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.
Dear US Senator Joni Ernst,
I was in the Drake Diner in Des Moines, Iowa the day you came to celebrate your win for the US Senate. I was sitting in the booth right by the front door. I had my small son who was two at the time and you had a large group in the back who cheered loudly and clapped for you as you came in.
You didn't notice that when your group of supporters began screaming for you, that my son slammed his head twice on the edge of table. The noise your group suddenly made (without regard to any of the other patrons) both terrified and overwhelmed him. The metal edging on those old vintage-style tables there really did a number on my son's forehead and he had a lump and a bruise for over a week. Two of your supporters noticed my son in hysterics as they walked by. Instead of smiling or offering some form of apology for the uproar, they sneered at us as I was trying to calm him down. I'm sure they saw the huge welt on his forehead and thought of me as a terrible mother. They were both still smoking outside when we left.
You didn’t acknowledge my son that day in the Diner and you aren’t acknowledging him now. So, it didn’t surprise me when you accidentally sent me the response to "crude oil" instead of "cannabis oil" to my e-mail. It’s those little attention-to-details things one has to do when someone truly cares about their people. I was pleased to see that I received an additional e-mail today with your response to "cannabis oil" instead of "crude oil" today.
The bare-boned truth here is you didn't take the time to actually hear what my real concerns were at all. My name was just pasted into a bulk e-mail (just like the "crude oil" response) and sent on out, without any real regard to what is happening to people in the Unites States of America, let alone your home state, Iowa. You yourself claimed in your campaign that you are a “normal, everyday” Iowan. If that were true, you would listen to the concerns of the mothers and families in this state who are reaching out to you for help in Iowa and in Congress.
I was fully aware that you supported the extremely limited bill in 2014, as an Iowa Senator. That is precisely why I reached out to you. You spent a great deal of your letter explaining to me what CBD is. Clearly, I already know what Cannabis Oil is used for or I wouldn't have been reaching out to you for help in the first place. My son has Epilepsy, a Genetic Brain Disorder, a Rare Chromosome Disorder and a long list of other diagnoses you have never heard of and thanks to CBD, my son is 125 days seizure free today!
I reached out to you because I wanted you to know that the "narrow limited use of a marijuana plant" is not working for my particular situation or hundreds of other families. I wanted you to know that children are suffering in your state. Parents are forced to walk a supposed "grey area" in the law and fear that their children will be removed from the home because they are doing what is right. I reached out to you because our own Neurologist (who we'd seen since my son was 10 months old) told us we should to try CBD and was unable to help us. I reached out to you because our state capitol's only Children's Hospital will not back its use without FDA Approval and our Neurologist had to follow protocol. I reached out because that same Hospital actively lobbies against important bills that could help children like mine at the State House. I reached out to you because suffering children and adults need you to stand up and do what is right in Congress to fix things for families like mine.
Never once in my conversation with your Regional Director did I request "the opening of medical marijuana dispensaries and the use of medical marijuana in general" as you mentioned in your letter, although I feel that is the obvious thing to do when you pass a law for things like CBD but don't allow access, like we have here in Iowa.
What I did request was help for my son and for the children in Iowa to have a chance at using a natural, plant based medicine as opposed to the Pharmaceuticals that just keep piling on with every serious seizure. Pharmaceutical Drugs were the worst thing that happened to my son, thus far in his life. Not only did they create new and worsening types of seizures - they took away his ability to walk (for which he worked for years to be able to do) and they took away his words after a serious fit of side effects from the Klonopin. (We later found out he was on too much but that took us going to a World Reknown Hospital hundreds of miles away from home and five months waiting on referrals.)The Keppra he was put him on made him have serious behavioral issues where he did not stop screaming or crying for nearly 14 days straight before our Neurologist pulled him right back off of it.
You claimed in your letter that the "concept of using marijuana for medical purposes is relatively new and the science surrounding it is still developing" but that simply is not true. The research is there and in fact, the United States Patent 6,630,507 now held by the US Department of Health states cannabinoids are "substantially free of psychoactive or psychotoxic effects, are substantially non-toxic even at very high doses, and have good tissue penetration, for example crossing the blood brain barrier." In order to hold a patent, did the Government not do enough research themselves? Cited references within the US Patent go back to 1942 so clearly it is not a new concept at all.
My son is not a sympathetic story. My son is a little boy who deserves the same quality of life that all of six of your grandchildren deserve. He deserves the right to think and laugh and smile and be awake and alive instead of being drugged into a stupor on Pharmaceutical drugs whose side effects can be worse and more damaging than the seizures themselves.
If you truly understood how patients, including children like my son are struggling, you would not hesitate to stand up and do what is right in Congress. You have the power to help suffering Iowans and Americans alike.
Dear Mrs. Miller,
Thank you for taking the time to contact me about the use of marijuana for medical purposes. It is important for me to hear from folks in Iowa on policy matters such as this. Additionally, thank you for sharing your personal story about your son and your family.
Currently, some form of marijuana usage is now legal in 38 states, including Iowa. As you know, the medical use of cannabis oil extract was legalized in our state in 2014, and I supported this measure during my time as an Iowa State Senator. Cannabis oil is derived from marijuana plants and is typically used to treat epilepsy. It has high concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive antioxidant, and low concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the mind-altering compound found in marijuana. Though I supported this narrow, limited use of a marijuana plant extract, I have concerns about the opening of medical marijuana dispensaries and the use of medical marijuana in general.
The concept of using marijuana for medical purposes is relatively new and the science surrounding it is still developing. Before being introduced to the market, commercially available pharmaceuticals are subject to years of research and testing in order to prove their efficacy and safety. As you may know, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, a label assigned by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to drugs which it deems have high abuse potential and no medicinal value. Many contend that this classification makes it more difficult for scientists and researchers to study marijuana.
I understand that a number of patients, including children like your son, are struggling with chronic diseases and use marijuana for treatment. More research needs to be done on the medical use of marijuana and I would also like to see more evidence that the substance can be distributed in a safe, responsible, and controlled manner.
Please know that I will continue to keep your views in mind as Congress continues to work on this issue. Feel free to contact my office with any further information, as I always enjoy hearing from Iowans.
Joni K. Ernst
United States Senator
I've been listening to my mom's old record albums a lot lately. When we moved in together she brought her crate of records that had been stashed away - probably since before I was born. When I wanted to listen to Creedence's album "Willy and the Poor Boys", I had to slice the piece of tape she had put on the edge to keep the record from falling out. The song "Effigy" just struck me and gave me goosebumps: particularly the lyrics "Silent Majority Weren't Keeping Quiet Anymore".
Before Abram, I always knew the medical field was filled with holes but I had no idea how many. I had no idea how hard we'd have to fight to get someone to listen to me when we wouldn't stop screaming as a newborn. I had no idea that 3 years later we'd still be fighting for diagnoses and for good decent doctors.
We finally have a wonderful Pediatrician who we love and adore and the best Pharmacist a person could ask for. He's known me for 15 years and has always helped me with choices on what is best for me and mine.
I must admit that I was pretty hurt by the fact that our Neurologist who had been seeing my son since he was 10 months old was unwilling to help us. I am certain that much of his inability to help comes from the fact that his job relies on his compliance with Hospital Policy but it came with great disappointment. It's hard to fathom how someone can tell a parent that there is a medicine that can help your child, encourage you to get it and then yet refuse to sign a Registration Card to prevent you from being prosecuted. It's just disappointing because I thought they really cared. I was wrong. What's even worse is that everyone is more worried about getting sued instead of worrying about what is right. Yet, I have to remember that our Neurologist has to worry about their job and their own family as well. I should not expect him to risk his livelihood for my child. I should however, expect that a Hospital would do what is best.
The last three years have been spent fighting for doctors, for answers, for specialists and then sub-specialists. I feel like I'm always advocating, researching and reading and then re-reading. I had no idea how hard it would be to find a team that would cover all of our bases and make sure that everything is going well. I think we are finally on the right track but only time will tell. Kids with complex medical histories are hard to service and I fear that the changes our Governor has made to his Medicaid will only make things worse in 2016 but I'll just fight for that too.
For now, my focus is on getting the Iowa Law changed so my son can get help. The current CBD Bill in our state isn't enough. There are NO Neurologists in the State of Iowa who are willing to stand up and help a little boy get better on a natural medicine like hemp oil. We NEED a more comprehensive Medical Marijuana Bill put into place so children and adults alike don't have to suffer from seizures, neurological disorders and auto-immune diseases and more.
I will always fight for Abe. It's just unfortunate that it has to be so hard to get the right care for kids who confuse the system. It's hard to get the right care when you know more than a lot of the people you are going to for help in these Hospitals. It's hard to know who really wants to help you and who just wants your money. It's hard to know if I am ever making the right decisions. So I just have to go with my mama gut and fight for what I feel to be right.
I just know that I want what is best for my son. And adding more Pharmas to an already globally delayed child is not the answer. He deserves a quality of life where he can be a kid!! He deserves a try at the very least. He has been on some form of pharmaceutical medication from Day One and it's time to stop.
He deserves to be a kid.
And I hope that someday he'll read these Blog Entries and be happy. But for now, I'd settle for hearing him call me Mama again. The seizures stole that from me too.
The silent majority aren't keepin' quiet anymore.
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 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.
MOST POPULAR BlOG ENTRY