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I didn’t hear anything from that moment on even though I saw the doctor’s mouth moving, except “there is no cure.”

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 30

by guest blogger Katie Creamer  (Long Beach, California) 

keenan in carTwo and half years ago one of my biggest dreams had come true; I was so happy and extremely proud when my healthy and beautiful baby boy was born.  My husband and I had been waiting and preparing the best we could for this exact moment for a long time and we were finally ready.  My baby was perfect; beautiful, big, had a full head of hair already, had 10 fingers and toes, and alert from the first moment we met.

This being our first baby it took us a while to understand each other’s needs as I recovered from my Cesarian section and immediately started breast feeding, but within a few weeks we were perfectly in sync and in pure bliss.  Being a mom was amazing and I immediately knew why I was put on this earth; to be Keenan’s mommy.  When I look back at those first few weeks, the only clue we had that our life would soon be shocked to the core was a white spot/ birthmark on his knee that our pediatrician had waved off as no big deal.  We quickly began the newborn pattern of the day filled with eating, sleeping, and pooping; we thought everything was perfectly normal.

Where our story is slightly different then a lot of others lies within the next 18 months.  We lived the next 18 months as a normal, healthy, happy new family.  Keenan hit milestones on time and was a constant thrill to watch him cognitively advance and become a little person.  We were doing perfect and beginning to plan for a sibling for Keenan in the future.  Then at 19 months old Keenan spiked his first high fever which caused a “febrile seizure.”  Witnessing that was what I thought would be the scariest moment of my life. We called 911, had our first ambulance ride, and by the time we got to the hospital everything had settled down.  We were told Keenan had just had a febrile seizure which was explained to us as keenan after surgery 1“no big deal” and “some kids are just susceptible to this, but they eventually grow out of it.”  Next time, “just remain calm, then when it stops bring him in afterward”, “they can last up to 15 minutes, but just try to remain calm.”  We were told this is common (we even saw another baby come in after a febrile seizure while we were there), we were told how to avoid fever spikes and seizures in the future with high doses of Advil and Tylenol, and then sent home.  Proud of how my husband and I handled this emergency and what we thought might be our biggest challenge, we went on with our lives.  I researched what I could and tried not to worry too much, till six weeks later when Keenan had another fever.  With this fever I was ready with alarms for meds throughout the night but didn’t need them because I didn’t sleep at all and just watched him through the night like a hawk.  He had made it through the night without a problem so I went to work in the morning and left Keenan in my husband’s capable hands.

I’ll never forget at 10 am when I was finally able to check my cell phone and saw that I had five missed calls from my husband.  Listening to the voicemails confirmed my worst fears, I could hear my husband saying, “it’s ok Keenan, daddy’s here.”  My heart dropped because I knew Keenan was having a seizure.  I called my husband quickly to find out what hospital to meet him at, and to my surprise he hadn’t called 911 yet, now realizing he was following the ER doctors instructions and he was following perfectly, “waiting it out.”  My mama gut came screaming out and told him to call 911, and he did.  When the paramedics had arrived he had been seizing for over 20 minutes and they had to sedate him to stop the seizure.  Looking back, our first mistake was listening to the ER doctor. My son had experienced a status event.

IMG_5124jpgAfter a few hours of my son lying lifelessly in the ER, he started to struggle to open his eyes and make sense of his situation.  Quickly we noticed that he could not move his entire left side or even move his eyes to the left even when I called him.  We were scared to death and a CAT scan was done on his brain right away.  Within 15 min they told us that he had a brain tumor and multiple “lesions” on his brain, and they told us he had something we had never heard of, Tuberous Sclerosis.  I didn’t hear anything from that moment on even though I saw the doctor’s mouth moving, except then I heard “there is no cure.”

We sat in shock for the next two weeks, researching what we could (but the internet scared us to death) and making many specialist doctor appointments.  We heard many grim possibilities, but the scariest we heard was that “how this disease will affect your son can not be predicted” and it’s all about dealing with one symptom at a time as they pop up for the rest of his life.  Keenan also has been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, has a “medium burden” of tubers in his brain, one SEGA, and multiple nodules.  We now sit in the unknown trying to cherish every moment because we have no idea what the future will bring.

Coming up on 1 year since Keenan’s diagnosis we have gone through three different anti-seizure meds trying to control his 4-20 seizures a day without any success, we have faced the tremendous life changing decision to make to try brain surgery on our 2 and a half year old son to try to stop the seizures, Keenan has to have MRI’s every 6 months on his brain and abdomen to watch the multiple tumors and cysts on his kidneys, and blood work every 3 months.  Everything and all his tumors have to be monitored to decide when the next major decision has to be made.

Sometimes we feel like we are just waiting for the next bomb to drop, but we have learned so much in this past year.  The major lesson we’ve learned is to prepare for the future but live in the moment: whether it be good or bad it won’t last long.  So cherish the good times and live them to the fullest!

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Diagnosed with TSC at age 18.

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 22

by guest blogger Vicky Garrett  

(Ferryhill, County Durham, North East England)

Vicky and her fiance.
Vicky and her fiance Kevin.

So my journey started later in life for me. It all began in 2005; I was 18 years old and I had just given birth to my wonderful son Leo. During my pregnancy I had suffered with a large amount of kidney infections but I was just given antibiotics and told to go home and rest and that kidney infections were common with pregnancy. However, after I gave birth I found I was still getting very bad pains from my kidneys (the left even more) and so I was sent for an ultrasound scan where the sonographer announced she had found loads of unusual lumps on both of my kidneys and that she sent the results to my GP. She told me he’d be in touch.

A few weeks later my GP sent me for a more detailed Cat scan where they injected a dye into my blood system so they could take a closer look at these ‘lumps.’ The results were again sent to my GP.

My GP didn’t have any idea what they were, so he had the idea to send me to a urologist to see if they had any ideas.

The urologist explained I had around 30-40 lesions on both kidneys, one of them being 11cm x 9cm on my left kidney and he told me it would need operating on ASAP. He said, “If you accidentally knock your kidney and the lesion bleeds you’ll have an hour to get to hospital before you die.” Those were his words. I was totally shocked and didn’t know what to do. He offered me an operation called an embolisation in which they cut off the blood supply to the lesion to see if it will die. He said I’d have the op in the next few months, and in the mean time he sent me to a geneticist.

The first appointment with my geneticist will stay in my mind forever. I was still 18 and had a young baby. My fiancé and mother attended the appointment with me for support.

The geneticist was a lovely man named Dr. Brennan from James Cook Hopsital, Middlesbrough, England. He greeted me with a big smile and sat me down.

Vicky's partial nephrectomy scar.
Vicky’s partial nephrectomy scar.

First he went through a list of all my family members to see if there was any possible link which we didn’t find. Then he went on and explained what he thought these ‘lumps’ were. Being 18, most of it went over my head but I took in what I needed to. He explained that these lumps were called angiomyolypomas which is a common find in the genetic mutation Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. He didn’t explain much about TSC and told me the best thing I could do was to research it myself at home as it is a very complex condition.

Dr Brennan then went on to explain the other symptoms of TSC and told me I’d be going for quite a few scans to check all my other major organs; he also checked my skin for the different TSC skin mutations and I had every single one!

Dr Brennan took blood from me and told me he was sending it off for an extensive search of the TSC gene. He advised these results could take up to two years to come back.

Finally, Dr Brennan advised that he would test my son as there is a 50/50 chance that I could pass down the TSC gene and he advised me at 18 years of age to have no more children as the risk was too great.

I left this appointment with a blank mind and an empty heart. Over the next few weeks I didn’t want to face what had been said to me and I tried to ignore it all, focusing on my little boy.

Sadly, due to a mistake from my urologist I didn’t get my embolisation until a year later. Unfortunately a scan later revealed that the embolisation had failed and I was facing a much bigger operation called a partial nephrectomy in which my new urologist took the large AML and half of my left kidney. It took me six months to recover from this op but the pain in my left kidney was no where near as bad as before.

Not long after my operation I received an appointment to see my geneticist…. The blood results were back after 3.5 years and they couldn’t find my mutated TSC gene. Dr. Brennan advised that I still had the diagnosis of Tuberous Sclerosis Complex and that the gene must be hidden where the technology couldn’t reach but hopefully advances in technology in years to come may eventually find the mutation.

Vicky's children.
Vicky’s children.

I have since been approached by Cardiff University in Wales because they do a lot of research for TSC and they have found new technology to search further into the DNA. They are taking a closer look at my blood to try and find the mutation gene. My blood has been with them around a year and I have not had any news yet.

Since then I have had a little girl and both children have been tested. Thankfully they are both clear, but myself and my fiancé have decided to have no more children.

I am also currently awaiting another operation as I have a large AML on my right kidney. My urologist is trying to decide whether to try an embolisation or whether to go straight for another partial nephrectomy.

I have a lot of friends on Facebook who have either their own TSC journey or have children with TSC and they are like a family to me. If I ever need support they are there and they know exactly what I am going through and feeling. I have a wonderful fiancé and two gorgeous children. Sadly a lot of my family do not understand what I am going through and some don’t want to admit that I have a condition which will affect the rest of my life.

It has been a very tough nine years and I am still trying to understand TSC. I think I will always be trying through the rest of my life.

From Reflux to TSC

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 20

by guest blogger Melissa Marino  (New Orleans, Louisiana)

photo-4-1Our story began in November of 2012 when we found out that we were expecting our first child.  My entire pregnancy was a breeze, no morning sickness and no complications.  Every ultrasound was absolutely perfect and we could not wait for our bundle of joy to arrive.  Carter was born on July 11, 2013 weighing 6 pounds and 13 ounces.  He was the most beautiful thing that I ever laid eyes on, with his perfect bald head and big chubby cheeks.  The first two months were great and he was the happiest, most laid back little boy in the world.  In September, shortly after turning 2 months, I began to notice that something was not right with him.  He would squint his eyes and his right arm would raise into the air.  This happened in clusters several times a day.  I immediately took him to the pediatrician and she referred me to see a neurologist at our local hospital.  I called that day to schedule an appointment, explaining to them that I believe my two month old is having some sort of seizures.  I was given an appointment four weeks away.  Seriously??  I am telling you that my baby is having seizures and you politely say that you can fit him into the schedule in four weeks???  I was devastated, so I started doing research using google and the more I read, the more anxious I got.

After about a week of him having these episodes, I finally had enough so we headed to the emergency room.  The first thing they told me was not to worry, it is probably just reflux.  I was not settling for that answer, so I demanded that they watch the videos and check him out anyway.  Finally they ordered an EEG, and sure enough the EEG showed that he was indeed having seizures along with an abnormal heart rhythm.  That evening, cardiology came in and told me that Carter has Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome. After a couple days in the hospital, they finally took him down for an MRI.  The next morning, the results were in and his MRI was normal.  The doctor explained that since they could not find a cause for his seizures, there would be a good chance he would grow out of them.  Carter was started on Phenobarbital, which did not work.  We were sent home on Keppra and Topamax, but the episodes continued.  We went to our cardiology consult where they did an echo of his heart and everything came back fine.  The WPW wasn’t causing any photo-3-1symptoms and his heart structure was perfect.  I took him back and forth to the hospital for constant EEGs and everyday his seizures were only getting worse.  Come October, we were back in the ER.  The weird arm movements finally stopped, but now he was having full tonic clonic seizures.  I just could not understand what was happening to my baby.  His blood work was always normal and his MRI was normal, so again they had no answers for me.  I finally agreed to let them do a lumbar puncture on him — at this point we were reaching for any answers.  Yet again, another normal test result came back.  His tonic clonic seizures continued to increase every day and Vimpat was added, which of course failed.  They finally decided to give him high dose steroids through his IV.  He would get a couple rounds of Solumedrol and we would take him home on a Prednisone taper.  This combination would decrease his seizures by about 80%, but they would always return within two months.

He was developing and reaching his milestones through all of this, but at a much slower pace than normal.  No matter how hard things got, Carter always kept a smile on his face.  After failing all these medications, Carter was started on the Ketogenic Diet. Unfortunately, by the third day of the Ketogenic Diet, his seizures had tripled.  He was having 40-50 tonic clonic seizures a day, so they immediately discontinued the diet.  Onfi was now added on top of everything else.  With every failed medication, my heart broke even more and I finally started to lose hope.  So much for him outgrowing these seizures right?  The neurologist decided it was time to do a genetic test, but she explained that she really did not expect to find anything.  She just wanted to check everything before putting him through a muscle biopsy.  She explained that they were looking for Epileptic Encephalopathies, but Carter did not seem to have any of them.  Those six weeks were the longest weeks of my entire life.  While we were waiting for the results to come back, Carter again developed a new type of seizure.  The tonic clonic seizures had pretty much disappeared thanks to the Onfi, but along came the head drops and spasms.  So now Banzel was added to his long list of medications.

photo-180In March of 2014, he was 8 months old and we finally received a diagnosis of Tuberous Sclerosis.  My heart was shattered; I was confused and angry.  How could six months go by and not a single person figure this out?!?!  Well here is the reason, his heart is normal and as of now, his MRI is normal.  He has no signs of TSC except the horrible seizures that do not respond to medication.  He has had two scans of his kidneys, which both came back normal.  Since he was a little older and we now had a diagnosis, another MRI was ordered.  The results came back within a couple days and we were once again normal.   Just recently, he started to develop white spots on his skin.  Anyways, back to the dreadful journey.  So now at this point, he is on seven medications including 250mg of Sabril that he just started.  The head drops are getting worse, the spasms are increasing and my happy baby is now miserable all the time.  So again, I take him back to the emergency room and they give him IV Solumedrol to slow the seizures down.  The steroids always seemed to be a miracle drug, but it did not work for these new seizures.  The seizures were getting worse, his entire personality was gone and all we could do was cry together.  I asked on several occasions if he was having Infantile Spasms, but I was quickly assured that it was not IS.  I went back and forth between doctors and the insurance company trying to get him out of state to a TS clinic.  My everyday life consisted of waking up and arguing with someone all day, which only added to the stress of taking care of a very sick baby.

The reason why I decided to tell our story is because I want to pay it forward.  Only four weeks into his diagnosis, I decided to reach out and ask for help through a support group on Facebook.   I knew he needed to be at a TS clinic and I was fighting everyday to save my baby, but I was also losing hope at the same time.  I wanted to know what was so different about a TS clinic?  Can they really help him?  If he had already tried every medication and failed the ketogenic diet, what else could they do?  A very special lady reached out to me and convinced me to get him to Cincinnati right away.  How was I going to do this?  I have been fighting my insurance over a referral for weeks now!  She put in a call for me and within 24 hours, I received the call from Cincinnati.  I could not believe what I was hearing when they told me “Just get him out here and we can handle the referral from here.”   I started a fundraiser and within 24 hours, we raised enough money to cover the very expensive last minute flights.  It could not have happened at a better time because two days later, Carter’s condition took a turn for the worse.  We changed our flights right away and the next day, we were on a plane heading to get my baby the help he needed.  When we arrived, Carter had his first 24 hour VEEG and his medications were changed immediately.  Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, we were informed that Carter did in fact have Infantile Spasms.  Being a new TSC mom and having someone keep telling me that it’s not, I eventually started to believe it.  Well at least a part of me did, but my mommy instincts still said that something was not right.  I suddenly felt relieved that someone had an answer and we were finally in the right hands.  All of my hard work, photo-2-1along with the help of some pretty amazing people, had finally paid off.   It has only been two weeks since all of this happened and his seizures are still not fully controlled.  He still has his good days and bad days, but we work together everyday by phone to coordinate his care.  Since being home from Cincinnati,  he has started to smile again and for that alone, we are very thankful.  The point of my story is, sometimes you have to fight for what you believe and stand up for these innocent babies who can’t defend themselves.  Always trust your mommy instincts and follow your heart.  If you feel that something isn’t right with your baby, it probably isn’t.  Through this journey, I have learned that we are not alone and there are still some pretty amazing people in this world willing to help.  Without the support of my friends and family, I would have fallen apart by now.  I have also gained an entire new family over the past six weeks, my TS family, and their encouragement and inspiration is what helps me through the bad days.  It takes 100% of a person’s time to care for these unique babies, but somehow everyone manages to still help each other.

Not knowing what the future will hold for my baby is probably the hardest part of this journey.  I walk on egg shells each day just waiting for the next catastrophe to come along.  Of course, I hope and pray every single day that my Carter will stay strong and fight his way through this.  But there is one thing that I do know, no matter what happens, I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I did everything that I could to help him.  I gave up everything just to spend every moment with him, I struggled to get him the best care available and most of all, I make sure that he knows just how much I love him!

 

Joy Times Four

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 19

by guest blogger Courtney Bailey  

1236820_10202010593452499_960261714_nMay 23, 2013… the day that my got heart broken. Two weeks prior we had found out that we were expecting our fourth boy, yes four boys! The ultrasound went well but he was lying in a position they couldn’t get any good heart pictures. We went back to get some pictures of his heart. I knew something was wrong when she kept measuring and remeasuring and taking picture after picture. My husband, Phil , had to return to work. I sat alone in the waiting room until every last person was gone. When they finally called me back, a complete stranger told me that our son had some spots on his heart. She assured me it would be nothing and I just needed to get another ultrasound to be sure. Nothing to worry about she said. I knew differently.  On June 6, we learned that our precious son likely had Tuberous Sclerosis.  The tiny two white spots on his heart had turned into numerous large tumors, including a very large tumor on the outside of his heart. It was making his heart beat faster than usual and he was developing fluid around his heart. We made weekly trips to Iowa City for appointments, ultrasounds and echocardiograms.  Seventeen straight weeks of going for testing. I look back now and see all the trips as a blessing. I got to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my husband.  We grew closer instead of apart.

I was induced a few days early and my wish that I would get to hold him came true. I held him for just a moment and he was whisked away to the high-level NICU.  When they finally wheeled me to see Lelan, my husband mentioned that they were looking at a weird skin mark on his belly and that moment I knew for sure that he had Tuberous Sclerosis. He went through a multitude of tests. One morning a new doctor we had never seen came in and told us that his MRI showed multiple brain tumors. My heart was literally shattered in my chest; it was the worst moment in my life thus far. We got to take him home that day but I felt like my life was moving in slow motion. We still had three happy rambunctious boys to care for. I felt like I was constantly staring at10155615_10203637356680563_1669194936_n Lelan to see if he was having a seizure. Every twitch, jerk, wiggle — all over analyzed. It was making me insane. I was crying myself to sleep each night. My husband said I would even cry in my sleep. The constant worry, the heartache, the what-ifs were wearing me away.  I decided to change my view; there was nothing that I could do to protect Lelan. I had to just give up and let God protect him. God loves Lelan more than I ever could. We made many more weekly trips, tests, and procedures. The heart tumors they said would shrink weren’t shrinking until one day they had just shrunk drastically. The more I tried to let go and let God handle it, the more I was able to enjoy Lelan and the other boys, ages 7, 3, and 1, and not just worry about what was going to happen to Lelan and  this stupid disease that had stormed into our lives without a warning. I was back to enjoying my kids, my husband and choosing to be joyful and live with purpose.

Our story is better than a lot of other TS kids; being a TS mom can be a VERY lonely place. People don’t understand unless they are in the shoes. Lelan is 8 months now and he crawls and pulls himself up. He babbles Mama and Dada and he feeds himself. We are fully aware that at any moment he could start having seizures and our lives could change drastically.. But for now we are completely living in the moment.  We read that extra bedtime story, we sometimes have ice cream for breakfast, and we see each and every day as such a gift and blessing. I lay my head down every night and thank God that Lelan didn’t have any seizures. We use Frankincense essential oil on Lelan every day in hopes to shrink his tumors. He still has heart tumors and brain tumors, and he also has lost the pigment in spots on his legs and stomach. I have done a lot of research where frankincense can help or prevent seizures. I’m clinging to the hope that it will work for us. You can email me at Baileycp731@live.com if you are interested in more info on essential oils. We are blessed, we are lucky, and we are so very loved. My advice is to keep talking, don’t hold in the worry — it will eat you up. TS is a mean and cruel disease that is different in every single person. The what-ifs will take over your life if you let it. We choose JOY at the Bailey house.

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Waiting for a seizure to happen is no way to live.

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 9

by guest blogger Jamie Perry  (Deltona, Florida)

At the end of August 2011, I found out I was pregnant with my second child. My husband Joe and I had been married for 10 years and decided to have one more child so my 3-year-old daughter would have a sibling as we didn’t want her growing up an only child. I got pregnant quickly and we were thrilled. At the end of 2011 I found out I was having a boy. I had no problems during the pregnancy and the doctors said everything looked good.

image-1My c-section was scheduled April 18, 2012. On that day I had a beautiful 8 lb 3 oz boy and we named him Cayden George Perry. He was the most beautiful little thing and I was immediately smitten. There’s just something about that mother-son bond. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. The birth went smoothly and ,other than a weird red mark on his forehead, he was perfect. My husband and I asked several doctors about the red mark on his head and they would always tell us it was trauma from when he was inside of my stomach or it was a birthmark or it was a bruise. No one actually seemed to know what it was. No one seemed concerned either. Aside from the red mark on his head, he had several large white patches on his legs and arms. And again, we were told they were birthmarks.

After we got out of the hospital, we saw our regular pediatrician. We again asked about his white spots and red mark. We were told the exact same thing. Everyone felt comfortable guessing but no one could give us a definite answer. They said he was fine and we shouldn’t be worried. At 4 ½ months we figured out exactly what those ‘birthmarks’ were. As a mom, I notice everything. I noticed when I would cuddle Cayden sometimes, his body would stiffen up and he would scream out as if he were in pain. I called the pediatrician several times over the course of a week and each time I’d call, they’d tell me it was likely teething, give him Tylenol and that they didn’t feel it was necessary to see him. I told them I saw no bumps in his mouth but they insisted he was fine and I was overreacting.

After a week of dealing with this, I was extremely worried. Tylenol wasn’t helping and nobody seemed to believe me when I told them I suspected something was wrong with Cayden. I got the “you worry too much” speech from nearly everyone.  On the Sunday before Labor Day, he started having one of the episodes and I yelled for my husband to please take a closer look at him. I knew it wasn’t normal. “I think he’s having a seizure.” Those words from my husband will stick with me forever. He scooped up Cayden and took off to the ER. I got my daughter ready and we hopped in my car and followed. The ER doctor agreed with my husband that Cayden was definitely having a seizure but he didn’t know why. He was on the phone with a neurologist when the nurse came in to ask about the red mark on Cayden’s head and the white spots. We said we had asked several doctors and were told they were birthmarks. At that time, I was so confused. Why was my son having seizures? What could white spots have to do with it? A few hours later, Cayden was life-flighted to a larger hospital an hour away. The doctor felt the  white spots and the red mark were genetic markers for something called Tuberous Sclerosis, which I had never heard of. I made the mistake of looking it up online. I was terrified of what was going to happen to my little boy.

The next day, they did a full body MRI on him and confirmed the diagnosis of Tuberous Sclerosis. They mentioned a drug called Sabril that they’d order for imagehim and they were confident it would be helpful in stopping the seizures. He spent 10 days in the hospital and while the seizures didn’t come as often, they were still happening multiple times a day. Joe and I made the choice to move his treatment to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. From our research, this was one of the best hospitals to treat Tuberous Sclerosis. We started there at the beginning of October 2012. Much to our surprise, on our first visit there, Cayden was also diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. It seems the old hospital, while they did do a full-body MRI, never read the results. We had brought the MRI on disc with us for the new neurologist to review and the nephrologist reviewed it as well because after taking Cayden’s blood pressure and seeing it was through the roof, he suspected PKD. My husband and I were devastated. We were just getting over the shock of Cayden being diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis and now this??!!! It was just so much to process. They put him on blood pressure medicine and the neurologist made some changes to the dosage of his Sabril. Even at the max dose, Cayden’s seizures still continued. And from that point, they continued another four months until a miracle happened. For four months multiple meds were tried. Nothing seemed to help my son. Watching your son have multiple seizures daily is simply heartbreaking. I sunk into a depression and I dimage-2idn’t think I could pull out of it. I shut everyone out of my life. I was devastated that nobody could seemingly help my son. In January 2013, we discussed Afinitor. The doctor decided to take him off of Onfi (as the side effects were too harsh for Cayden). We began to wean Cayden off Onfi  and we were to start a medicine called Dilantin while waiting to get approved for Afinitor.  After three days on Dilantin, something changed with Cayden. When we woke up on a Sunday morning we heard Cayden in his crib moving around and making noises. I was baffled when I walked into his room. He smiled at me! Then he laughed! And then, of course, I cried! I hadn’t seen that beautiful smile in five months. He was so happy and I can’t describe the feeling I felt seeing him smile. I felt my prayers had been answered.

I felt like for the next few weeks I was waiting for the bottom to fall out. But waiting for a seizure to happen is no way to live. So I tried my hardest to just enjoy the seizure-free time that we got with Cayden. Prior to starting Dilantin, he was set up for brain surgery in April of 2013 at NYU Medical Center. The surgery wasn’t successful and while that was extremely disappointing, I was glad that we at least had Dilantin to help with the seizure control. Cayden just turned 2 April 18th of this year. He’s just learning to crawl and stand, he’s saying a few words and he’s sitting on his own. Six months ago, he was doing none of that. I have such a tough, strong, determined little boy! He is my hero and the absolute love of my life. I am so grateful that God gave me such an amazing child and I feel truly blessed to be his mommy!

We are our version of “picture perfect.”

Second Annual “Blogging for TSC Awareness Month” Day 5

by guest blogger Shannon Grandia  (Riverside, California)

My name is Shannon Grandia and my three children and husband have all been diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.  Rob and I were high school sweethearts with this “picture perfect” ideal of how our life would turn out.  Rob, my husband, had no idea he had the disorder until our first two born began having seizures and were diagnosed with TSC. When Rylee was born she was this perfect, beautiful baby girl and the picture Rob and I had painted for our life seemed to be coming true.   Over her first year of life Rylee was having these abnormal staring spells that her pediatrician was writing off as normal infant behavior.  At 18 months Rylee’s staring spells were lasting minutes instead of seconds and she was now salivating.  This is when her seizures spiraled out of control and she was hospitalized and diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.  At the time we had never heard of the disorder and had no idea what to expect. She had numerous calcifications covering her brain along with one distinct growth, ash leaf spots on her skin and focal seizures. Doctors told us best case scenario is that she did not develop any more growths and she could live a normal life on medication to control her seizures; worst case scenario could ultimately lead to death. Our “picture perfect life” was beginning to unravel.  Because at the time neither Rob nor I exhibited any signs of the disorder we were told that is was a “sporadic mutation” and unlikely any other children we had would have the disorder.  I was about six weeks pregnant at the time of Rylee’s diagnosis, but ultimately lost the baby at 12 weeks.  This put a strong desire in Rob and I to have another child and since we were told it was not genetic, we felt confident that there would be no complications with another child.

Jake was born two and a half years later. At birth he was a happy, thriving baby boy. Doctors told us it was unlikely he would have TSC, but they would monitor him when we brought Rylee in for her appointments.  At a few months old we noticed a couple white spots on his skin, but doctors told us it was a coincidence and he wasn’t showing any other signs of TSC. I am not sure how long we ignored the small staring spells Jake was having, writing them off as normal infant behavior once again but at 11 months old Jake was having a seizure every half hour and had to be admitted to the hospital and was soon diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex as well.  He too had the ash leaf spots, three distinct growths in his brain and was having focal and complex partial seizures.  This was devastating news and our “picture perfect” life was crashing in around us.

Two children with TSC was a sign that either Rob or I had the disorder. After genetic testing it was determined that Rob had the TSC1 gene that was passed onto the children, his dad and brother were also tested and found to have the disorder. We did a lot of research and discovered there was a 50% chance of passing the disorder onto a child. A year went by and life was manageable.  Both Rylee and Jake were hitting their developmental milestones, medication was controlling the seizures and it seemed both had a more mild case of TSC. We felt confident that if we had a third child, he or she would be TSC free. We also wanted our kids to know that we loved them so much and we did not want to let TSC guide the decisions for our life.  Looking back this may have been a naïve perspective, yet it gave us Luke, and we would not change that for the world.

We did an amniocentesis with Luke to determine if he had TSC before he was born. Words cannot express the feelings that ran through me when we got the call that our unborn child also had TSC. Because of the diagnosis we did further testing and also knew he had tubers in his heart before he was born.  Luke came into the world three weeks ahead of schedule and spent the first two weeks of life in the NICU monitoring SVT’s of his heart. Luke spent more days in the hospital than out his first year of life. At one point he was having over 80 seizures a day and was close to comatose. He also had chronic pneumonia, RSV twice, asthma and further heart issues. Then at two and a half he was hospitalized for liver and kidney failure along with Pneumonia and the H1N1. This was the closest we came to losing Luke and he spent almost three weeks in the PICU at Loma Linda. This hospitalization also revealed that Luke was aspirating with fluids and he got a GI tube for fluids only.  Was this really my life?

Luke’s complications were some of the most difficult and darkest days. With the focus on Luke, Jake’s behavior began to decline dramatically.  At three years old he was no longer hitting developmental milestones, and was actually beginning to decline.  Behaviorally, Jake was throwing constant tantrums and was extremely aggressive being asked to leave the private preschool we had him in at the time.  Rylee was also having a difficult time during this period.  She was struggling academically, had weight gain from seizure medications and ADHD.  All three of our babies were fighting and I will be forever amazed how their strength brought them and us through those rough days. This was a long ways away from the “picture perfect” life Rob and I had dreamed about.

We have now lived with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex for over 11 years.  Rylee is 13 years old and thriving. She is the least affected and is on the road to leading a long “normal” life.  Rylee still takes medication for seizures and ADHD, and school is not easy.  But Rylee is learning how to be a good student and stay focused.  She is also a good athlete, playing softball for the last 4 1/2 years and now playing club volleyball.  Mostly, Rylee is known for her bright smile, positive attitude, and love of life.  She is an incredible help with her brothers and has a heart of compassion that teaches us daily how to be a better person.  Jake is now 10 years old and has a diagnosis of intellectual delay and autism.  He too still battles seizures, but they are controlled the majority of the time by medication.  He also takes a concoction of medication for behavior.  Jake has recently moved to a severe autism class, in the hopes that we can get better control of his behavior.  The key with Jake is consistency and routine, which is actually good for us all.  He as an ABA, one-on-one aid with him in class and an outside agency now evaluates and helps with intervention weekly. It has been a rough couple years.  Luke is a 1st grader (in a more severe Special Day Class).  He is the healthiest he has been since birth.  We have never been able to get his seizures controlled, but at an average of five a day, he is on the most effective combination of medication so far and has begun the Modified Atkins Diet.  Also, the G-tube and not drinking fluids has kept the Pneumonia away and he has had a nice stretch of staying out of the hospital.  Because of his medical issues, Luke has an LVN that stays with him throughout the day.  Originally, we were told he may never walk, talk, or even live past the first few years of life.  Not only has he defied all the odds, but cognitively is trying to catch up and shocking everyone.  At 7 years old, Luke is saying more words everyday, can now ride a tricycle, can follow routine rules in the classroom and on the playground and makes anyone who comes in contact with him immediately fall in love with those bright, blue eyes and huge grin.

Rob and I take one day at a time and have no idea what the future holds for our children, but it makes for an interesting journey.  We have learned to celebrate the little things in life, trust God has a plan for us and our three children, lean on each other and those around us when we need strength, and see the daily blessings our children give us.  TSC is a horrible disorder, but it does not define who we are. Rob and Rylee are both considered mild, Jake is moderate and Luke is classified as severe.  We pray daily for a cure and that the seizures and complications will miraculously disappear.  But we also are so thankful for our three miracles, the difference they are making in this world and the joy they bring.  You will not meet three happier kids that appreciate life and each other more.  Watching them together is a beautiful thing and they teach us daily how to be better.  Over the years our idea of “picture perfect” has changed and our we are our version of “Picture Perfect.”

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Alee’s Advocate

Day 21 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness

By guest blogger Mindee Mata  (Kilgore, Texas)

photoWhen I was first asked to write about Alee I thought..sure ..no problem..I have been Alee’s advocate, her voice for 4 years. I can talk about her forever. As I prepared, I realized that on a daily basis I intentionally put all the horrible parts of her disease in the back of my mind. Her past…her future… I can not think about those things. I have to think about today and today is good! But in order for you to understand Alee I needed to revisit those things.

When Alee was born she was perfect…just like every baby should be but I was still scared to death. I had a 17-month-old and a 4-year-old. I wish I could say I enjoyed every minute of her infant stage but in reality I was on auto pilot until the day after her 6 month check up. She was falling asleep, but every time she started to doze off she would almost jump. It reminded me of the infant startle reflex. At first it just happened every now and then, but it gradually became so frequent that it happened every time she would try to sleep. It would happen all night long off and on with crying in between the clusters. I met with her pediatrician at the time but he had no answers. I called an old pediatrician I had used when we lived in Houston and even went to see her. She set us up with a neurologist but still nothing. Four months went by and she eventually stopped. I was relieved but deep in my heart I knew something was still wrong. My whole life changed one night when she was 11 months old. We were getting ready for bed and she seemed hot, so I gave her some Tylenol and thought she must be getting sick. We went to bed. A little while later I heard the awful noise…the noise I would start hearing so frequently I could hear it in a stadium of 100,000 people. Alee gasping for  breath. I looked at her and she looked like she was in a daze. She could not make eye contact and was completely limp. The only noise was her trying hard to breath. I had no clue what was going on. I had never seen a seizure before, especially one that started like this. My husband called 911. After 20 minutes of the blank stare, the all out seizing started and she stopped breathing all together. I had to do CPR on my baby girl…me…I just did it because I had no other choice. There was no time for an emotional breakdown. The EMT’s arrived, gave her an IV, and headed for the hospital. She was still seizing. At the ER we were able to stop the seizing but her breathing would not return to normal. They were forced to intubate and call for life flight to take her to the nearest pediatric ICU. My husband and I watched all of this basically in shock. I held her, sang to her, kissed her, but I held it together…until she was being loaded on the helicopter and we could not go with her. I looked at her little body all attached to wires and tubes with tears running down her face but no sound. I felt so helpless. The next 30 minutes felt like a lifetime as we drove entirely too fast to the hospital. In my mind the next part is just a haze of doctors, tests, sedation, and questions, but still no answers. We were in the hospital for five days until finally we had a diagnosis. There were eight doctors in the room when they came with her test results. I can remember watching the second hand tick by behind the doctors head because if I did not make eye contact it would not be real. She had tuberous sclerosis. WHAT!! What was that?  And there is no cure? What do we do? Do our other kids have it? We had so many questions, but we finally had a reason for why Alee was sick.

The next year was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through in my life. Alee was in the hospital 1 to 2 days every week. We could not get her seizures under control.  We were photo-18trying every medication available and we just had to wait and see if any would work. She literally ate, slept and seized. My whole life revolved around the seizures and the hardest part was it was affecting my other kids. My son was looking forward to kindergarten, so his first day of school we all got ready and headed out to walk him in and get some pictures. Our house was only three minutes from school, but it was just long enough for Alee to try to fall asleep and the seizures began. As we were walking in Alee started having a long seizure so I had to lay her on the grass in front of the school on her left side and start getting my emergency meds ready. My son was so nervous he was going to be late on the first day, so I gave him a hug and said, “I know you can remember how to get to your class so go ahead and go and I will be there in a few minutes to check on you.” He is so brave. He went and  I watched my 5-year-old have to grow up too fast because of this terrible disease. Alee’s sister went with me everywhere. I was forced to stop working because Alee need 24-hour care and I did not have any family in Waco. Alee was having to get blood work all the time because we were changing meds so frequently and we needed to know how much was in her blood. She had so many IV’s and blood draws that her little veins just collapsed. At one visit they strapped Alee to the board and started trying to get blood. No luck. By stick nine she was screaming and in and out of seizures. The tech was crying and I looked over at Isabella who was sitting like a big kid in a chair and tears were just running down her little face.  All she said was, “Mommy, please make them stop.” Well, I basically lost it then. After stick 14 there was still not blood so we called it a day and would try again tomorrow. I realized that we were all suffering. My husband and I decided to move closer to family so we could have some help with the older kids. And..well..that was God’s plan all along. We had not even started looking for a job yet when my husband received a call that there was a job opening in his home town.  So, within a few months, we moved to Kilgore.

Alee’s social worker at the time told me about a clinic for TSC kids in Houston so I got on the waiting list. After a long 4 month wait we were finally able to see the docs there. Her new neurologist wanted us to try an experimental drug, Sabril, and at this point I would have done anything. I gave it to her for the first time on a Monday and by Thursday she was down to three seizures a day. My prayers had been answered. But the downfall of this drug is it can cause permanent vision loss. Today Alee has lost a little of her peripheral  vision and once that is gone it will take it all. So, we were forced to make a decision. How much vision loss is too much? So when all of her peripheral vision is gone we will take her off the one and only drug that is keeping her from seizing out of control.  We will start the cycle all over again…this may be in six years or six months. We just have to wait and see. On top of the seizures she has tumors in her brain, heart, eyes, skin, face and kidneys. We will more than likely have brain surgery at some point. She will develop polycystic kidney disease, go into kidney failure, and be placed on a transplant list. I know the reason God made her so strong willed…it is because she is going to have to fight for the rest of her life! Her struggles are not going to get any easier, just harder as time goes on. When you think about your children in the future you picture them playing with their friends at recess at school, falling in love, going to college, getting married, having children, but that is not the life that was given to Alee. She has a different path. She is going to be an advocate for TSC. She will help find a cure for this horrible disease.

I wish I could say I was always this positive, but in reality, some days you just want to give up. The loneliest place in our house is the laundry room. That is where I go when TSC gets too big for me to handle. Many, many breakdowns have happened in there, but it is also where I pull it all back together. The emotional side of any disease is too much for most people, but that is not all that is involved when you have a sick child. We are struggling now with so many decisions because she is about to turn 5. Public or private school? What things do we fight for on her IEP? How do we handle that she does not sweat due to long-term use of topamax or her sleepiness from all her meds at school? How do you send your baby to school knowing that she cannot communicate well enough to tell you what is happening there?  I really do believe that God carefully chooses special needs parents and children. You have to be strong, patient, and sensitive at the same time. You have to be able to comfort your seizing child while fighting the ER doctors for her life. You have to be able to hold it all together when the specialty pharmacy forgets to send her meds and you know the outcome will be a life-threatening hospital stay.  Our entire family fights the TSC battle every day and we will not stop. We will give everything but up!!!