family, experts feel a “cure” will be a significant challenge. However, a lot can be done in the areas of early identification and treatment. For example, if an infant is born with a diagnosis of TSC, EEGs could be done  before seizures ever start, and should anything appear abnormal, begin treatment before they experience one. Currently, infantile spasms are treated when they start, but if ways are found of identifying children that are more likely to experience these, they can be treated before they ever start. Since TSC can lead to autism and cognitive problems, if the course of how those develop can be studied it can lead to preventative measures as well. Basically, the focus is on changing the progression and manifestation of the disease.

Improvements in technology are improving the chances of early identification. Many children weren’t diagnosed until seizures started and they would have to endure them for extended periods while doctors tried to figure out what was going on (a common feature of TSC is seizures that are hard to control. Connor spent 5 whole weeks in NICU as they tried to get them to a manageable level, and we actually knew the cause). Now ultrasounds can be a tool to identify babies at risk because of the rhabdomyomas that can form in the heart. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Connor was found to have one at my 30-week ultrasound, although tuberous sclerosis was mentioned in such a vague way, that we were more focused on the possibilty of a heart defect. I’ve since read about what a strong marker of TSC those rhabdomyomas actually are. One study I found said that of 19 babies found  to have one on the ultrasound, 15 of them went on to be diagnosed with TSC. Perhaps the doctors should have pushed that possibility a little more. In our case, since the seizures started the day he was born, those two markers immediately led to diagnosis. But I wonder, had his seizures started months later, or had we not seen it, how long it would have taken to figure things out.

One of the biggest points I try to make to people is this. TSC research involves finding out what leads to tumor growth, autism, epilepsy and many other issues that also occur in the general population. It doesn’t just benefit those with TSC, but a far greater number of people. Maybe you don’t know anyone with TSC, or Connor is the only one. But you probably know someone with autism, epilepsy, learning disabilites or cancer. Tuberous sclerosis complex may not be as high profile as a lot of other causes, but it should be.