Last Friday, my family along with another Iowa family had the great opportunity to meet with US Senator Charles Grassley. The Senator was gracious and allowed us twenty minutes to discuss with him the obstacles our children have faced in regards to their medical history, lack of seizure control before CBD and to discuss the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act of 2015, also known as the CARERS Act.
Many people in Iowa don't quite understand the gravity of the matter when it comes to US Senator Grassley's involvement in medical cannabis. To our family, not only is Senator Grassley an Iowan, he also sits as Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and holds the key to families like mine gaining legality at the Federal Level. Without Senator Grassley allowing the CARERS Act to a vote in the Senate, families like ours will continue to fear being prosecuted at the Federal Level regardless of our state's laws.
Senator Grassley was kind enough to get down to the details on the CARERS Act right away. He shared many of his concerns with this bill including the worry that by allowing each state the right to create their own marijuana laws, that the United States would inevitably end up with 50 different marijuana laws. The Senator feels that it is important for marijuana laws to have uniformity regardless of the fact that 23 states already have legalized some form of marijuana. Senator Grassley also shared his concern that smoking marijuana is not supported by medical research. However, the type of medicine we use for our children comes in an oil form and is taken sublingually. The Senator also discussed that he did not care for the banking section of the CARERS Act at all. When I asked if that part of the bill could be discussed and changed if it were allowed to go to vote in the Senate, he said that it could. So as a parent, I am having a hard time fathoming why the CARERS Act is not being allowed to be sent to the Senate for a vote when the items that the Committee on the Judiciary find concerning would actually be up for discussion at that point.
As we chatted, our families talked to Senator Grassley about the side effects our children have faced due to pharmaceutical drugs. Abram's quality of life seriously diminished after he was prescribed Clonazepam, a benzodiazepine. I shared with the Senator that according to the FDA, there is no clinical trial experience with Clonazepam in patients under 18, that 30% of the trial patients had nervous system damage resulting in Ataxia, and that the adverse side effects on mental development could not become apparent until many years later.
At that point, I presented the Senator with a little informational brochure. The imagery shows the regression of my son on too much benzodiazepine and the progression he made with the addition of the CBD. You can see in Abram's eyes that his life was improving. While looking at this image the Senator's eyes widened and he said: "You really CAN see a difference, can't you?"
In addition to the FDA's trials on the particular drugs that reeked havoc on Abram's health, I also brought along the patent held by the United States Department of Health and Human Services that proves that Cannabinoids are safe and non-toxic up to 700mg. Abram only needs a small .10mg dose twice daily to have 100% freedom from physical seizures. I asked Senator Grassley why marijuana was still on the list of Schedule I Drugs when their Patent 6630507 proves marijuana in fact does have medicinal value but I did not get an answer.
Senator Grassley just reiterated that there is a lot of movement towards medical marijuana and that research on CBD is not on federal barriers. He reminded us that he and Senator Feinstein wrote letters to the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services asking them to classify CBD separately from the whole marijuana plant. He also reminded us that the federal government also removed the Public Health Review process that marijuana researchers had to undergo, a move that has allowed marijuana to be studied under the same amount of restrictions as other Schedule I drugs. To give credit where credit is due, Senator Grassley has taken a few steps in the right direction but we need more action from him and our federal government and passing the CARERS Act to the Senate for a vote would be a great step.
I tried to explain that CBD has been great for us and although Abram is seizure-free right now, the reality is that with our son's rare UBE2A gene mutation, the need for stronger medicine will most likely be a reality. (People often mistake Abram not having seizures right now as Abram being "cured" and that he'll never have a seizure again. This thought is foolish and I must clarify that regardless of AEDs and CBD, our son's brain is permanently injured, he has a neuronal migration disorder, already has atrophy in his hippocampus and his brain still fires irregularly all the time during the day and during the night. CBD has managed to keep those electrical shocks from manifesting into physical seizures but make no mistake - free of physical seizures does not mean free of abnormal brain activity.)
I tried to explain to the Senator that Abram is doing well right now but as he grows the need for a stronger CBD/THC ratio may become a reality sooner than later and that if/when that need arises I will have to break both state and federal laws to do just that if laws stay the way that they are. I intend to fight for Abram's right to that medicine now in hopes that when he needs it; I won't have to continue to worry about being a Felon by doing so.
While CBD doesn't help everyone, it does have the power to save lives. CBD has changed my son's life and it has changed the lives of many children that I know and love. I tried showing Senator Grassley as an example that if CBD helped just 10% of the 50,000 Americans that die each year due to seizures, that he himself would be responsible for saving at least 5,000 epileptic lives each year. Senator Grassley seemed a little exasperated at that number and asked why they would continue to push for these laws when "only" 5,000 lives would be saved. That statement took me off guard for several reasons because sitting right before him were two families and two boys whose lives had been changed immensely by CBD. Our sons' lives would be counted amongst those 5,000 lives. Yet, I couldn't help but to wonder what number of lives the Senator would deem worth saving. I would hope that ONE LIFE would be worth fighting for. While I bit my tongue, the other family spoke up and reminded him that that number was only meant as a representation of the epileptic lives he could save each year and that it didn't even include the impact he could have on the other people who suffer from different debilitating diseases and disorders.
Luckily, his exasperation at theoretically "only" saving 5,000 epileptic lives annually made a good point as to why we need broader medical cannabis laws. CBD has changed my life, my son's life and the lives of the family who sat along side us in the meeting with Senator Grassley. Our children are proof of the success that children with seizure disorders can have on CBD. Even the Senator himself could see how CBD has changed the life of my son just by looking at the photos I had given him. Our children are a testament to how well CBD can work.
However, CBD doesn't work for everyone and I refuse to fight for just part of a plant when my friend's children are still suffering. I also refuse to stop at CBD only because I myself may find that Abram needs something more as he grows and as his brain develops. Abram's gene mutation is rare and the only other family worldwide known to have this specific gene mutation lost a child at 11 to a seizure. I want to ensure that my son has legal access to whatever he may need - whenever he may need it.
Alas, our time quickly ran out and after taking our photos with the Senator we went our separate ways. Many thanks to Senator Grassley for taking the time to meet with our families to discuss how CBD has changed our lives and to try to understand how important broader medical cannabis bills are to families in situations similar to ours.
Cannabis is medicine. The government has already proven it. There are families being torn apart and lives being uprooted so people in situations similar to mine can give their child a chance at life. Please, take the time to write to your Senators, your Representatives and your Congressmen. Change needs to happen now and we need your help to stand up for what is right and speak for the little ones who don't have a voice. We are not criminals. We are parents just trying to do what is best for our loved ones, same as you.
Below is more of the "brochure" I made about Abram. Enjoy.
I've been trying to make a point of taking a few minutes each day to share something about how Epilepsy affected our family. It's only been a little over a year since we got an official "Epilepsy" diagnosis. However, it has been with us since the day my son was born. Unfortunately, it just took the doctors over three long years to figure it out.
As a newborn, my son never stopped screaming, crying, writhing in pain and rarely slept. If he did, it was never longer than a couple of hours and then it was right back to the screaming. Nothing soothed him. Nothing made him feel better, although sometimes the sound of the vacuum would relax him until the moment I dared turn it off. (I read that trick in a colic book.)
Our first Pediatrician failed us miserably. He not only missed many genetic markers that are obvious to most other doctors we have met, he brushed off all of my concerns and claimed that I was a "nervous mom" and that my son's issues were nothing more than him "being a little colicky" and "acid reflux".
It took the first ten months of his life for someone to listen and even then it was an off-chance meeting with a Pediatrician we'd never met who asked me what was wrong with Abram's eyes and had concerns for his large head. Thanks to that man, we were referred on to Neurology and we started on our journey to answers but they certainly didn't come easy.
Since the Summer of 2013, we have seen dozens of specialists including numerous Neurologists, Neurosurgeons, Epileptologists, Nephrologists, Endocrinologists, Geneticists, ENTs, Developmental Specialists, Cranio-Facial Surgeons, Orthopaedic Surgeons, Physiatrists and more.
Last month was literally the first month where Abram did not have to go to the Hospital or have any Doctor's Appointments since the day he was born!!! We spent it going on lots of walks, attending all of his therapies, going on a train ride, going on a horse-drawn wagon and checking out a Fire Truck at our tiny town's Halloween shindig. It was incredibly refreshing to have a month off.
Yesterday, we traveled to our University Hospital again where we had a follow-up with Abram's Developmental Specialist. She stated that I am doing everything that I CAN do, so that was a relief. We were informed that with the new "Neuronal Migration Disorder" diagnoses that he now qualifies for the Brain Injury Waiver and for the Health and Disability Waiver in our state - so if he should ever outgrow his current Intellectual Disability Waiver - we will have already applied for the other Waivers in hopes of never having a lapse in his care.
The Mayo Clinic gifted us an answer after we'd been fighting for so long to get one. I feel lucky that we have a wonderful Pediatrician (she started her own Special Needs Kids' Clinic) who went to bat for us to be able to get us there. It took five long months of waiting to get the referral but it was well worth it.
If you are fighting for a Diagnosis for your child, don't give up. I know that it's a long and difficult road. I personally had a lot of people ask me why I wanted a diagnosis, it is just a "label" after all. I cannot disagree more with that thought at all.
For us, a diagnoses meant everything. We needed to know what caused our son's Epilepsy and Global Developmental Delays so we could know how to best treat it. What we finally learned at Mayo explained the cause, which in turn can help us with his treatments. The information and "labels" that we got will help us help give him the best possible life by giving him the therapies that he needs the most.
Some of his new diagnoses include a Neuronal Migration Disorder (Cortical Dysplasia), issues with his hippocami twisting and Mesial Temporal Lobe Sclerosis. These issues explain nearly all of his other symptoms and diagnoses. There is no treatment or cure for his migration disorder and they types of seizures he suffers from do not have a surgical approach that can help them.
What we can do is keep doing what we are already doing: therapy and lots of it. Abram is currently in Speech, Occupational Therapy and Feeding Therapy. He "graduated" Physical therapy when he started walking but he will have to go back within the next couple of years so he can learn how to conquer things like going up and down stairs and jumping. He lost his words with his last round of serious neurological issues last spring and has yet to regain them but he is beginning to make more and more sounds and is finally able to point and use a pincher grasp at 3!
Abram's life is changing. It's not easy. It's a lot of work for him but he doesn't know it any other way. His fierce willingness to fight for mobility, to speak and to keep fighting to learn and re-learn how to do that blows any of my life's issues out of the water. This kid is incredible. He's my little fighter. My little badass. My little Abram Mayhem.
My little boy amazes me every single day. I love that when I look back at just a few weeks ago (let alone months ago), I can see all these incredible improvements. Many of which the "professionals" told us he may never be able to do. Abram has a serious knack for proving people wrong. We have Cannabis Oil to thank for much of it in addition to the hard work he puts in every single week at therapy with his Occupational, Feeding and Speech Therapists. We are lucky to have accumulated an amazing team of therapists and SCL/Respite providers who work with our family to give him the best life possible, as well. If you are reading this - Thank You.
When our Neurologist first told us about cannabidiol, it was in regards to how shocked he was at how well some of his other kids were doing. I remember him telling me specifically about one child who came in walking and talking when before they were unable to talk or willfully be examined. When I heard him say that cannabis helped a child gain the ability to talk on TOP of having the ability to gain control over his seizures - my heart got hopeful.
It took me months to decide on trying it, despite the numerous times that it was brought up. I was nervous. And scared. But if you know us or have read this Blog, you know how Abram has suffered. You know how many doctors have told us incorrect diagnoses including one Neurologist who told us he was "fine", an Orthopaedic Surgeon who told us he may never walk and a Pediatrician who missed absolutely everything about my son's health issues for the first 10 months of his life.
Before Cannabis Oil:
After Cannabis Oil:
He hasn't gained his words back (he had Mama, Papa and Cat before March), but he is making new sounds all the time and is working incredibly hard for his Speech Therapists. Seizures stole his words but they didn't steal his determination and his inane desire to prove everyone wrong and do all the things he sets his mind to.
It has officially been a year since Abram was officially diagnosed with Epilepsy. I had no idea what the next 365 days would bring us. But here we are! It only took five MRIs, five EEGs, four long hospital stays, four Neurologists, four Neurosurgeons, four world-reknown skull based surgeons, three Epileptologists, three VEEGs, three sleep medicine doctors, two Nephrologists, two Endocrinologists, two ENTs, two Genetic Counselors, two Pediatric Development Specialists, one Craniofacial Surgeon and one Ambulance Ride.
But today, I can say "My son is 127 days seizure free, today!" I realize that as he grows our need for stronger medicine will most likely rise - which is why I am fighting for changes in our laws.
If you live in Iowa and have been touched by our story, please write to our Legislators! I also encourage you to write to our US Congress by writing to your Senators and your Representatives! Help spread the positive message that Cannabis IS Medicine.
Last night was my first town hall meeting and the very first time that I spoke publicly about my son's health care issues and needs. It was hard for me to do and very emotional. I was so nervous when I was handed that microphone that my heart was beating in my chest. I honestly can't even remember exactly what it is that I even said but it went something like this:
"Hi. My name is Erin Miller. My son has been a patient of Unity Point since he was a tiny baby. Your Neurology Department found the mass in his brain at 10 months old. They guided us through his first Ambulance Ride and following Hospital Stay and they were the ones who gave us our son's Epilepsy Diagnosis last October. Your Neurologist also was the person who encouraged us to try CBD and then was unable to sign our card for us. So, I'm curious as to why your Hospital has a policy against CBD when your Physicians feel otherwise".
As I said this, I could see the woman sitting next to me furiously shaking her head "no" and instead of allowing the Nurse Practitioner (who was the one speaking at this event) to answer, the woman seated next to me was handed the microphone.
She introduced herself as Chaney Yeast, and promptly informed me that what I was saying was incorrect and that they do not have a "policy" against CBD. I don't recall what else she said because I was absolutely floored at what I was hearing. As soon as I heard her say her name I knew exactly who she was. Unity Point's lobbyist who fought AGAINST the CBD Bill in 2014 was sitting right next to me. She also happens to be the Manager of the Regional Child Protection Center at Blank Children's Hospital.
When I first started getting involved in legislature, I read about Chaney Yeast in the news because she was the woman who stated publicly that “We don’t know if families use it for their children that maybe four years from now they could contract cancer or something like that.”
I found it interesting that a woman in the crowd was trying to tell me what I have lived and experienced for the whole of 2015 was untrue. I let her know (with microphone in hand) that their own COO had spoken with me on the matter and that I have a letter from him admitting that they won't back it until the FDA approves the use of such oils.
We each only had 3 minutes so that conversation went quickly but I scooted next to her on the bleacher and showed the before and after photos of my son and told her of all the improvements that he has made courtesy of the CBD. I explained to her that her Hospital was unable to help us on more than one occasion and that it was difficult to understand how a Physician can tell us behind closed doors to try a medicine and then not give us legal access by signing our Application for a Registration Card. I reminded her that I'd written to their CEO and their VP only to be ignored. But she held fast to saying that none of their Neurologists feel comfortable with CBD or signing for anyone.
I was hoping that hearing what we'd gone through with the ups and downs of diagnoses and medical emergencies and their own physicians throwing their hands up in the air and admitting defeat in not knowing how to help - and admitting to us that they didn't know what to do would make her realize how poorly their hospital policy is affecting people. But... she held on to her point that Unity Point does not have a "policy" against CBD - that they are just waiting for FDA Approval. However, they as a Hospital actively lobbied against the CBD Bill in 2014 and will clearly continue to do so which breaks my heart for all of the other children who suffer, who need help and who are being ravaged by pharmaceutical drugs.
So, I decided to look up the definition of "policy" to see for myself if I was missing something. What the difference is between not acting on helping a patient (while waiting for approval from the FDA) and the literal definition of "policy" was. Here is what I found:
noun, pol·i·cy often attributive \ˈpä-lə-sē\
Definition of POLICY1. a : prudence or wisdom in the management of affairs
b : management or procedure based primarily on material interest
2. a : a definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions
b : a high-level overall plan embracing the general goals and acceptable procedures especially of a governmental body
Perhaps I am just reading the Dictionary wrong but it seems to me that their actions definitely prove that what they are doing is indeed a "policy" but that is clearly my own opinion. As a mother whose child has been directly impacted by this (non) policy - this is just hard to swallow. I just don't understand why they aren't helping.
She tried telling me that we are on the same team and fighting for the same things but I disagree. I don't think that it is okay for a Physician to tell a scared set of parents with a sick little boy that a) they don't know how to help and b) tell them that they should give CBD a try and then not actually be able to help. She told me that she knows that none of them are comfortable signing for the cards. In my opinion, it is wrong for them not to sign when they themselves felt that it would benefit our child. A hospital's non-policy or hesitence to not help and even hinder the cause says everything that it can possibly say without even uttering a word.
Clearly, I am thankful that our Physician told us to try CBD a handful of times before we finally decided to pursue that option. If he hadn't done so - my son would NOT be seizure free today. My son wouldn't have those awful side effects from CBD like cognitive gains, sleeping, eating, playing with other children, actually being able to play with toys and improving on his fine and gross motor skills like a champ. That physician saved my son's life. And even though I am angry at him for not standing up for what is right or what he felt was best for our child... I am thankful for him telling us about it. I understand that he is an employee and has to follow the guidelines set upon him by his employer like anybody else. It just happened to affect my family personally and I took it personal as most rational people would.
Last night was an emotional night for me and of course I barely slept a wink because all I could think about was "what if". But I can't think that way anymore. I'm changing all those "what ifs" to What Now.
I am doing all that I can for my son. I am a good mother. I am a fighter. I am an Advocate and now that makes me an Activist, too. Standing up for what you believe in is hard. I sat in those bleachers with tears pouring out of my eyes as I spoke to that woman but I said what I wanted to say.
We definitely aren't fighting the same fight but in the end, she gave me her card and I shook her hand. I just hope that she listened and actually heard.
TODAY marks 115 days SEIZURE FREE courtesy of CBD.
We finally made it to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota last week. I must once again thank everyone for the help they sent our way in the spring so we were able to afford to stay out-of-town while our son needed to be in appointments throughout the Mayo Campus for the last week.
We FINALLY have an extensive medical team standing behind us and for us. The level of care and compassion at Mayo compared to anywhere in Iowa was beyond any expectations that we had. We did not get good news but it was news we needed to know and it is never easy to hear unexpected results after your child undergoes his fifth sedated MRI at just over 3 years of age.
In the last 7 days we met with a new Neurologist, Neurosurgeon, a Geneticist, a Genetic Counselor, a Genetic Researcher, a new Developmental Pediatrician, ENT and Sleep Medicine Physician. My son had to endure an MRI with lumbar puncture, multiple blood draws and a 16-point sleep study and another Video EEG in the last week.
They used a different kind of MRI machine on Abram in Minnesota called a 3 Tesla. (You can read about it here.) Basically, this MRI takes thousands of images in comparison to the hundreds that are taken here. Which means a clearer picture of what is going on within Abram's brain, literally.
Sadly, they found that in addition to the Pineal Cyst they have also discovered that Abram's brain has multiple abnormalities. It turns out that while he was developing, some of the gray matter in his brain did not "migrate" out to the outside of his brain. So, he has certain types of brain matter within the white matter of his brain that is not supposed to be there and he also has grey matter within his cerebellum.
These changes are what they feel are causing Abram's seizures causing him nearly all of his issues including his inability to retain language. They are not sure if he will ever be able to speak but they aren't ruling it out, either. So in that way, we will just keep on doing what we have been doing and immersing him with as much therapy and outside help that we can get. We FINALLY have an SCL and Respite Team that we adore and are working TOGETHER to do the best for Abram.
We also have been advised to do a Full Exome Genetic Test. In doing so, it will check all of Abram's Genes and see if there are any abnormalities that the three of us don't share. From there, they can try to narrow it down even more if they happen to catch something. We have joined Mayo's Research Study so any testing that happens after the Full Exome will be covered in full in trade for our DNA.
Many people don't understand the point in doing this sort of testing but this is what they need to understand: Genetic Testing is not to figure our what is "wrong" with our child. It is not to be used to point fingers at which parent a child got handed down a gene from. This is about how to prepare for our son's future. This has the potential of not only possibly catching something to help Abram live the best life but it also has the potential to help other families who come after us. Abram's story, diagnoses and genetics has the great chance of helping another child and another family know what to expect. This is about doing what is best for Abram. If they don't find an answer - so be it. If we find a causative gene - we can help pave the way on how to best prepare a family with a similar diagnosis.
The EEG found that his brain fires all of the time from all over the place, due to the fact that he has grey matter where it shouldn't be. There is no surgical fix for that type of seizure so it is something he was born with and will always have.
In addition, the feel that the pineal cyst is significant and want us to get another scan in 6 months. I was hoping that this would be the last time they would tell me it was "incidental" and "not causing any issues" and we could go on with it. It just sucks is that the reality of it is that it requires constant monitoring. And constant worries about the effects of the Anesthesia on our son.
The best news was that when I shared that my son was on CBD and had been 9 weeks seizure free they all didn't look the least bit shocked and were pleased to see that it was working. It was even referred to as an "innocuous drug" and without side effects.
I was told that there was NO NEED for the change in meds (in addition to his Clonazepam) and that if nothing's broke - you don't fix it.
CBD has given my son the first summer in his life where he was able to enjoy it. He laughed more. He loved more. He got to be a little boy for the first time in his life.
He got to run the first time and get a skinned knee at his Grandpa's. He got to go to the splash pad and have fun with other kids. He got to go to the play area at the mall for the first time ever without hightailing it for the car because it was too overwhelming.
We didn't get the answers we wanted but we got the ones we needed. I officially know that I am doing all that I can for my son. We officially have a TEAM of medical sub specialists who are willing to help us and take care of our medically complex boy.
Yesterday, I posted my third and final attempt at contacting Unity Point/Blank Children's via their VP and CEO. Although, I never did get an official response from they themselves, the President and COO at Blank Children's Hospital contacted me to address my concerns.
I have to be cordial in saying that he was a polite man but he advised me he was going to tell me what I didn't want to hear. I already knew that.... but I wanted to be heard. Not ignored. This is a child we are talking about.
The facts are: Unity Point/Blank Children's opposes the CBD Bill here in Iowa and will not consider backing it until the FDA Approves it.
I get it. It's big business and big pharma and there is nothing that I can do about it to change anyone's mind.
It's just sad that parents and physicians aren't able to make choices for their children and their patients without policies blocking their way. My son has suffered enough. He has been through three years of absolute hell in dealing with the medical world from the very day he was born.
It doesn't matter that they don't know how to treat his Rare Chromosome Disorder. It doesn't matter that they didn't know how to treat him when we come into the ER with collapsing spells. It doesn't matter that they put him through unneccesary IVs and starve him for hours and hours for tests that never happened due to the fact that no one wanted to call our neurologist to find out he'd just had an MRI.
It doesn't matter that he's only 3 and that we have to travel out of town and out-of-state to get the help that we need. It doesn't matter that his own Neurologist who has been seeing him since he was 10 months old won't sign an card to ensure that we won't go to jail for giving him a medicine that comes from a plant.
It doesn't matter that he's got a massive kidney and that a good portion of anti-convulsant medications are out due to the fact that they are metabolized in the kindeys. It doesn't matter that the only two medications that we have been advised are our last options can make him go backwards and lose the skills that he has worked so hard to gain.
It doesn't matter that he's had to be in multiple therapies since before he could crawl - just so he was able to sit up. It doesn't matter that at 3 he still cannot even say Mama or that he can't feed himself because his pincer grasp is just now starting to work.
It doesn't matter that the mass in his brain makes him feel pressure in his head so badly he'll slam his head into his crib for hours. It doesn't matter that the pressure from the mass in his neck that has been ignored for months has made him start hitting himself in the head and ear.
None of what my son has gone through or will go through matters to them. They will not back the CBD Bill until the FDA Approves it. Which could take decades. THESE KIDS DON'T HAVE YEARS TO WAIT.
But you know what? It doesn't matter that my kid doesn't matter to them.
It doesn't matter that they told me No. It doesn't matter that our Neurologist doesn't have the guts to do what is right. It doesn't matter that our own Physician and our own Politicians have even advised us to do it anyway.
None of that matters.
He is my son. HE MATTERS. I am going to fight to get him access to a medicine that could literally change his world. THAT IS WHAT MATTERS. KIDS MATTER. LIVES MATTER.
I have written to you (Bill Leaver and Kevin Vermeer) several times since June with no response. Julia is listed as a contact for media on the Unity Point website and I have not received a response from her either. I called and left a message for Mr. Vermeer's assistant last week and did not receive a response that way either. Incase you didn't receive them before, you can find them by scrolling past this email to the bottom as they are also included in this email.
I have shared my story with the Des Moines Register, Associated Press, the President of the Iowa Senate as well as with all of the Republican House and Senate Members. Senator Grassley's office admitted that they were aware of your hospital policy not allowing your physicians to sign off on the CBD cards, which I found shocking. I also have contacts at most of the major news outlets for television as well. I am sure Iowans would be interested in hearing that the non-profit and publicly funded hospital who touts in their commercials about how much they care for sick kids are blocking an already extremely limited bill that parents fought so hard to get.
Perhaps my last emails were too lengthy but it is difficult to share my son's story without it. I am not going to write why I think CBD is a good choice for my child. Your hospital has made it clear with its policy that you don't trust your own doctors let alone the parents of your own patients to decide what is best for their children.
So I will just share with you some facts about my child's healthcare journey. My son just turned 3 this month. In those three years he has had to fight so hard to do things that other kids and families take for granted. Two years ago, I was informed that he has a mass growing in his brain and that the mass would most likely cause seizures and that it would require surgical intervention at some point in his life.
The mass is circled in yellow below. Due to that mass, my son has to go through routine MRIs which are dangerous in so many ways to a young body. Yet, your hospital won't let us have legal access to a medicine which is anti-tumoural and anti-seizure. Instead - you would rather us put him through MRIs and multiple sedations to make sure it isn't growing. So every six to nine months we have to say goodbye to our son and pray that he wakes up from sedation and that he doesn't stop breathing during the procedure again.
In addition to the mass in his brain he also suffers a Rare Chromosome Disorder called 7q31.31 which deleted the KCND2 gene, which also pre-disposes him to Epilepsy. He is just ONE of THIRTY-FIVE people in the world who are known to have this.
We learned all of this before he turned 18 months old. However, on top of that he was also diagnosed with Hypotonia (he was unable to walk until he was 30 months old), Sensory Processing Disorder, Microganthia and more. His diagnosis list doesn't stop there but due to the fact that you have zero care in the world for what my son is going through or what my family is going through. After all, your paid Lobbyist/Employee/Manager of Child Protection at your hospital stated publicly that “We don’t know if families use it for their children that maybe four years from now they could contract cancer or something like that.”
We have seen three Neurologists and five Neurosurgeons. We have been to two Nephrologists (one who incorrectly diagnosed my son at YOUR hospital - forcing us to go to Iowa City), we have been to the CDD to meet OTs, PTs, STs, Developmental Specialists, we have put him through FOUR EEGs and FOUR MRIs and we have seen countless other specialists like Endocrinology, Orthopaedic Surgeons and Cranio-Facial Surgeons. We have been to the MN Epilepsy Group and are heading to Mayo for their diagnostic clinic in the upcoming months as well due to the fact that no one in Iowa can put the pieces together for us.
I am writing you because I think that if you even took one look at these kids and the lives that they live you would understand that they need help NOW. My son needs reprieve.
His Generalized Seizures and Abnormal Brain activity make is so that he never gets a break. Can you imagine getting shocked all day, every day and even while you are sleeping? Could you imagine how the lack of sleep would make a person feel? My son has never had a full good day. My son has never had a full night's sleep. My son has never had a summer or a spring or a winter without countless appointments and that doesn't even count his therapies. Can you imagine working for months and even years on learning words only to have them taken away by a seizure? Can you imagine how hard it is as a parent not to hear your child call you Mama?
It is heart breaking to try to share his story with people who are so against a medicine that may have the chance of changing his entire quality of life. A medicine that has been proven in other countries and other states to be effective on Epilepsy. However, my son doesn't just have Epilepsy. He also has that mass in his brain that I shared with you.
If that were your child - wouldn't you rather take the slight risk of giving him a medicine that could have the possibility of not only taking away his seizures but also shrinking that mass in his brain? A mass that all of our specialists are waiting to grow. A mass that has doubled in size since 2013. A mass that can cause life threatening and irreversible neurological damage.
If that were your son's brain - wouldn't you want to take the risk of giving him a plant in lieu of waiting for the most invasive brain surgery there is for your toddler?
If that were your son - wouldn't you appreciate the Executives at your own child's hospital taking the time to respond to your concerns?
Please sirs. Change your policy on CBD. Please help my son.
This is my son on Keppra.
Dear Mr. Bill Leaver,
I am writing to you in regards to Blank Children's Hospital and my non-stop fight for the right to have access to medicine to help and not further harm my soon-to-be-three year old child. Your current Brand Campaign is "The point of Unity is you.” A touching slogan but not exactly true in its entirety based on my most recent experience with Unity Point Health and Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa.
My son has a host of medical issues including Generalized Seizures, a Genetic Brain Disorder, a Cystic Pineal Tumor (a growing mass in the middle of his brain that requires MRIs every 6-12 months that require full sedation/anesthesia on my tiny child - which in themselves are dangerous and life-threatening), Hypotonia, a Rare Chromosome Disorder called 7q31.31 that has deleted the KCND2 gene that pre-disposes my son to Epilepsy and he has a host of other issues including global delays, being non-verbal, having an Intellectual Disability and more.
We have had to fight tooth and nail since the day he was born to get proper care for him and due to hospital negligence from the moment he arrived on this Earth (not related to Unity Point) he has suffered endlessly. Some of which could have been prevented with proper medical care and attention.
I read an interview that you did with The Advisory Board Company last May and you seem like such a kind, caring and compassionate man. I too grew up in a middle-class household in small town Iowa. I was the only-child to a single-mom who taught early education for over 30 years and my father was a Federal Employee for the entirety of his career with the Corps of Engineers and my Grandparents were farmers and business owners. Making a difference in other people's lives was something that my family prided themselves on and instilled in me at an early age. I grew up knowing that family came first but that you should also help take care of other people as you also mentioned in your interview last May.
My son by definition of the Iowa Law has intractable Epilepsy. We have been seeing our Pediatric Neurologist since before my son's First Birthday. Literally, on the day of his First Birthday Party we were consulting with a world-renowned Brain surgeon in California about the possibility of needing brain surgery to remove my son's cystic pineal tumor. On New Years Eve came the news of the rare Chromosome Disorder that even your Hospital Staff admittedly know nothing about and can be of no assistance with, due to the fact that it is indeed so rare.
By his Second Birthday he was labeled as having an Intellectual Disability, was unable to walk and it became clear he was globally delayed and non-verbal. The seizures had been intermittent up until then but this past fall diagnosed us with a Generalized Seizure Disorder and we have since tried and failed two Epileptic Medicines. The anti-convulsant my son was on turned him into a completely different little boy. He is currently still on Clonazepam (a benzodiazepine) which does nothing for the abnormal brain disorder he has. Even on the Benzo his brain still fires all the time - throughout the day and night in generalized spikes and slow wave complexes. I know that many families have tried 10 times that many medications and more and their children suffered greatly for it. I for one do not want my son to be a pharmaceutical lab rat. The side effects are scary and after seeing him on Keppra I am terrified of what may happen to him.
In your interview with The Advisory Board Company, you stated that you "really encourage people to get out of their comfort zone and be willing to try and fail". I understand that is in reference to your employees and your branding but it should also apply unfalteringly to your patients as well. We have been through the ringer and back with specialists and sub-specialists and had even been told that our son may never walk - to him needing a jaw-distraction surgery - to needing a life-threatening and dangerous brain surgery - to a host of other issues and ailments that most parents have never heard of and that most parents should never have to see their child endure. However, we do this and continue to play this never ending game of doctors and specialists without ever getting any real answers, hope or help but no matter what happens we keep trying - even if it is endlessly out of our comfort zone.
My son's Neurologist, your employee, is an amazing and kind-hearted person. They have gone above and beyond helping us when we really needed it. They have been humble enough to admit defeat when they didn't know the answer and instead of telling us that they can help us they have told us that they don't know how to help us on a number of occasions.Shortly after my son's most recent MRI he began to collapse. We were admitted to the ER and were told the next day that they (Our Neurologist) didn't know how to help us and that we needed to transfer elsewhere. We went on to the MN Epilepsy Group at the Children's Hospital in St. Paul several weeks later for yet another VEEG. However, that morning at UnityPoint/Blank Children's Hospital, we were actually having to share a room that night because your hospital floor was so full. After we got that news, our roommate asked for us to be in a private room because she felt that something like that was not meant to be overheard by a stranger and that we deserved to have a private room to mourn the fact that no one knew what to do for our child.
Before, during and after that time CBD had been mentioned in regards to other patients having good experience and having visible and shockingly great improvements after using it. Our Neurologist was always very careful in saying that they were not "endorsing nor condoning" but mentioned on more than one occasion that we should go to Colorado to get help. However, Iowa Law has passed a Bill that enables our Neurologist to sign a Registration Application to make it legal for the parents to give this medicine to our children. I researched what I felt would be a good fit and finally approached them with a request to help us obtain the legal backing from the state by filling out what is actually a tiny portion of an application for us to have a license to carry/have on our persons the CBD. The law does not in fact hold the Neurologist accountable for what happens after. It just asks whether they have seen our child and treated them for intractable epilepsy for six months.
Due to the fact that our Neurologist themselves had brought the CBD up to us , we were not prepared to hear that in response to our request to help us *not* go to jail for giving our son an organic medication that has the possibility of not only staving off his seizures but also shrinking that horrible lesion in his brain, we would get a very generic and non-personal response that said:
"We, the neurologists at Blank, are not signing any authorization cards for CBD use. We went over the law with everyone here and we are not obligated to sign or prescribe. We feel that at this time CBD should be given in the context of the FDA approved trials only and there are other centers which are conducting those trials."
Needless to say, this was not only a shock but also a blatant slap in the face for a parent who had gotten their hopes up. I had spent HOURS researching CBD oils and what would be the best strain to help reduce seizures and shrink my son's cystic lesion. I took a great deal of time writing the perfect letter to our Neurologist about why I feel that CBD is the best choice for my son as I am taking a great deal of time to write to you. Having a chronically ill child is TIME CONSUMING and to fight and fight and fight only to be shoved into the mud and be refused help is ghastly. Horrific. Soul-crushing. Cruel. And also, downright inhumane. We are talking about a soon-to-be three-year-old boy who has never had the chance to live a life without pain, without having to FIGHT or without his own brain betraying him with seizures and taking away his words.
In your interview, you were asked, "What is "most right" about UnityPointHealth?" and you stated"What is "most right" is the culture and focus of our organization, from our board to our executive teams, to our physicians to our employees. They get what we are trying to do. We changed our vision statement four or five years ago, to "best outcome, every patient, every time." And people believe that is what they do, every day. What is right, whether we're talking about care coordination or how we integrate systems, the focus is [always] on the patient here. And I will tell you, moving away from hospital-centric—and that's what we were, four or five years ago—that vision statement was a powerful declaration to our physicians. That now the focus is not on margins, but best clinical outcome. And you're going to do that every time. Well what did people get into medicine for? To help people. And do you want to help them 90% of the time, 80% of the time? No, you want to help them all the time."
If you truly believe in "what is right", I implore you to take a look at your business model again. You can say "The Point of Unity is You" but it's just a hollow promise if you aren't willing to take a risk (risks which you claim are important to take). If UnityPoint as an Entity is not willing to let their Physicians take a chance and do what is right for each individual patient you aren't doing anything right at all.
If Iowa LAW feels that we have the right to have access to these medicines, it doesn't seem right that your entire Pediatric Neurology Clinic (which by the way was the *only* option we had in Des Moines when we started our journey) are not signing any authorization cards when they themselves were the ones that brought it up to us as something that could potentially help and change our children's lives.
If your focus is truly on the best clinical outcome it seems to me that Blank Children's entire Pediatric Neurology Department is not only going against what you say is so "right" about UnityPointHealth but the very Hippocratic Oaths they swore to follow when becoming Physicians. If you truly want your Hospital to "help people all the time" you need to allow your Physicians to decide what is best for THEIR patients - even if that means taking a risk.
UnityPointHealth should be about more than just a brand. You yourself even stated, "a leader always has to step up and do the right thing". Hospitals can indeed gain credibility or lose credibility. You even stated in your interview "A great depleter of credibility is when you don't address people problems. I say to our managers, when you have a people problem—fix it."
There is a revolution in medicine coming. Instead of sending your patients to other cities and other states to get the care that they need - take care of them instead. Allow and encourage your Neurologists at Blank Children's Hospital to sign the Registration Cards for Canibidiol so we as parents can help our children the best. Help get the laws changed so you don't have to take the risk at all. Please, just do something.
I think you said it best:
"...When you don't address a people problem, everybody else in that work unit, in that department, that division, knows you have that problem. And when you don't address it, there are two conclusions that they reach. Either you're not smart enough to see that you have that problem, or you won't deal with that problem. That just depletes your credibility. You didn't do the right thing. They can't trust you now to do the right thing. That's why a leader always has to step up and do the right thing."
Please sir, I implore you to step up and do the right thing. You already have a people problem and its only going to get worse. When it comes down to it, UnityPoint is a business and you are losing business. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are going to other hospitals in other cities and other states as they are wiling to stand up and take the risks that you as CEO claim are important to make. Just as I - as a parent - am willing to stand up and take the risk in saying that I want to be able to CHOOSE to give my child a medicine that came from a plant instead of a lab and all that is standing between me and helping my child is your employees signature in a box. An employee who has said that this medicine may be able to help our child. It's that simple.That's it.
Please, step up and do the right thing. Help parents such as myself gain access to CBD without having to risk everything to do it. I don't want to have my son be a medical refugee in another city or in another state simply due to UnityPointHealth being unwilling to stand up and fight for what is right for parents and children who are suffering endlessly with debilitating diseases.
A worried Mama
I haven't had the courage to post here very often because when I try to tell this story over (and over) again I just get angry. After Abe had his ride to the Children's Hospital in October in an ambulance I thought that maybe we'd have answers. We went through a 44 hour VEEG and then a 22 hour Ambulatory EEG and had no events or episodes that we noted. I went all that time and all of those weeks thinking that they had just disproved seizures. WEEKS went by and we heard no news. None. At my follow-up appointment, I was told that his EEG was "abnormal" but I needed to re-schedule the next appointment with my husband so he could go over the EEGs with us. So we did. It was then that he told us that he has "Generalized Seizure Disorder" and that his EEG was "very very abnormal". He described it as "his brain is firing from all over the place all of the time". Then he gave us a list of medications in which we should look into and chose which anti-seizure med we needed to choose. Luckily, I have a great relationship with our Pharmacist who helped us pick based on his extensive knowledge of all that is Abe.
We chose Clonazepam over the rest in hopes that it would help is serious lack of sleep, his agitated mood in addition to helping his seizures. December was THE BEST MONTH we have ever had. All of our friends noticed just from his pictures that he was so happy and he felt sooooo good. He had a shine in his eyes. He smiled. He played with toys. He walked unassisted for the first time in his life at 30 months. He fed himself with a fork for the first time all right before Christmas. Everyone said "he seems like such a different little boy".
But then it changed. So we upped his Meds in January, February and March. For most of the month of March I called begging for help to our Neurologist's Office. We were trying to set up peer-to-peer conversation between our local doctor and the Skull Base Surgeon who had been following Abe since he was 10 months old. Our Neurologist had admitted that he needed outside help. I even wrote a research paper for him on the 7q31.31 deletion and our Geneticists findings as well as the info I had from the only 4 other families in the country who have similar but not the same deletion but I never got a response regarding my findings at all which basically proved that the 7q31.31 had no other patients who suffered from seizures.
After our Neuro and the Skull Based Surgeon's first peer-to-peer, we were told their concerns were things were structurally changing within the brain. We needed an "urgent MRI" that got pushed back a week. I bawled my eyes out. Then we got the MRI and it showed that in addition to his "11+mm prominent pineal cystic lesion" he now has a new 2cm occipital cyst as well and there are changes in his hippocampus and his temporal horns. It took another 10 days for these results to be discussed with the Skull Base Surgeon (who wanted to give us an even later date but our doctor refused).
Just last weekend, he had a seizure with his SCL on that Friday, by Saturday he was crawling and by Sunday he could only take a couple of steps before he collapsed and had to crawl the rest of the way. I called the "on-call" Neuro who asked me "What do you want to do?" In some occasions, it's great to have a doctor ask you that. However, that occasion is NOT when your toddler is having Neurological Issues and no one ever even really discussed with you what that REALLY MEANS or what to look for... that is not what you want to hear.
So, she advised us to give him an extra dose of meds and bring him in if it still continued. And it did. So we went to the ER. We were admitted and told he'd need another MRI and no one would even call to discuss with our Neurologist. So they prepped him for said MRI and full sedation (with breathing tube, etc) by giving him an IV (which is horrific for him, in so so many ways) and starving him. By 7pm that night he was a WRECK. They still didn't have a sedation team to do the MRI so they let him eat and then we had to withhold food again until his MRI that was to be at 8 am.
Eight o'clock in the morning came by quickly and after waiting several hours more and with Abe having a nervous breakdown, the MRI was canceled and my son was able to eat. By 2pm that day, our Neurologist told us the Skull Base Surgeon still said he was not a surgical candidate for the pineal cyst and had no other advice. No word about the Seizures or the changes in his hippocampus or temporal horns. No mention of the new occipital cyst. No explanation. No nothing. We were told that they didn't know how to help us and that we needed to go somewhere else.
Having your Neurologist tell you they don't know how to help your child is overwhelming. I'm NOT angry with him for that at all. I feel lucky that I at least have a doctor who is honest with me and WANTS to help my son get to someone who can help. It's an incredibly scary journey when the specialists need to point you in another direction.
I have been unable to update this blog in some time. A lot has happened in my family's life since my last post. In November my son was diagnosed with a form of Epilepsy and was put onto anti seizure meds in December. That adjustment in itself has been a roller coaster.
We also moved into a new home, in a new town about an hour away with my Mom. We now live in a multi-generational home and it has been such a great burden off our backs to have some help!
Abe however continues to struggle. The first month on his meds seems like a godsend but now just 90 days later we are back to no sleeping, absence seizures and behavioral issues that suggest that something is really hurting or bothering him.
We even had to page our Neurologist on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to ask for advice on how to best help him and him being the wonderful man he is - took our phone call when he was at home with his own family. So for now, we have upped his medicine to a stronger dose as the bloodwork revealed it was still sub therapeutic and he had some low areas on some tests as well including his ATP and his red blood cells. We go back next week to retest the blood. I'm praying that the blood work is just a matter of a nutrition issue with his food since he is such a picky eater due to his SPD but we are finally starting Feeding Therapy this week as well! I couldn't be more excited about that. It's been a very long wait to get in.
At this very moment - we are waiting to hear back from our Neurologist as we finally had the ability to connect him with Dr. Shahinian at the Skull Base Institute in Los Angeles. Although he is unable to do Pediatric Surgeries at his current hospital, I feel that at this point he is the best point of reference for our Neurologist and for my son to get the care he needs since he has been following him since 2013. Truth be told - thinking of my son having to have brain surgery is absolutely terrifying and I would love for that to be a choice that he makes for himself when the time comes. I am unsure if that is going to be an option for him at all but our Neurologist feels that we NEED A PLAN in case something emergent arose and we needed help.
A few other options have opened up for second opinions but right now - he has so much going on the mere thought of starting over with a new Neurosurgeon is overwhelming but I do know a few moms submitting their child's files to Barrow Neurological Institute so I'm excited to see what assistance they may be to help the children and toddlers suffering from these lesions.
Abram just woke up from his not-napping at all really... so I have to run... but wanted to update what was going on. :)
Hi! I'm Erin. I'm Abe's mama, a tireless advocate for UBE2a Deficiency Syndrome and a fierce proponent for medical cannabis.
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