There aren’t generally moments where you can look back and pinpoint the exact moment that your life changed. More often there is a gradual evolution. On the evening of 9/11/09 our lives changed in a single, horrifying instant when my healthy, vibrant 2.5 year old daughter collapsed on our stairs and stopped breathing in the first of what would become thousands of seizures. Every memory I hold in my heart is now attached to a label of before or after...
Within 2 weeks, after some hiccups, my lovely daughter Haley was diagnosed with a “seizure disorder”-words that are supposed to be more comforting to a family whose life has just shifted on its axis. Thus began the battery of tests and treatments. 33% of people with epilepsy are unable to control their seizures with currently available treatments. These treatments include medications, diet therapy and surgery…and a new evolving treatment, cannabis.
Haley began medication in the hospital after seizing in the ER getting us the fastest service we’ve ever had at a medical facility. It made her drunk like, stumbling around and slurring all while experiences bouts of rage that summon the image of an angry trapped animal. When that medication failed to quell the seizures another was added, this one caused permanent liver damage. And the cycle continued, for every medication that didn’t work they simply added another one. All of them with horrific side effects that stole pieces of my baby girl a little at a time. In the 5 years since her diagnosis Haley has failed 17 anti-convulsant medications as well as steroids, some of them more than once and tried in varying combinations, all with the same cycle of slowly weaning on and slowly weaning off, and the accompanying despair upon realizing yet again that we had not found our answer.
In 2010 one of those medications actually triggered a worsening of seizures. Haley began experiencing 50-100 seizures daily some of which would last 90 minutes or more. After 2 back to back seizures of this length Haley, at age 3 was placed in a barbiturate coma for 14 days. Upon lessening her sedation I realized that my three year old had suddenly become an infant again. She had to re learn basic functions like how to hold her head up, eating, trunk control and how to walk.
After failing a handful of medications we also began a restrictive diet therapy in 2010 called Low Glycemic Index Therapy or LGIT. In the past several years Haley has gone back and forth between LGIT and various ratios of ketogenic diet in an effort to exert some control over her seizures. While it is beneficial enough that we continue to utilize it it has not been the miracle that we had hoped. And in the mean time Haley is denied the smallest joys like sharing a cupcake with a friend, or partaking in the pizza at a birthday party. Or even enjoying the snacks that seem to be the focus of every classroom celebration and holiday.
We live in a medical hub. We have access to technologies that are not readily available. Haley underwent additional testing to evaluate her surgical options. The consensus was that she is not a viable surgical candidate. Both the location of her seizure focal points and the number of them suggest that she would experience gross language and motor function loss and her seizure activity would not be reduced enough to alter her quality of life.
Her diagnosis has evolved as well, from idiopathic epilepsy or epilepsy with no known cause, to cortical dysplasia, to Landau Kleffner Syndrome variant, to a sodium channel genetic mutation. And yet with none of these has come the one answer we really seek-how to help her.
So we are left…more than 5 years into this journey, in a place I never expected to be. Without medical options and still averaging 15-30 seizures daily. There are days that the weight of this crushes me. I put my finger under her nose and count her breaths and remember to be grateful for each and every one. I watch her scream out in fear at the onset of each seizure and my heart breaks a little more. I watch my daughter, my lovely, precocious, fierce warrior, stiffen and convulse and grunt and turn blue and I face the reality that we live on the brink of life and death every.single.day.
Right now there is a new potentially promising treatment evolving for many conditions, including epilepsy. Medical marijuana or cannabis. Some of the anecdotal stories are nothing short of miraculous. But treatment is limited to those living in select legal states with limited access to the type of cannabis so many are looking for. It is the only thing that gives me hope-hope for her future, hope to meet her beneath the haze created by the pharmaceuticals, hope that she too will thrive.
And yet at the same time I fear that I am only setting us all up for another disappointment. I fear that I wont be able to access this treatment in time. And there are days when fear and devastation take over. When I am debilitated by my own thoughts and worries and memories. And yet I always come back to hope. Hope for the thousands of epilepsy patients living with uncontrolled seizures. Hope for the families of the 50,000 seizure related deaths that occur in the US every year. Hope for the patients who have control but only at the expense of dangerous and debilitating side effects. Hope that our family will emerge, no matter the outcome,stronger instead of broken.
Hope for Haley…