Just before Christmas last week, we received a phone call from our Genetic Counselor at the University of Iowa. Over the summer we had met with a Geneticist again after our son had several new diagnoses and we were thankfully too impatient to wait another year to pursue answers.
The answer to the cause of all of our son's medical diagnoses is officially called "UBE2A X-Linked Mental Retardation." It is rare and we are the first case that the University of Iowa has ever seen. There are only 8 other cases noted world-wide and counting ourselves and another family I was lucky enough to stumble upon via Facebook of all places - that totals just 10 cases amongst just 7 families so far. This has absolutely blown my mind.
I will admit that I sobbed through reading the entire case study that was written in 2006. It was hard reading that out of all 8 patients cited in the study that none of them spoke. Other commonalities include my son's pineal cyst, seizures, his "dysmorphic facial features", large fontanelle (that didn't close until he was nearly 3), hypotonia, funky toe nails, puffy feet, skin abnormalities, his intellectual disability, fused horseshoe kidney, seizures and his brain abnormalities as well.
We were told that the Geneticists are officially learning from Abram and that there wasn't anything that they could tell us to do besides what we are doing already. Abram has been in multiple therapies a week since before his first birthday and gained the ability to walk just last Christmas. Reading that he may never speak hit me hard but I am doing what I can do to help him communicate the best. We are already in Speech twice a week, have been working on Feeding Therapy for over a year and he has Occupational Therapy as well every week. We are doing exactly what we need to be doing to give our son the best life possible.
The SLPs we have working with Abram are amazing: one works towards Neuro-Development with breathing, pressure points and learning some signs while the other works on eye contact and making requests appropriately as well as mimicking gestures and hand-movements. All these tasks require the hand-eye coordination that he needs so badly to be able to sign better vs. approximations and to eventually learn how to use PECS.
Searching for an answer and a diagnosis was a difficult task. There are many people out there who feel uncomfortable with genetic counseling and feel that physicians "tear their children apart" visually. When doctors and specialized physicians look at my son they see macrocephaly, dysmorphic facial features, a transverse palmer crease, hypotonia, diastasis recti, hypoplastic toenails, hypotonia and an epileptic. I was honestly RELIEVED when we met our first Developmental Specialist who looked at my child and starting at his head went down his entire body pointing out the physical markers of what she knew to be a part of a bigger picture.
We now know that "bigger picture" is the UBE2A gene mutation.
With Genetic Counseling comes the discussion that you could pass this on to another child. Abram's condition is "x-linked" which means that the mother is a carrier OR it could happen spontaniously. I plan to get bloodwork done to find out if I carry this gene mutation and what precautions I need to take for my own health, if any.
Genetic counseling from here focuses primarily on reproduction. Despite the fact that I personally hadn't planned on having more children - this diagnosis would not prevent me from having another child. The gentle tip-toeing that happens when it comes to diagnoses like this and future pregnancies makes me sad. To think someone would NOT want to have a child because of this diagnosis breaks my heart. This little boy has taught me so much about life, love and to slow down for all the little things. His smile can melt the most bitter heart and his hugs make all my petty thoughts go right out the window. He is Abram and the world has so much to offer him. I would choose him all over again. Without this diagnosis I would have missed out on an entirely different world - a world I could not picture myself without.
Does this diagnosis change things for Abram? No. We will have to continue to do what we have always been doing. We will provide all that we can to ensure that he has the best life possible. Will sharing our story possibly help someone else down the road? Yes. Absolutely, Yes!
Abram will now inevitably be a patient in a future case study on UBE2A. Optimistically, when another parent reads about "Patient #9", he will give another worried parent hope that their child will be able to do so many more things that the case study states. This is a new syndrome. Perhaps someday it will have a name and it is most likely under diagnosed.
So much of Abram's future depends on intervention and therapy now. The only thing that I can do is to continue to share our story and our successes. I hope that by doing so I can meet more people with this diagnosis who are going through similar struggles. I hope that Abram can blow this whole "absent speech" thing out of the water but if he doesn't I will help teach him other ways to communicate. His facial expressions already say so much more than words ever could. Life is too short to concentrate on the things that he cannot do.
Abram can light up a room with his smile. His laughter can wipe away any tears. His fierce love (ahem - obsession) of kitties is heart warming. His hugs light up my word.
Diagnosis or no.... there is ALWAYS HOPE.
With love from Iowa,
**Updated to say this: Even our Geneticist felt extremely uncomfortable using the term "mental retardation". The case study that I was given to learn about my son's condition began by telling me what a burden people with this diagnosis are on society. Sadly, so many people have used the words used to describe a medical condition and use them in a hurtful way towards people. Although this is our son's medical diagnosis - there are better terms for this condition such as "intellectual disability" and I hope that the medical profession catches up. A medical diagnosis is what it is. It isn't anything to be ashamed over. It is a diagnosis and nothing more. It doesn't define our son, nor will it ever define him. Abram is more than a diagnosis and more than a word. If you find yourself using "mentally retarded" as an insult to someone - please think twice about it. You are hurting more people than you know.**
Hello, Everyone! Last Friday, we were given the opportunity to meet with US Senator Joni Ernst. I had previously met with her Regional Director and had written her a lengthy letter back in October. The day after I had posted my letter here, I had a phone call from Washington D.C. letting me know that Senator Ernst wanted to meet my family and talk with us in person about our concerns regarding cannabis oil.
We met Senator Ernst at the Federal Building in downtown Des Moines with our friend and fellow advocate, Sally with the Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis group. Senator Ernst was waiting for us and kindly greeted us at the door with a smile. She even held the door open for us so I could push Abram through the door and into the office in his stroller. We were able to sit with the Senator in a room where she apologized for the mix-up in responses and immediately wanted to hear all about Abram and the struggles that he has had.
It's always hard to figure out what to say when folks ask that particular question because there is SO MUCH to share and it's been a long 3-and-a-half-year struggle to get here. We are finally in a place where he is functioning and not in pain, so the little boy people see today, is not the same boy you would have seen seven months ago. So, I started our story with last October and shared with her my largest concern about our journey regarding Pharmaceutical Drugs. Pharmaceutical drugs can be helpful in some ways but in some cases the detrimental effects it has on a child is horrific.
I had taken the time to print out all the known side effects of the last two Pharmaceutical drugs that my son had been prescribed. I made sure to highlight each of the side effects that Abram has experienced in yellow so that the Senator could see the side effects my son had to personally struggle with. For just two prescription drugs, there was a total of 14 pages worth of known side effects.
The first drug I shared with her was Klonopin, a benzodiazepine. According to the Stanford School of Medicine, "Klonopin is very habit forming (addictive) and may become so in only 2-4 weeks of use, causing psychological and physical dependence." In addition to and much to my horror, Stanford states that "Klonopin's effects on children, including possible long-term effects, have not been thoroughly studied."
The side effects my son has experienced on Klonopin include drowsiness, behavioral disturbances, irritability, speech problems, constipation, agitation, sleep disturbances and more. Many of the side effects that are listed, I may not know due to the fact that he is non-verbal and he can't tell me what is hurting. I made sure to let her know that BEFORE we added in a benzodiazepine, my son was able to speak at least 3 words and has since worked nearly an entire year now to get his words back but to no avail. I also let her know that thanks to cannabis, we have been able to cut this medicine by more than 1/3 and are hoping to wean him completely off this drug at some point.
The second drug I shared with Senator Ernst was Keppra. The known list of side effects of Keppra wasn't quite as lengthy as Klonopin but it also hasn't been around quite as long either. The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that appropriate studies have not been performed on the relationship of age to the effects this drug has on children younger than 4 years of age! Yet, this drug is being given to children well under the age of 4 without anyone blinking an eye. No one is crying for more research like they do for cannabis. My child was only 2 when he was prescribed that medicine and it was a drug that our local Neurologist told us he would never have put him on! We had been sent out-of-state for help and they didn't listen when I told them that our child already had behavioral issues. Some of the known side effects of Keppra include aggressive, angry, anxiety, change in personality, crying, headache, irritability, quick to react emotionally, restlessness, shaking, trouble sleeping, etc. To follow-up what "Keppra Rage" was, I then showed Senator Ernst the video of my son on Keppra. The day I made that video was the day I finally decided upon trying cannabis oil and we have never looked back.
We let Senator Ernst know that my son has not had a seizure since we started Abram on Cannabis oil in June and that we are going on six months of happiness since we started him on CBD. I hope that by sharing the side effects of the pharmaceutical drugs versus a little boy in real-life who is alive and thriving thanks to cannabis, that the Senator understands how important her support is in the Senate.
When the topic of the safety of cannabis arose, I showed the Senator the labs of the particular strain we are using. I can get more information about what is and isn't in my particular bottle of cannabis oil than the information I can get from a pharmaceutical company about a particular drug. Children like Abram are so sensitive to everything that having a natural, organic choice in lieu of a chemical option is incredibly important. Just last month we were given Klonopin made by a different manufacturer and it had a negative impact on Abe. We happen to have a great Pharmacist who changed it right back but many people aren't aware of these sensitivities.
Senator Ernst then talked about how she wanted to see more research done before she made any decisions on specific bills. At that point, I gave her a hand-written note with the information for the US Patent regarding Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants. I let her know that according to the patent currently held by the United States Department of Health, cannabinoids are non-toxic. The patent even states: "No signs of toxicity nor serious side effects have been observed...even in large acute doses of 700 mg/day." I also let her know that the cited research within that patent goes back to 1942. Our son currently needs what our Neurologist refers to as a "micro dose" of CBD and has seen great seizure control and cognitive gains. I'm fighting for an expanded medical marijuana bill because as my son grows - CBD may not be the only thing he will need. It is realistic for us to prepare for the need for something stronger and CBD unfortunately doesn't work for all kids. Every child deserves a legal chance at being seizure free.
We quickly ran out of time but I gave the Senator one of the "Cannabis is Medicine" tees we made to raise awareness in Iowa before we left. I hope one day I will get to see her wear it. In the end, I hope that our meeting has helped show US Senator Joni Ernst that cannabis is medicine and that it can help. I hope that it will help her realize that marijuana needs to be re-scheduled (or even de-scheduled) so that research our Politicians claim needs to done, can actually be done legally and at the Federal Level.
I hope that our story helps her see that Medical Marijuana is more about health and quality of life than it is about someone getting high. I hope that she sees that expanding the uses of this medicine could help thousands if not millions of people.
Many thanks to US Senator Ernst for meeting my family and hearing our story. It meant a lot to my family that she took the time to meet with us and hear about Abram and how cannabis has changed his life. Now we are hoping to get her support in Washington D.C.! Regardless, she was kind to us and she gives a good hug.
Hi! I'm Erin. I am a single mom, tireless advocate for UBE2a Deficiency Syndrome and a fierce proponent for medical cannabis.