A Month of Anniversaries

I wanted to share this blog post this past Saturday. It was the actual 4th anniversary of being told that Kate was diagnosed with SIFD. (Things have been a bit busy since Saturday).

November is also notable for Kate being diagnosed with hearing loss – and needing hearing aids, followed by her diagnosis 2 years later as being completely deaf. November carries a lot of emotional weight for me.

But this is about SIFD…

Kate suffered for over 4 years with an undiagnosed disease that caused multiple medical issues, and medical fragility. In the midst of an incredible diagnostic odyssey that led us to visit four different major hospitals in Canada and the US, and have Kate’s blood and tissue flown around the world, in the fall of 2011, our family (Jack included) did a simple blood test as part of FORGE (Finding of Rare Diseases in Canada), a genomics project led by Dr.Kim Boycott. The purpose of FORGE was to examine undiagnosed children suffering from rare diseases and see if they could identify the disease through national collaboration of physicians, scientists and researchers. In our case, our metabolics doctor, Pranesh Chakraborty, went one step further and collaborated internationally with a team from Boston to identify the TRNT1 gene that causes SIFD.

I’ve always said that I was waiting for the huge SIFD announcement. The national or international recognition of an ultra-rare – and devastating – disease to have been identified. But the sharing of the SIFD diagnosis for the first child ever, happened in a small consultation room at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario with two parents, their trusted physician, and his notes. It was a simple conversation, both Brian and I had ‘donated’ the same shitty gene to Kate and the result was SIFD. Our children had a 1 in 4 chance of inheriting this previously unknown disease.

Genetics is helping to identify these diseases more and more, and a new/novel disease discovery just isn’t news worthy any more. I can tell you that for the 7 families with children living with SIFD, and the 20+ others whose children have died from SIFD, it is huge and the anniversary of knowing is very significant, so we ‘celebrate’ the discovery of SIFD with quiet and personal reflection about that day and that conversation in the tiny consultation room with our metabolics doctor.

I remember the moment we found out about SIFD very well. It is one of those emotional memories that you can physically feel as you recall it. I thought I would feel so differently. I thought knowing what was ‘wrong’ with Kate would change everything. That I would be maybe elated or excited that we finally had an answer. Instead, I felt empty and numb – and came to the slow realization that there was monumental mountain of the unknown facing Kate and our family, and that we still really had no answers to help her. Nothing had really changed.

So here we are on the 4th anniversary of the discovery of SIFD.  CHEO released this little blurb a few weeks ago about it.

Teamwork solves the riddle of SIFD

If it takes a village to raise a child, in research, it takes team collaboration. Teamwork and new perspectives can rocket discoveries forward and help make incredible progress. At the CHEO, we see progress every day that directly benefits our patients.

Dr. Pranesh Chakraborty, a metabolic physician and Director of Newborn Screening Ontario, and his team partnered with clinicians and researchers at CHEO, to determine that mutations in a specific gene were likely responsible for causing SIFD (sideroblastic anemia, immunodeficiency, fever and developmental delay) in one of the young patients at CHEO.

Dr. Chakraborty’s lab, with the help of Dr. Martin Holcik’s Molecular Biomedicine lab, was able to rapidly kick-start the needed research – something neither could have done alone.

As one team, they were successful in their quest. And in 2014 they proved their hypothesis that the cause of SIFD is mutations in a specific gene. Their success came from teamwork not just across CHEO, but across borders. The CHEO team joined forces with researchers in Boston and clinicians around the world to make this discovery.

Like modern-day Sherlock Holmes, these researchers are medical detectives examining the clues in our genes to identify those which cause rare diseases. This kind of teamwork embodies CHEO’s values, and allows doctor and researchers to expand the field of medicine, and in particular rare disease research, at the pace they do.

 

Here is what I would add to this short article:

“And thank you to Kate Drury, a brave little girl, who donated her own genetic material so that this discovery could be made. A little girl carrying the weight of a genetic discovery on her shoulders. A little girl whose family never gave up to find a diagnosis for her. One of only 7 children alive with SIFD in the world today and the only Canadian alive with SIFD.”

 

Julie

A Few Thoughts About Patience

I am tired of being told to be patient.

I’m pretty sure if I hear the word one more time, being directed at me in a syrupy semi-supportive/patronizing tone with a hint of caution from a person who knows little/nothing about me/Kate/or our story, I might just lose it on the next person I hear it from.

It’s been 5 months, and no one can seem to figure out how to get this GVHD under control. We’ve dealt with an 8 week BMT, a very poorly orchestrated discharge post-BMT, missed diagnosis, extremely stressful medical situations where we went unheard, mistakes were made, and Kate suffered as a result, and now the yo-yo back and forth two steps forward 5 steps back (and three steps sideways) of trying to control for a complication that wasn’t supposed to happen with no end in sight and a changing roster of people in charge of finding the solution to fixing it.

I am tired of being told to be patient. 

I do not feel patient and yet I wake every morning and focus on what needs to get done that day. What do we need to do to get Kate one step closer to home. What craft game story video iPad game sticker activity can we do that day together where I will need to dig deep to be engaged and patient within the four walls of our isolation room. What questions should I be asking? What plan can we make to get Kate better?

I am patient. I have been patient. I am patient because I have no other choice. And neither does Kate.

 

Being told to be patient and that ‘these things can take time’ is like telling a marathon runner that you have moved the finish line. Actually, not moved it, but hidden it and there is no MapQuest, or GPS, or map or even a damn sextant to find the finish line. (You even begin to wonder if the damn finish line even exists). Just keep running until you find it. Oh…and be patient. And that exhaustion and despair and frustration you feel? Just be patient. We have been so close to that finish line too many times.

Who ever coined the phrase ‘good things come to those who wait’ should be taken to an isolation room with an unwell child and locked in…and told to be patient.

pa·tience
/ˈpāSHəns/
noun
1.  the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

 

As of today , it has been 5 months. Kate is up and down. Feeling well for a few days and a glimmer of hope starts to grow that maybe, just maybe our patience has finally borne some fruit – only to be dashed again by the latest set back of loose/liquid green stool, nausea and fatigue. (You know that marathon finish line I mentioned? Think about having it in your sights…finally…only to have someone steal it away and move it again.)

We’ve been patient through the post-BMT phase with trialing 4 different immune suppressive drugs. Five attempts at steroid wean. Endless imaging and tests. Different doctors with different plans. Different nurses with different approaches. And not much has changed.

Kate has been patient.

Everyday is a test of patience amidst our exhaustion and fear and stress and hope for a good outcome.

Patience is wearing thin for both of us.

 

Julie

 

110 Days

It has been 110 days since Kate had a bone marrow transplant. 110 days since we jumped off that cliff with Kate in our arms.

It’s been 16 weeks since my 10-year-old son bravely walked to the OR to give his bone marrow to his sister.

To Hope to curb the disease that we were told she would die from.

It’s been a little over 4 months in hospital for Kate…for our entire family. Watching the bravest, most stoic and loving child endure what would reduce most of us to tears. To watch her suffer. To watch her smile. To see the recognition in her eyes that she knows she has no choice. To know that who she is, the life she has had, the choices we’ve had to make for her, the challenges she has had to face are beyond anything anyone could ever have imagined or what many can understand.

How do I express my feelings after 4 months of this. Of watching this. Of knowing what I know. Of living what we have lived. Of feeling what I have felt and continue to feel.

Of interrupting her life and of being terrified I won’t be able to get her back to it.

My greatest fear was disrupting the life she had. And she did have a life. It wasn’t easy. Despite the smiles on our faces to mask the daily pain and challenges, it wasn’t easy. It has been 8 years of not easy. But it was her life and she was living it and making the best of it and we were (so far) keeping her safe and the monsters at bay.

But now…

…now there is uncertainty again. Where there was confidence in managing her disease, there is fear of her recovering from this. Where there was excitement, there is a sense of loss for her – time at school, time with friends, time with family, time in the water, time spent outdoors at parks – on bikes – running. Where there was a sense of Kate being happy, I’m now not sure.

The day-to-day fatigue dealing with chronic illness and developmental challenges has been replaced by profound exhaustion. Endless nights on the hospital room cot, sitting by her bedside crying over her small frail body and wondering “what have we done”, moments of hope for recovery that slide back into complications and fear for her life. Grief. Loss. Sadness. Fear. The emotions mix in a melting pot of pit of the stomach sickness.

You try to hold onto Hope. Because Hope is real and it is powerful. But you are the mom and the dad and you are responsible and Hope gets overshadowed by Fear. And it’s a dance between the two. And you want Hope to win and you want to understand Fear and accept it, to not let it take over and it is an exhausting day-to-day struggle. And you feel worn out. And you feel annoyed at constant reminders to “stay strong” “be positive”. You want her back. You want another chance at the decision to do this. And you can’t. There is nothing to do but go forward.

I try to remember who this is about. This is happening to Kate. It is her life so severely and terrifyingly interrupted. But as much as it is about Kate and has always been. It is about Jack and Brian and Julie and our family. Being scared for them, for us…for myself and how we will come through this.

It has been 7  years and 9 months of facing down the SIFD monster. A monster that had no name. A monster we fought to name. A monster we had come to understand and had learned to live with, but a monster we were told time and again had surprises for Kate. Nasty – life limiting – surprises.

I know she is strong and she is incredibly resilient, and I’m jealous of the kids who go home. Who suffer less. I am jealous of the kids playing in the park and crying over scraped knees.

I am amazed that she still smiles and giggles. That she still belly laughs at silly antics and strives to make friends with anyone she meets. That she loves her nurses and trusts her doctors. Where does that LIGHT come from? How can there be that much strength and will and love and FIGHT in such a tiny little girl?

 

This has been her life and we’ve brought it to some sort of crazy junction of Hope that she will get better and live an easier life, or Regret that we have chosen poorly and we have hurt her beyond repair.

Which is it?

I think she lives the Hope and I feel the waves of Regret.

The answer isn’t clear yet and it will be many more weeks and months in hospital and delicately stepping through this new existence of the post-BMT world before we know.

We are relearning her disease and what we have transformed it into by doing THIS. The doctors don’t even know. I think deep down we knew it would be up to us again to forge the path and guide them, lead them, help them navigate Kate. I don’t think they realized that Kate would have the lead. I bristle at the work I have to do to get them to listen, to engage, to discuss and debate and understand that WE, Kate and I, know this best. That we have the lead and they need to listen, support and follow. So I step back and start to build the relationships Kate needs to be safe. It’s not easy.

It’s not Fair. It’s hard. It’s exhausting.

It is what it is.

Put one foot in front of other. Take one more step forward. Ignore the pain and heartache. Wait for the good moments. Try to pain attention to them and enjoy them. Get through the bad. Try to recognize the Good and the Bad.

Try to live our best life. Despite.

Try to help her live her best life. And Jack.

How did we get here?

 

I just want her to be well.

 

 

 

 

Day – 3

IMG_2848

 

Time here is surreal. It crawls by at some moments, (e.g. when you are with an irritable Kate). And flies at others. I can’t believe a week is almost over. Today is Day -3.

Day 0 is the day of the transplant.

April 28th, the target date I have in my mind for going home, seems so far away.

Time is warped here.

Clocks move quickly and slowly at the same time. A moment can last forever and also pass so quickly. Kate can look good at one minute, and change the next. There is no solid footing to be had, and I have learned that the search for it is futile in this experience. I need to surrender to what is and let this happen and unfold, while being as vigilant as I can. I marvel at how we got her – how did this happen?

There is nothing more to do. One foot in front of the other, pace myself hard – but intelligently – know when I need to back off and know that I have another gear in me when it is needed most. See the race course as it’s been laid out. Push hard for that awesome outcome and be able to let go just a little of expectations when I need to

It is a Marathon.

A true physical and emotional marathon and I am grateful I have the experience as a distance runner to carry me through. This is not for the faint of heart. Everyone here is holding onto their values and courage with their nails dug in. Holding onto the things that give them strength. Foundations they have built over a lifetime. It is amazing to see how the human spirit can thrive in this type of environment – what people draw upon with this kind of suffering and stress. Raw fear and raw hope.

Kate is part of that for me. She has helped build me up to be the mom I need to be in this moment. We are a unit she and I. We make each other whole. Her laughter, her playfulness, her excitement at the simplest things, and even her tears.

I feel her strength and bravery and it helps me to fortify mine. That is an incredible gift that she has brought to my life.

 

Julie

Anniversary Weekend – Part 1

Still waiting for our SIFD party

Still waiting for our SIFD party

 

Today is the anniversary of Kate’s diagnosis.

It’s hard to believe that three years ago today we sat in the office of Dr.C (you can read about Meeting Dr.C here) our metabolics and genetics doctor and learned that Kate has a new and ultra-rare recessive genetic disease that she inherited from Brian and I. It reminds me a lot of this article by Matthew Might, dad to a son who also has an ultra-rare disease and was also an N=1 (as I wrote about here).

To quote Matt Might:

If found my daughter’s killer.

It took over 4 years.

But we did it.

I should point out one thing. My daughter is still alive. 

Yet. My husband Brian and I have been found responsible for her death.

 

When we were told that they had diagnosed Kate, there was a moment for me – just a brief moment when I received the call to come in for a meeting with Dr.C to discuss our test results, that maybe there was something they could do for her. A moment of excitement (?)… No. That’s not the right word. HOPE.

The moment did not last. As Dr.C talked about genes and exome-genetic sequencing and recessive genetic this and that. I listened. But I didn’t at the same time. I knew that if they could do something for Kate. If this was something ‘common’ or least ‘known’. If the medical team could help her – they would start with that.

They didn’t.

We looked at graphs. We looked at stains of Kate’s actual genetic coding for the TRNT1 gene. We talked about genetic condons of GCT –  GAT – ATC and any other combination of those 64 triplets of nucleotides that make up our genetic code.

And then, Dr.C took a ‘picture’ of Kate’s TRNT1 gene profile and overlaid mine and the Brian’s. They matched. My heart fell into my stomach. I was trying to understand. Trying to nod my head in comprehension. Trying to be brave. Trying.

Kate has inherited the exact same mutation from Brian and I on the gene known as TRNT1.

It had never been seen before.

Our children had a 1 in 4 chance of inheriting this disease. A silent killer. Completely unknown.

Jack isn’t affected, but could be a carrier. We haven’t had him tested.

The mutation has caused a deficiency in the protein needed for this gene to do it’s job. That deficiency (variable) has caused an incredibly shocking cascade effect through Kate’s body – resulting in the multiple medical conditions and ongoing acute illnesses she suffers today.

To quote Dr.H (PhD), a researcher working on Kate’s disease. “It is hard to believe a deficiency on one gene could wreak so much havoc on the body”.

 

What We Know

Here we are, three years after our ‘diagnosis’ and here is what we know.

There are approximately 18 known cases of SIFD worldwide. After Kate was diagnosed, our brave Dr.C took a leap of faith and share the genetic findings with a physician he had been working with at Boston Children’s Hospital. Their collaboration led to the first cases being confirmed, and to the establishment of an international medical and research team that continues to work on SIFD to this day.
Their efforts have resulted in a paper that describes the condition of SIFD. You can read about it here:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3761334/

A description of the TRNT1 gene deficiency that causes SIFD was recently published in the Journal Blood (September 2014).

http://www.bloodjournal.org/content/124/18/2763.full.print?sso-checked=true

Here is a picture of how the mitochondria are affected by TRNT1 deficiency – making SIFD a mitochondria disease. (I’m still trying to understand it too. Sigh.)

 

F1.medium

Many of the diagnosis of SIFD in the patients referenced in the article were done post-mortem. These children tend to die in early childhood – under the age of 4. They were identified and tested based on the cluster of symptoms they had presented with.

To my knowledge, there are 5 children alive today who are known to have SIFD. Four in the UK, and 1 in Canada. Kate.

I have recently been told of 2 more cases in the US and Brazil, but am not sure if these children are still alive.

The children have a variable severity of disease. Ranging from severe to mild. Kate is considered moderate. The children are treated with blood transfusions if their sideroblastic anemia is severe enough, immunogloblulin therapy to treat the b-cell immungloblulin deficiency, many have tried Kineret and prednisone to ‘treat’ or control the episodes of fever or inflammatory cascades (with differing degrees of efficacy), all are hospitalized regularly and monitored for cardiac myopathy – a severe and deadly effect of the disease, and inflammatory cascades (or Kate’s Episodes as we call them), which can also be life-threatning.

To date, 4 children have received a bone marrow transplant (BMT) to treat the disease and curb it’s course.

The first child done was a ‘hail mary’ as his sideroblastic anemia and periodic episodes were so severe his doctors had no other recourse. His BMT was done before SIFD was even discovered. He is doing very well. No effects from the disease.

The second child died during the BMT procedure. She was also very unwell.

The third child is also doing well and had less severe form of the disease. He is off of any intervening treatments and not experiencing any further episodes.

The fourth child was transplanted just recently (October 2014) and there is no information about his/her status.

BMT is an option for Kate. A terrible, awful, terrifying option – but an option nonetheless. It has been offered to us.

The CHEO Research Institute, Boston Children’s, and the Manchester, UK Children’s Hospital are all working on different features of the disease.

I call them regularly asking them if they are any closer to a cure. They are not. They are understanding the protein deficiency better – and all the mice they give it to die. They know what needs to be fixed, they just aren’t sure how to do it. I’ve offered to bring Kate for a visit – to create enthusiasm among the research team – to introduce them to the  little girl behind all of these incredible efforts – to expose them to the genuine JOY that is Kate.

There is nothing more motivating than wanting to help her.

 

My hope is that we find more children like Kate and the others and are able to learn from one another to help facilitate better management of the disease – share our stories – support our medical teams in finding a treatment or a cure.

I am looking for ways to do that.

 

Julie