Struggles With A Rare Disease

A lot has happened over the last month and lately, I have been extremely exhausted and find myself wanting to crawl in bed, get under the covers and stay there for as long as possible.  I am a warrior for this disease and for all those suffering from it. Hell, my tiny little foundation has raised and contributed over a million dollars in our fight against Wolfram and we are going to a clinical trial on a drug that “could” stop the progression of this nasty disease. 

I can handle this aspect of the disease because I feel, in a way, I can control the outcome to help my daughter and others like her. One challenging fact is the outcome will be dictated by the amount of money we continue to raise. I am hopeful though that many others will see the vision and join our fight.

As each day passes, I can not control the health of my beautiful Raquel. I have noticed how sick my child really is, and I think this is taking a major toll on me personally, and I am really struggling with it.

I have four unbelievable children, yet one suffers tremendously from a disease that has no CURE.  I witness my other daughters and son maturing, exploring and growing like they should be. They have tons of friends, sleepovers and are enjoying life the way they should be at their age. Yet I watch my 11 year-old struggle each and every day. Perhaps I should also acknowledge in my journey alongside her, I am also struggling.

I had a great childhood, a secure childhood with fabulous parents who taught me wrong from right and how to be a good person. I was also a healthy kid and so were my siblings.  I believe that when I met the man of my dreams and decided to have kids that I would provide a great childhood and life for my kids the way my parents Merry and Jack Snow had provided me.  Now in retrospect, that did not work out the way that I thought it would.

Raquel has missed more school days than she has attended this year.  She seems to be sick all the time with headaches, bladder issues, high blood sugar, stomachaches, exhaustion. The list goes on and on. My heart aches for this child of mine who suffers so much, although I am not sure if Raquel sees it the same way.  I witness her inability to be a normal 6th grader. If her blood sugars are high or low, she will go to the nurse’s office, sometimes she will be in the nurse’s office all day. 

She misses out on her classes, teachers, friends and simply experiencing school like all the other kids. She has a special ed teacher accompany her around, so it is like having a grown up with you all day long. I wonder how she is perceived by her peers. Raquel called a few friends of hers this past Halloween to see if she could trick or treat with them. Everyone said they already had plans. They could’ve easily invited her along, but did not.  Then to see these same friends come to my door and ask for candy broke my heart. 

I have to learn to accept what I cannot change. As a mother knowing that your child is going blind and most likely will not make it to her 30th birthday, I wish for her the most joyful childhood memories, as they are the ones that she will have with her forever. 

Sometimes I think even her own siblings do not get what she is going through. So I am not mad at her friends or her siblings, I am mad at the situation at hand, and I am frustrated that I cannot raise the amount of money quick enough to make life better for her. 

But I am hopeful for the future, what we’re doing with the Snow Foundation and the possibilities that are available for Raquel and others like her. I hope for the day that I can give Raquel the world that I had dreamt of giving her the day she was born.

Raquel and Braces.

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Today Raquel is getting braces. It wasn’t the fear of her coming out with braces that heightened my anxiety, but it was the process. She was going to Demko Orthodontics, and they are wonderful. However, I was acutely aware of the fact that they probably have never had a patient like Raquel with some of her limitations.

I’ve been through the process of getting braces before with my two oldest daughters but it was different this time. We walked into our orthodontist office I said “go sign in sweetie.” But then I remembered, she can’t even see the computer to sign into. I have always raised my kids to be self-sufficient but Raquel is different. After I helped her sign in she was called back into the room. With my other daughters I would relax and do some light reading in the lobby but with Raquel’s hearing and vision loss, I sat there anxious as my mind ran wild.  What if the sharp tools scared her because she wasn’t able to see them until they were right next to her face? What if she panicked at the feeling of something drilling her teeth? I finally put my mind at ease by remembering I did the right thing by letting her go alone. I can’t coddle her forever.

I was hastily tapping my fingers against the chair armrest in the lobby when I saw Raquel walk into the lobby. I quickly jumped up to greet her. I got down on my knee and opened my arms to give her a tight hug. When I released, I looked at her and she was smiling. “How was it, sweetie?” I asked her.

Raquel then described to me a story that made my heart swell. Apparently, she daydreamed through the entire procedure and dreamt that she was flying. She touched the stars and when she woke up, she told the orthodontist that she flew. He told her that a superhero like her deserved a beautiful smile, and that he felt lucky he was able to give it to her.

Some days I struggle with feeling like the world is closing in on me, and that my daughter might never have the life that she deserves. Today, I felt lucky. Sometimes even the worst situations can have a positive outcome. Each day when Raquel faces changes in her life, I am afraid of what might happen. But today, when we come across people that help make it a little easier, it reminds me that my daughter is an inspiration. She has been dealt an unfortunate hand, but she remains strong and beautiful, and I can’t help but be proud of her.

Finding A Cure for Victor

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It’s been almost a year now since my 7 year-old son Victor was diagnosed with Wolfram Syndrome.  I still remember the day we found out, we got the diagnosis and then were basically sent home. Our doctor said all he could do is to try to treat the symptoms but not the cause because there was no treatment.  We live in Norway and to our knowledge there are only 3 other patients in the country with Wolfram syndrome. Our pediatrician had never heard of Wolfram Syndrome so he was not even able to provide further explanation or information to us.

At the moment our son only has 2 symptoms: diabetes mellitus and optical atrophy. We did not notice his vision loss until a routine check at school which diagnosed him with only 30% of his vision left. We sometimes still forget about Victor’s vision loss since he can still read, watch tv, and play tennis despite the optical atrophy.  It is difficult to think about how talented Victor is and not think about his future.  I spend nights wondering how long will he be able to live a normal life, how long will will be still be able to draw, how long will he still be able to hear the sounds of the birds in the morning, how long will be still be independent like other kids his age. The thoughts that rush through my head only bring me to tears.

My husband and I cannot simply live with the knowledge that our son will be suffering for the rest of his life and that he will probably die early without fighting; we need to stop this now! We are in 2016, we have found cures for many diseases and aggressive cancers. When will we find a cure for Wolfram syndrome?  We can and we must fix this so that when Victor eventually learns about his disease, he will see that he is not alone but that we have been fighting for a cure from day one. We are only defeated if we lose hope through all of this.

For the past 10 months, we have been looking worldwide to find a cure for our son.  The first experts who could tell us exactly what our son was suffering of were Dr. Urano and Dr. Barrett.  After speaking to them, we have a better understand of what we are dealing with. More importantly, they gave us hope. They are currently working on clinical trials for two drugs that can actually delay the progression of Wolfram. When we learned about their efforts and progress, we knew we needed to help find a cure for Wolfram Syndrome by raising money and creating awareness.

We have just started our first fundraising event and will soon provide our first donation to the ongoing Wolfram syndrome research efforts. Together with the other patient associations around the world, we want to join forces in order to beat this rare disease and save the lives of our precious children.

Please join us and the Snow Foundation to help find a cure for Victor and so many other children with Wolfram Syndrome.

– Eline Vanden Bussche

How Do I Calm My Frantic Heart?

Judgment Day

No longer were the days of scheduled naps, gold stars, and lollipop rewards. For Raquel, no longer were the days of naive young children with innocent ignorance, but now the transition to very aware adolescents with a far too critical eye. I should have been excited at the idea of Raquel progressing in her life, but once she received her elementary graduate certificate, I was more afraid than ever.

It was the sixth grade orientation when my mind began to spiral. I was acutely aware of the way people looked at Raquel. The apprehensive looks and hesitant eyes were so apparent. A volunteer approached us and politely asked Raquel to sign her name without knowing that she couldn’t even see the place she was supposed to sign. It wasn’t her fault. It’s no one’s fault. However, that still did nothing for my peace of mind.

The Normal thing to do: A Wolfram’s fight

The long walk down the hallway filled with pre-pubescent eleven year olds was no better. Raquel’s older sisters were there to accompany her, but that still didn’t help when it came time for her to interact with the other children. After all, she couldn’t even see who was saying “hello” to her. How was she supposed to make friends, or fit in, when she can’t even distinguish one face from another? We all have an innate desire to be normal, and we usually easily achieve this, but Raquel is different. There’s always going to be the constant fight that comes with the realization that she will never be normal no matter how hard she tries.

The burden of Staples and Office Depot

From multi-colored notebooks to patterned binders and colorful backpacks, middle school transition should be fun and exciting. My eldest daughters had so much joy in picking out their bundles of school supplies at this same stage. This is where they got their first locker equipped with the too complicated combination for their ages. Raquel can’t have any of that. She doesn’t get a choice. She has to have supplies that help her see and a different lock on her locker because she is unable to use a regular lock. In the fight for normal, Raquel sticks out like a sore thumb.

Anxiety’s cure: Finding our blessings

We all take for granted what we have and how normal life is until you have to experience it first hand with someone who struggles each and every day of her life. As a parent, I can’t help but feel worried for my child and panic at each hour of the day just wondering if she is okay. The world can be cruel sometimes, and it kills me inside to know that I can’t always protect her. I do know, however, that I have to remain strong for my daughter. Each day she finds it within herself to fight for something normal. She has taken what life has thrown at her, and yet she continues to live, and for that I feel blessed.

My Self Reflection by Federica D’Elia

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It’s been about a year and a half since I was diagnosed with Wolfram syndrome. I look back and find myself self reflecting on my story and the emotional roller coaster that I have been though. When my doctors first gave me my diagnosis I felt strangely satisfied in some way. Until then, I had spent years in the unknown and plagued by symptoms that no one could give me an answer to. It was scary not knowing what was wrong with my body and also upset no one could tell me what was going on. I just kept hearing my doctors tell me ‘they are looking into it’ and ‘sorry we don’t have the answers’ but finally after years of unexplained symptoms, I finally had the answer I needed.

However it wasn’t long before a new wave of emotions came over me..  I first became angry that it had taken so long for them to find out I had Wolfram syndrome. Wolfram isn’t a disease with slow progression, so I felt I had lost a lot of valuable time not knowing how to fight this or knowing how to take my of myself in the best way possible. After I calmed down I began to feel alone and fearful. Since Wolfram syndrome is rare disease it only affects a small percentage of the population, I began to worry I would have a hard time finding a support group that would understand what I was going through.

Thankfully after days and months of research I found online support groups for Wolfram patients. My mind was finally at ease knowing I was no longer alone in this journey.  I feel so blessed to meet and talk to others like myself and hear their stories and my self esteem has recovered and grown through these amazing groups and individuals.

Today, thanks to myself, my family and other great supportive people in my life I have risen above my original emotions and now hold my head up high with a drive. Since being diagnosed with Wolfram syndrome my vision of life has changed. As Wolfram syndrome is a rare disease, I now know that I need to bring awareness of this awful disease. I didn’t want others to spend years alone with no diagnosis wondering what was wrong with them and why no one could give them answers. I want to make sure that they have all the resources they need to fight Wolfram syndrome as early has possible.

Although I have been through many difficulties in my life, I have also had so many amazing opportunities. I could have spent my life focused on all the negative aspects and been alone and at the bottom of a whole but I choose to look at the positive side of this. Once you hit rock bottom you can only go up from there. I have chosen to hold my head up high, climb up and help others up as well!

– Federica D’Elia

Why Does it Feel Like I’m Feeding her to the Wolves

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Opening the doors

The drive was mostly quiet except for my pounding heart beat. I looked over at Raquel in the passenger seat as she twiddled her thumbs. I felt like I could break at any moment, the nerves were getting to me. I wondered how Raquel felt? Was she ready? I sure wasn’t.

Today was the first day of school. I already sent my eldest daughters, Merry and Lauren to high school. Lauren is a Freshman and Merry is a Junior. They had each other, so I knew they’d be alright, and Merry was already the well-known, popular, star-studded upperclassman. Raquel had no one except for the student aid she was assigned for the first week of classes.

An Anxiety Attack When Meeting the Wolf Pack

My anxiety was at an all time high. When we pulled up to the school and I dropped her off, I noticed the teacher that was waiting to accompany Raquel to her locker. I watched her as she walked away, fearing a sudden misstep or trip over something she couldn’t see, even a small pebble. I tried to curb my nerves, but my heart dropped with every step.

I wanted so fiercely for Raquel to be accepted. After all, she is my baby cub, and I couldn’t bare the thought of her being eaten alive. Sending you daughter who can barely see five feet in front of her into the den of hundreds of crazed pre-teens is like eating cold soup; It leaves a bit of a sour taste in your mouth.  

Diagnosing Disaster

The air was cold around me. It was probably just my body reacting to Raquel’s absence. I wanted to hold her hand as she walked through the halls. I wanted to hug her and make sure she was okay. I wanted to be there to scold any child that looked at her like she was different. I knew I had to relinquish my leash. I couldn’t be there to guide her through life in some aspects, and I knew she had to make it on her own. She is growing up, and I think that’s what I fear the most.

Good Fortune

Hours later when Raquel got back in the car, I asked her, “How was your day sweetie?” My heart was racing with the fear of the unknown. I hoped that nothing happened to her. I was trying to hide my worry, but I couldn’t bare the thought of her Wolfram syndrome deterring her happiness. It’s all a mother could want for her child. When Raquel looked at me, I didn’t see the same blank nervousness, but the glint of a smile. “I made a new friend,” she said. With that, I finally was at ease.

Living With Wolfram Syndrome – Lauren Gibilisco

Hello everyone.  My Botox surgery was a success.  I am happy to report that I am getting up only two or three times a night instead of every hour. I don’t feel as tired anymore through out the day.  This has made me feel so much better.   I am able to drink a lot more and hold a lot more than every before.  This gives me a lot more energy so I can talk a lot more which is just what my mom needs. LOL.
I was also able to go back to my volunteer job this week where I shred paper.  Who better to shred confidential papers than someone who can’t see anything on them. ha-ha.  I’ve had this job since high school which I really enjoy.  The people there treat me like anyone else.  They don’t pity me.  In fact quite the opposite.  They love to give me a hard time and tease me.  It’s hard to know who is getting more harassed, them or me. My mouth is the only part of me that is not affected by WS.  Winking smile
I should back up and tell you a little about me.  I am affected by all aspects of DIDMOAD.   DI (DIABETES INSIPIDUS), DM (DIABETES MELLITUS), OA (OPTIC ATROPHY, D (DEAFNESS).  I am legally blind and use a cane to get around.  I wear hearing aids for high frequency hearing loss.  I was diagnosed with Diabetes Mellitus when I was two years old and take insulin shots.  The Diabetes Insipidus is controlled by medication.  I take 20 prescription pills every day to control my WS. I was diagnosed with WS when I was 12.  I have other symptoms but I will talk about them another day.
Have a great week everyone.

Living With Wolfram Syndrome – Adam Zwan

Wolfram syndrome patient Adam Zwan and family at Christmas time

The Zwan family celebrating Christmas with their festive holiday sweaters.

A Little Worried?

I feel lucky to have a family that loves me as much as they do but like everything in life there are some consequences. Before being diagnosed with diabetes and then Wolfram Syndrome, I could visit family members and make it an enjoyable event. I still enjoy seeing family but my presence has changed from a pleasant visit to a worrisome task.

In previous years I would pay visits to parts of the family and there would be lots of food, fun, and laughter. In the past few years I have felt guilty for creating so much fear and worry that I think twice before packing a bag to stay the weekend at someone’s house. The fear and worry that I speak of is due to my health and its complications creating this mindset of “I hope nothing goes wrong while he’s here.”   My visiting experiences are filled with “can Adam eat this?, has Adam ate enough?, is Adam in pain?, does Adam need to go home early?, Lord I hope nothing happens while Adam is here.” I have had one or two issues with glucose levels during the evening that no longer occur but each time I stay somewhere my family is adamant when using a baby monitor and or sleeping on the sofa next to me just to make sure nothing occurs while sleeping.

I am very thankful to have a family love me as much as I do but pleasant experiences have certainly changed due to Wolfram Syndrome. When I get the feeling that I am a fly in the ointment and not a pleasant visitor I just grit my teeth and say that it could be worse so accept it and count my blessings. I try to stay optimistic by hoping and praying that something will change for the better in the near future.

Living With Wolfram Syndrome – Adam Zwan

In January 2013, Adam Zwan was featured by the NBC affiliate in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, WCET News. The story was to show what it is like for Adam to live  with Wolfram syndrome. That night, Adam began to experience severe abdominal pain and was rushed to the hospital where he remained for a week. Despite the delay from Adam’s hospital stay, the news team came back to finish their story.  Here is the five minute video on our good friend, Adam Zwan, where you can see for yourself the courage and spirit Adam exudes every day.

http://youtu.be/ElJXKyf1gf4

 

Living With Wolfram Syndrome – Adam Zwan

How to slow Wolfram Syndrome progression?

Steps toward a cure for diabetes and Wolfram Syndrome are being made and successful results are occurring in scientific research.  The treatments are not yet available for Wolfram patients so it’s wise to attempt slowing Wolfram progression until treatments are available.  In addition to being a Wolfram patient I am also a huge advocate for correcting one’s health on one’s own without the use of prescriptions.

From the age of 7 years old to 16 years old I was placed on nine different prescription drugs to treat my various ailments, ranging from diabetes to kidney failure to elevated cholesterol.  Upon my own research, I discovered that each prescription drug will eventually require an additional prescription for resulting side effects. I took it to heart and disciplined myself to edit lifestyle and correct health issues without the use of medications; today I am down to three prescriptions and doing very well.

Diabetics without Wolfram can experience nerve damage simply due to uncontrolled glucose levels.  Thus, a Wolfram patient, whose central nervous system is genetically experiencing nerve damage, along with uncontrolled diabetes will be faced with hurried progression of kidney failure, vision loss, and hearing damage.  Therefore, I have spent a great deal of my life in becoming physically active and nutritionally sound so that I may more closely take control of my diabetes, my health, and my life.  Through a daily exercise routine and a low sugar/carbohydrate diet I have successfully kept my blood glucose levels, cholesterol, blood pressure, kidney function, vision, and hearing at a stable and satisfactory quality.

In my visits to Washington University of St. Louis during the annual Wolfram research event doctors have told me that my lifestyle choices have proven to slow the progression of nerve damage caused by diabetes and Wolfram Syndrome.  In short, I was told to keep doing what I have been doing.