Follow-up to the Previous Post

Our good friend, John Neal – founder of Team Krabbe Strong and advocate for Krabbe awareness and Newborn Screening – gave me permission to post his letter regarding the article I blogged about here. He said this so well and I wanted it to help it have a greater audience by sharing it here.

Dear Andy and Brenda:

My name is John Neal, and I am writing you this email in regards to your article published on WebMD regarding Krabbe Leukodystrophy. I am an advocate for families who have been affected by this horrible disease, working with them and other organizations from around the globe in efforts to raise awareness. Part of that awareness is advocating for universal newborn screening for the disease throughout the United States. In my home state of Pennsylvania, we continue to work with lawmakers to enact a bill that was signed into law two years ago. This is also the case for laws that have passed in Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey. Ohio has mandatory testing with the option of refusal, while Kentucky, Tennessee, New York and Missouri actively test for the disease. Louisiana’s Governor recently signed a bill to begin testing in the near future. Families in Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, California, Arizona, Iowa, Oregon, Texas, North Carolina have been actively trying to have their states follow suit, just like Cove and Jackson’s families are trying to do in Georgia. And so I ask you: Why would you write an article that would shed such a negative light on the testing procedures and treatments available for Krabbe Disease?

As my blood is boiling while writing this, I will try to do my best to be amicable and respectful to you both. But quite honestly, I’m not sure either of you deserve my respect right now. And I can think of a few affected families who were interviewed for this article, and then misquoted, who are as equally upset with your unprofessionalism and deception.

First, how do either of you justify your content in this article? Seriously?! As if we didn’t have to deal with enough politics to achieve our goal of universal newborn screening, now we have to deal with an article (written by what I thought was a reputable source) that contains obvious bias by it’s publisher? Mr. Miller, what is your ulterior motive with this article? You reside in Georgia with your wife and children, right? So I am assuming it is you that initiated this piece? Or you were asked to? It has politics written all over it. It is so one-sided, with the intent of shoving misinformation down readers throats, so that if/when they see that Cove’s Law didn’t pass it can be justified. No one will forgive lawmakers who want to harm little babies, so why not make it seem like they’re saving them (from this horrible testing and treatment)…right?

Secondly, how dare you take advantage of families who were willing to interview with you and twist their words to make your lopsided article read the way you want it to read? The Garcia family lost their boy, Jackson, to this horrible disease. They grieve every single day. And while they do, they continue to build their boys legacy in hopes of preventing any other children from having to suffer; and their parents too. Cove’s family, who has spearheaded this effort, is living daily knowing that they are on borrowed time with their daughter. And things will only continue to get worse. But rather than sit around and do nothing, they are fighting back with the same hopes as the Garcia’s. You didn’t stop there, though. You continued on to interview a family that received a positive test result and is currently at Duke University undergoing treatment to save their boys life. And once again, you misquoted them and draw a focus on the negative side of things. They don’t need that! They’re fighting for their son’s life, who is doing incredible by the way! They don’t need any unnecessary stress caused by your brainwashing article.

Let me ask you this: Did you try to reach out to Wilson family that has a six year old son who is living a normal life, free from krabbe (after receiving transplant)? Michael was diagnosed because of his older brother, Marshall’s, diagnosis. Marshall has since passed from complications due to the disease, but it cost him his life to save his brothers. Did you reach out to them? How about The Galindo family in California whose daughter Faith just turned 20-months and is walking and talking (post transplant)? And how did they know to test? They lost a child previously to the disease. How about the Webb family in Tennessee whose son Owen is doing great? And he, yet again, is a child who was tested because he lost a sibling he never had the chance to meet. The Mabry Kate Act is named after his sister that passed two years ago’ and act that is responsible for the positive test of a baby boy who is currently being treated and doing amazing (in the states first year of testing). Just like Kentucky, who produced a positive test and the child is receiving treatment and doing incredibly well (first year of testing). NO. The answer is NO! You didn’t interview anyone who is doing well. Instead, you took information that is a decade old, and created an article to read the way that you wanted it to read.

Brenda, I know Andy has children…do you? Let me ask you both a question: Let’s say your children were born in a state that tests for Krabbe. And then let’s say you received a positive result that required further testing. So then you Google the disease, read up on it, and spend endless nights crying not knowing what is going to happen to your child. They go through lumbar punctures and MRI’s to determine a definitive diagnosis. Super uncomfortable for a baby just born, I know. But it is a necessary evil. And then let’s say after all of the testing, it turns out that they didn’t have it. Thank God! My question is, what would you say to a family who lived in a state that didn’t test for the disease? What would you say to the parent that wishes all their child had to endure was an MRI and Lumbar puncture rather than have to watch them deteriorate daily? What would you say to the family that has been told to make funeral arrangements for their six month old instead of first birthday plans? What would you say to the family who live each day knowing they will lose their child before their second birthday?

Let me tell you what you would say: You would say THANK GOD MY STATE TESTS and after further testing it came back negative. Cause I damn sure know you’d rather be the parent with the MRI and Lumbar Puncture rather than the latter of the parents I mentioned. And those other parents, they won’t be crying during one week of testing, they’ll be crying every night for the rest of their lives wondering what could have been if only their child was tested.

Did you reach out to Dr. Kurtzberg? Did you know that she has recently submitted a paper for publication with some updated results, specifically results that show promise of improved testing for the early infantile form of the disease. The form that would directly correlate with newborn screening. OF COURSE YOU DIDN’T!!! That wouldn’t benefit you!

I am sure you did get some information from organizations and people affiliated with organizations who prefer not to test, but rather to focus on improved treatments. And in that case…MONEY TALKS. I get it. But politics should not be making the decision of who lives and who dies without a chance. There are reliable testing methods and treatments currently available, and treatments that are saving lives. These kids are living quality lives. And yet, you chose to unprofessionally publish an article that features all of the negatives. How do you feel now? Do feel good about yourself and your work? Do you know the potential setbacks you can cause with such amateurish work? If you didn’t have the up-to-date facts, then you shouldn’t have written anything at all. But because it hit home, in Georgia, you did like most media and fabricated a story to get it done, rather than wait for the truth. Congratulations.

In ending, I would request that you rescind this article. Delete it. Make it disappear. Then go back to the drawing board, do your homework, and re-write it in a professional matter. Do what is right. Do right by the families you’ve wronged, and do right by the families who suffered long enough and are trying to make a difference. Can testing and treatment be improved? Absolutely! And we work on that equally as much as we do newborn screening. But portraying the current methods available in the negative way you did…that was 100% wrong. Please fix it.

Sincerely,

John Neal

Team Krabbe Strong

Inaccuracy in Reporting about Krabbe

I’ve hesitated to bring any attention to an article which was published this week regarding Krabbe and Newborn Screening because it’s incredibly inaccurate and biased. It has caused quite a stir among us Krabbe families and we’ve been trying to figure out how to respond.

So, while I don’t want to drive traffic to this terrible article, at the same time, I feel that being silent is the worst course of action.

You can read the article here (and it was also published on WebMD here).

The article was written in response to a law making its way through the Georgia state house to allow parents the option to have their children screened for Krabbe. While the authors make an attempt to sound unbiased, it clearly failed and their bias is evident. The title itself is evidence of that.

Not only did they misquote two Krabbe mothers, but they also reported false information in an attempt to show their bias. They gave false data about transplantation, and they also didn’t talk to any families whose children were successfully transplanted years ago. They were also wrong about the oldest known survivor of Krabbe, among many other inaccuracies in the piece.

The authors chose to interview those who had their babies flagged by Newborn Screening who ended up not having Krabbe (false-positives, which is an inaccurate term anyway for Krabbe; had the doctors handled it correctly, they would have said the baby was flagged for further testing, not that they were “positive”) and discussed the “stress” and “trauma” caused by those two weeks of waiting for the news. I’m sorry, but give me a break. LOSING YOUR CHILD when you could have attempted to save their life is traumatizing but the article said NOTHING about that. Waiting for further testing to be completed, if the doctors prepare them correctly, is not as bad as they portray it. This study provides a look at false-positives and how they should be handled.

Just because you are a medical doctor doesn’t mean that you are automatically an expert on Krabbe. It is clear that we as Krabbe families know far more about the disease, the pros and cons of treatment, etc. than these authors do, and we wish they would have consulted us before writing such a frustrating article.

There are SO MANY success stories not mentioned here, so many children alive and thriving today who would have died from Krabbe had they not had a transplant. And they wouldn’t have been able to receive a transplant had it not been for Newborn Screening. Yet, the article barely mentions these children. Convenient.

For an unbiased look at the lessons learned from Newborn Screening for Krabbe, read this article. Talk to the parents who lost a child to Krabbe, and those who were given the option (THANKS TO NEWBORN SCREENING) and chose to transplant their child to give them a chance at life.  Talk to someone who has actual life experience with the disease and don’t rely on articles such as this one. 

Newborn Screening for Krabbe is NOT harmful but is essential and beneficial for all involved. We will continue our fight, no matter what the opponents may say.

(You can also read this post, a letter from our friend John Neal to the authors of the article.)

NBS Advisory Board Meeting, August 23, 2016

Today I attended the quarterly meeting of the Newborn Screening Advisory Panel of Pennsylvania as I did in April and will continue to do until Krabbe is on the mandatory screening panel (and maybe even after that, but we’ll see).

You can read about the April meeting – and some background about the purpose of the Advisory Panel – here.

You can read about the meeting with the Physician General in June here.

This meeting was uneventful compared to April and Krabbe wasn’t even on the agenda for discussion. Dr. Levine, the Physician General of Pennsylvania, was in attendance for the beginning of the meeting and her presence seems to have had an effect on the panel given the tone of the discussion. 🙂

Positives:

  • Testing for X-ALD will begin on April 1, 2017 and testing for MPS-I will begin on January 1, 2017. Both of these are lysosomal storage disorders (LSDs) just like Krabbe. There are funding issues being worked out at the moment, but the panel is hopeful that these implementation dates will remain in place.
  • Testing for Pompe has been in place for six months; they have already identified eight positive cases.
  • The panel will be submitting a “Program Revision Request” to fund these two new tests AND will include the future of NBS in the proposal as more diseases (Krabbe?!) will be added in the future.
  • The Department of Health has created a new brochure about Newborn Screening to better educate new moms and dads about what is available in Pennsylvania and how it works. It will be visible on their website in a couple of weeks.
  • The panel is hoping to merge the two panel system that currently exists in Pennsylvania, which would make ALL of the testing mandatory and not optional for each hospital (meaning that all babies would finally be screened equally and your zip code won’t determine life or death!). Currently, only seven diseases are mandated in Pennsylvania; the rest, including Krabbe, are on a “follow-up” panel and each hospital chooses which diseases from that list will be included on their screenings. Ridiculous, I know. Thankfully, they all see that it’s ridiculous, as well.

Since Krabbe wasn’t mentioned in the first half, I made a point to talk to a few specific people during lunch to find out what I wanted to know:

  • According to PerkinElmer – the lab through which all of the testing is done – Hershey Medical Center is STILL the only hospital in the entire state testing every baby for Krabbe and for the other five lysosomal storage disorders (LSDs) in Hannah’s Law (Act 148 of 2014).
  • I verified YET AGAIN that if a mother asks for her child to be screened for Krabbe in a Pennsylvania hospital (or birthing center), the hospital has to do it.
  • PerkinElmer said that only a handful of requests for Krabbe testing have come through, which shows a great need for education until the testing is mandatory.

During the “public comment” section at the end of the meeting, I was able to address the issue of hospitals telling their patients that their babies were being screened for Krabbe automatically, and the panel was genuinely alarmed that this is happening. This launched a discussion about how they can improve the communication and education because it’s a serious problem and is also opening up hospitals (and the state) to law suits.

ONLY Penn State Hershey Medical Center is automatically testing for Krabbe in Pennsylvania, BUT, if you ask your hospital then they have to screen your newborn for Krabbe. Ask to speak to the Newborn Screening Coordinator at the hospital as they should be aware of this. If not, make them aware 😉

We found out that they are going to give the new brochure about NBS to the moms after birth along with everything else they give them, and Ashley (from Rep. Cruz’s office) and I both remarked that there has to be a better time, perhaps during prenatal appointments? Neither of us remember much of anything after our babies were born. That is NOT the time to give the mom a stack of papers, with this brochure included, and expect them to read and make these important screening decisions! The men agreed after we brought it up 🙂

In regards to Krabbe specifically: I asked Dr. Vockley if the conversation he had with Dr. Kurtzberg in July had affected anything (they spoke about her research and she schooled him, basically); he stated that until something is published, nothing will change. We know that Dr. Kurtzberg has submitted data for publishing, so now we just wait. Once that data comes out, it sounds like having Krabbe moved to the Mandatory Panel could happen quickly. Maybe.

Afterward, Rep. Cruz’s staff (Ashley and Rachel) and I spoke with Dr. Vockley for quite a while regarding Krabbe and Newborn Screening, and, overall, he was FAR more positive (and respectful) this time than he was three months ago. I believe that his conversation with Dr. Kurtzberg has shown him that there is MERIT in screening for Krabbe at birth; that the transplants are successful; that it’s WORTH IT.

He mentioned again the lack of data about the success of NBS and transplants for Krabbe; so, I pointed out to him that since only FOUR states are screening, it’s no wonder that we have no data! If you aren’t screening at birth, you aren’t catching it early enough to transplant, therefore, no data. He surprisingly agreed with me. I then added that, since Pennsylvania has such a high rate of leukodystrophies, WE could be the state providing that data and making headway in research. And he agreed with me there, too!

In summary, there have been no changes, no possible implementation dates, BUT, overall the attitude toward NBS screening HAS seemingly changed, and we feel hopeful that it won’t be long before every single baby in Pennsylvania is given a chance at life because of NBS.

If you read all of this, thank you. 🙂 Please spread the word to other Pennsylvanians so that every new mom is aware of the options for Newborn Screening! No matter what state you live in, you can write letters to your legislators HERE and let them know that this is important to you!

September is Krabbe/Leukodystrophy Awareness Month AND Newborn Screening Awareness Month. Let’s do our part to educate!

 

Hunter’s Hope Symposium: Thursday 

Today we heard reports on the Leukodystrophy Care Network that Hunter’s Hope is working hard to implement around the country. They are the voice of the family in ensuring excellent care and treatment for their child.

You can read more about the LCN here.

Leukodystrophy children have unique medical needs and issues and most hospitals have had little to no experience with these diseases.

The centers are going to be as geographically spread out as possible so that traveling can be reduced for as many families as possible. Currently, most affected families go to Pittsburgh or Raleigh. Once the LCN is established, there will be many more options.

Many times, doctors see kids like these and don’t bother to treat them because they are terminally ill. One of the questions asked of the potential of LCN center is this: 

‘Are you treating this child as though they are living? Or are you saying “go home, there’s no treatment?”‘

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia became the first Leukodystrophy Center of Excellence and it was interesting to hear their presentation given that they are so close to where we live.

I loved this quote:

Dr. JoAnne Kurtzberg from Duke University spoke and gave great insight into what they have done in the world of leukodystrophies.

As always, Victor was very attentive 😄

Later, we heard reports on the current research findings – which are so promising! – and heard more about the results of the ten years of screening for Krabbe in New York State. 

They are also very close to improving the NBS test for Krabbe by looking for two specific biomarkers instead of just one. 

Exciting things are happening in the quest to find a cure for Krabbe and other leukodystrophies, and the future is bright. 

Overall, we feel encouraged by what we heard today and are so glad to be here. 

Hospice Butterfly Release

Today, Hospice of Central Pennsylvania held a butterfly release to honor our loved ones who have passed away. Though Brennan had to work, I went to represent our family and to release a butterfly in Tori’s honor.

It was held in a beautiful part of the Capital Area Greenbelt that has been made into a garden – the Five Senses Garden.

Each participant was handed a little white folded triangle that contained a butterfly, eager to escape and fly away. Mine was definitely ready:


We released them in unison and watched them fly away:


I looked around at those gathered and I wondered about each of their situations, hoping that they weren’t there because they, too, had lost a child, but I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

Thank you, Hospice of Central Pennsylvania, for not only caring for our loved ones while they are dying, but also for continuing to so thoughtfully care for those left behind. ❤️

 

 

Fleeting Moments

Before Tori was born, many people told us to cherish the early years because they would go quickly, never to return.

After she was diagnosed with Krabbe the moments moved faster and there was nothing we could do to stop the momentum. The days were fleeting, and we wondered each day how many more days we had with our beloved daughter.

As a photographer, it was natural for me to take thousands (more like tens of thousands) of photos of her, every angle and perspective possible, hoping that I could remember everything once she was gone.

But, the problem is that what can’t be captured on film is what I miss the most.

I couldn’t capture how it felt to hold her – something I did for hours each and every day. How it felt to feel her breathing. Her smell. The touch of her soft, smooth skin.

I couldn’t capture her soul, the very thing that makes us who we are.


Miss Tori has been with Jesus in Heaven for over two months now and it is still strange. The impact she had on my life is still being discovered moment by moment, and I continue to be overwhelmed by gratitude more than any other emotion.

I think of her almost every waking minute. I now understand what my Dad has said my entire life – that I am always on his mind. I don’t even try to think about Tori – it just happens.

Yesterday, Brennan and I sat down together and watched many of the pre-Krabbe videos we have of her. Hearing her talk and laugh, watching her move freely, and remembering our precious girl before Krabbe took over her defenseless brain brought joy to our hearts. She had the BEST personality, even before she turned five months old.

And I’m still GRATEFUL. Her memory brings me joy, not pain. Peace, not grief.

The KNOWLEDGE (it’s more than just a “belief” as that word is commonly used today) that we will be reunited with her one day brings such excitement to both of our hearts. It won’t be that long in light of eternity!

Tori’s earthly life was cut short, but this life is really just the beginning for all of us anyway. I heard this song recently and I loved the lyrics (especially knowing that Steven Curtis Chapman has also lost a child and his words reflect his experience):

God’s plan from the start
For this world and your heart
Has been to show His glory and His grace
Forever revealing the depth and the beauty of
His unfailing Love
And the story has only begun

And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
We’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding

We were made to run through fields of forever
Singing songs to our Savior and King
So let us remember this life we’re living
Is just the beginning of the beginning.

  • Steven Curtis Chapman, “Glorious Unfolding”

We’re still doing well. The fourteen months of preparation for her death certainly have helped in the two months without her physically with us.

We’re still surprised by how easy it is to leave the house now and how lightly we can pack, how quiet our home is without the humming of machines, how free we feel due to the lack of schedule that we have now…

We have our moments where missing her is something we feel physically. A great example of this was when I first heard the song, “Eye of the Storm” by Ryan Stevenson and I was caught off guard by this line: “When a sickness takes my child away and there’s nothing I can do, my only hope is to trust in You.” Powerful truth.

Sometimes it comes out of nowhere, other times it comes out of thoughtful remembrance of our adventures with her. We’ve both shed tears in the past two months during those moments.

But, because of God and who He is, we are hopeful above all else and remain joyful. God is doing amazing things in our lives and is still using our little girl to change lives, even after her death.

Tori was an amazing little girl and her legacy lives on. We have MUCH to be thankful for and will continue to focus on those blessings rather than her absence.

Those tens of thousands of photographs continue to make us smile as we remember the incredible life we lived with Tori, and we will continue living life abundantly until we are reunited with her forever. It will be worth the wait.

 

Mother’s Day Surprise

While my dad was still in Pennsylvania with us, I came up with a plan to fly to California for a week over Mother’s Day weekend as a surprise for my mom and grandmothers (and everyone else). Brennan and I had enough miles through United to make the trip practically free and I had the availability, so we booked the trip!

Tuesday morning, bright and early, I boarded a plane in Harrisburg and arrived in San Francisco an hour early (the pilot had a lead foot 😉 ). That was even after Air Traffic Control told them to slow their approach. 🙂

Here are a few photos of the scenery we saw as we flew across the country:

My dad picked me up and we headed north to Red Bluff (a little over three hours).

My mom, a Customer Service Manager at Walmart, was still at work when we arrived. Because I hadn’t yet seen the brand new store that opened the week after Tori went to Heaven, we decided to go to the store to surprise her.

We had hoped to find her rather than have her see us.

Well, the reveal didn’t go exactly as planned because she found my dad first (I was in an aisle shopping) and saw my purse – exactly like hers – in the cart. She asked my dad why he had her purse and he had no answer! 🙂 I came around the corner and saw her there and she was shocked. Needless to say, she had no idea that I was coming.

I’ve been able to spend time with family and a couple of friends thus far, and we have meetings with the staff of my parents’ legislators to discuss Newborn Screening for Krabbe. California has seen legislation for this in the past (as recent as 2012) but has never added Krabbe to their panel. We’re seeking to change that.

It is going to be a great week at “home” and I’m so glad we were able to make this happen.