TAKING THE FIELD
Family teams up against childhood syndrome
Washington University in St. Louis Magazine
BY Diane Duke Williams
Last year, Stephanie Snow Gebel found out that her youngest daughter, 5-year-old Raquel, has an extremely rare genetic disorder that may one day rob her of her sight, her hearing and many years of her life.
“As a mother, my heart aches,” Gebel says. “It’s hard to breathe sometimes when I ?think of watching my child deteriorate ?before my eyes.”
Facing Raquel’s illness has been especially hard on Gebel because she lost her parents in recent years. Her mother, Merry Snow, died in 1998 at the age of 54. Her father, Jack Snow, fondly remembered by St. Louis fans as a star wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams and later as a Rams’ broadcaster, died in 2006. He was 62 years old. Snow died just nine months after his granddaughter Raquel was born.
Raquel, who is known for her sweet disposition, recently discovered soccer and basketball. She also enjoys playing with Barbie dolls.
She knows she has Wolfram syndrome and understands that the disease causes her to mix up the colors pink and purple. “We’ve told her to let us know if her eyesight gets worse or if she can’t hear the birds chirping in our backyard,” says Gebel, who also has three other children ranging in age from 3 to 11.
The first sign of Wolfram syndrome is typically juvenile onset diabetes. In addition to causing hearing and vision loss, the disease ultimately affects the brain. Most patients are diagnosed when they are 4 or 5 years old; in a span of five to eight years, degeneration of their hearing, vision and brain begins. Sixty percent of patients affected by Wolfram syndrome die before reaching their 30th birthdays.