We originally created this blog to keep family and friends updated about our little man Jacob, who was diagnosed in the summer of 2011 with a rare, life-limiting genetic disease called Niemann-Pick (type A/B). Jacob earned his angel wings on November 15, 2012, but remains our daily inspiration and constant reminder that we must live in the moment and fill each day with JOY, LAUGHTER and an abundance of LOVE.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Newfound Friends

Earlier this week we had the great opportunity to meet a wonderful family from New Zealand and their adorable daughter Amber, who also has Niemann-Pick Disease (NPD). Little miss Amber and her parents, Dylan and Laura were traveling on their way back from the annual National Niemann-Pick Disease Foundation Family Conference in Nashville and were making a short stop in San Francisco. Fortunately, we were able to arrange our schedules and coordinated a nice breakfast get-together at Pier 39. We only had a little over two hours to spend together, but it was an absolutely wonderful visit! We all got a chance to share a little bit about ourselves and talked a bit about how we were dealing with our children's difficult diagnosis of NPD. Dylan and Laura also filled us in on some of the highlights of the conference, which we were anxious to hear about. They even brought us back conference materials, t-shirts and gifts for Jake, which was so very thoughtful! As an extra added bonus, Josh and I each got to spend some snuggle time with little miss Amber -- such a doll!!

Meeting little Miss Amber for the very 1st time

I got to hold two little "kiwis"

Amber and her Dad Dylan - isn't she a doll? Just too cute!!

Jake and Amber hanging out in their strollers as we were leaving breakfast

Our friends from New Zealand - Amber (cutie on my lap), Laura (holding an over-tired Jake) and Dylan

Meeting Amber and her family was truly an amazing gift and likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we were able to meet with another family and a child with NPD. Given the serious health conditions and far too short given lifespans of our sweet kiddos, it was without a doubt a very special day for our family.

Of course, we will continue on with our long-distance friendship (mainly via Facebook), but Josh and I are determined to try and figure out how to Skype with our newfound friends.

Jake wearing his new "Teeny Weeny Kiwi" rugby outfit and snuggling his kiwi puppet. The kiwi and Jake are both sporting a feathery hairdo : )

Monday, August 20, 2012

It's Been One Year

It's been one year since we recieved Jake's official diagnosis of Niemann-Pick type A/B.

One year...since our world was turned upside down.
One year...since our hopes and dreams for our son and for our family were taken away.
One year...since our hearts were practically crushed into a million pieces knowing that we would one-day have to face the loss of our most precious little boy.

Jake was only 8 months old when we received very unexpected news about his health. During one of his routine check-ups, Jake's pediatrician noticed he had an enlarged liver and spleen. We were immediately sent to the local Children's Hospital in Oakland to have a number of labs drawn. By the time we pulled into our driveway, his pediatrician had called to let us know that his liver enzymes were above the normal level [May 2011]. At that point, we were told that his hepatosplenomegly (enlarged liver and spleen) could have been caused by so many things ranging from an infection, blood disease, or any number of conditions. I immediately went on to Googling potential causes, which was probably the worst thing that I could have done. Some of the potential diseases I came across seemed so unimaginable, especially when I started reading about metabolic diseases with strange names such as Gauchers, and Tay-Sachs. Some of Jake's development delays (difficulty holding head up and inability to withstand tummy time for more than 2 minutes) and feeding difficulties seemed a bit too familiar when reading about these diseases, so I decided to stop researching until we met with a pediatric gasteroenterologist (GI) to pursue more diagnostic tests.

Post-blood draw. Jake kinda looks like Rocky with his hands all wrapped up. We hate that he has to get so many needle pokes and have since learned some tricks to avoiding multiple sticks.

Within a week, we had met with a pediatric GI and Jacob underwent further lab work, as well as had an ultrasound of his abdomen. His liver enzymes had dropped a bit, which his GI specialist indicated to be "stable". We were still uncertain as to what was going on with our little man and took him in for more lab tests the following week. He's a smart boy and became very leery of anyone wearing a white lab coat. After numerous blood draws and lab tests, his doctors worked on eliminating possible diagnoses and his GI physician determined that a needle biopsy was needed to obtain a liver sample, which would allow for further testing in the least invasive way possible [June 9th, 2011].

Groggy from anesthesia, but cheerful and reaching for Momma's camera. You can see the lines where they marked around his liver to ensure a safe needle biopsy
After several long weeks of waiting, we met with the GI specialist and received the results of Jacob's liver biopsy [July 1st, 2011]. We did not receive the news we were hoping for. Based on the initial analysis of Jacob's liver samples, they determined that Jacob had some sort of storage disease. His cells were storing excess lipids (fatty substances) that were collecting in his liver and spleen. We were told that the excess lipids were most likely caused by a deficiency or overall lack of a certain enzyme that assists in breaking down the fats. At the time of his appointment, his physician was still unable to give a definitive diagnosis; however he had narrowed it down to a few different possibilities. All three possibilities were very serious conditions, with varying availabilities of treatments (if any). The most likely of the three was a disease called Niemann-Pick, one of the "unimaginable" diseases that I had come across in my initial research.  
From there, we took Jake in for another lab test to help determine the amount of acid sphingomyelinase (enzymes) Jacob had, which would hopefully help clarify the storage disease Jake had. As next steps, Jacob was also referred to several specialists to help get a definitive diagnosis:
1.) Metabolic/Genetic specialist at Stanford
2.) Neurologist - to get a baseline assessment
3.) Ophthalmologist - to identity if Jacob has a red spot on his retina, which is a symptom of specific storage diseases (mainly Niemann-Pick)
On July 7th, we met with the ophthalmologist and were told that Jacob did in fact, have the red spots in his eyes. As you can imagine, we were pretty much devastated to hear this news because it was indicative of Niemann-Pick, which is a severe disease. I left that appointment sobbing as I held Jake in my arms and by the time we got to our car, Josh and I just cried our eyes out because we realized what this meant for Jake and our family. In our minds, it was the worst possible news that any parent could ever receive.

From there, I worked relentlessly to expedite getting an appointment with the Metabolic & Genetic Specialist at Stanford, so that we could be very proactive to ensure that Jacob remained as healthy as possible. We were optimistic because he was feeling good and growing well, plus he had just learned to roll-over, which he hadn't done before.
The next couple weeks were a whirlwind of doctors appointments combined with a great deal of emotions. Jacob had his routine 10 month check-up, as well as his appointments with the Metabolic & Genetic Specialist at Stanford and a pediatric neurologist affiliated w/ Children's Hospital in Oakland. We still did not have a definitive diagnosis, as we were still awaiting the results of his genetic testing that was sent out at the end of June, which take 6+ weeks because they are sent out to a special lab for detailed testing. The doctors were still leaning towards a diagnosis of Niemann-Pick (type A or B). In the meantime, we were comforted to know that the specialist at Stanford was well-connected with metabolic experts across the world and was very knowledgeable in clinical trials/research across the country that focus on metabolic diseases such as Niemann-Pick. He had also worked with several children/families with Niemann-Pick and similar conditions (great news considering the rarity of the disease). Living in the Bay Area, we felt fortunate to have access to such amazing physicians.
Jake's neurologist was also very proactive in getting us connected with all the support services that are available and encouraged us to begin connecting Jacob with these services as soon as possible, so that we could readily get the support our family might need. Of course, we began making calls almost immediately to get the process started. Although it was a very emotional couple of weeks for us, we were glad to be getting answers to the many questions that we had about Jacob's health. We even met with a wonderful genetic counselor who gave us a "Genetics 101" overview that helped explain the genetic abnormality that causes these types of conditions. Let me tell you, that it was very overwhelming to try and understand a disease like Niemann-Pick when you can't even make sense of some of the literature available.
We needed a little fun in our lives, so we took Jake "the Snake" to the Zoo. Those are fake snakes from the gift shop in case you were wondering.
In mid-August, we had a follow-up appointment with the metabolic & genetic specialist at Stanford and after months of doctors appointments, labs, and a biopsy…we finally received a diagnosis for Jacob. Although it still seems unimaginable to accept, we were told that Jacob did in fact, have Niemann-Pick disease. Jacob’s genetic testing revealed that he has one gene mutation for type-B and another gene mutation that had never been reported. His initial enzyme testing was inconclusive because of a bad blood sample that was drawn, but we later found out that the sphingomylinase (ASM) enzyme his body is producing was only around 3%.
At the time, we felt that this was actually somewhat good news because a type-B diagnosis typically means a less severe form of the disease with little to no neurological symptoms. Due to the early onset of Jacob’s symptoms (enlarged liver/spleen, red spots in eyes and muscle weakness) they originally thought he might have type-A. That news gave our family great hope that he would not have to endure so many of the disease side-effects that we’ve had been reading about.
As for the unreported gene mutation, it meant that they had never seen this particular mutation before. This also meant that there was a chance that the mutation could have occurred for the very 1st time in Jacob. Although it would not change Jacob's diagnosis, it would mean that we would not have to worry about the threat of this awful disease in any future children. As next steps, Josh and I underwent genetic testing (blood test) to see what gene mutations we had. Regardless of the blood test findings and disease type, the progression of Jacob's disease still remained largely unknown. Niemann-Pick is a rare disease and the unreported gene mutation created even more unknowns for us. We had Stanford add Jacob's gene mutation to the disease registry so that hopefully, we could help some other child and his/her family somewhere down the road. We later found out that Jake inherited the "unreported" gene mutation, so unfortunately it was not a fluke first time occurrence. This meant that any future children of ours would have a 25% chance of having Niemann-Pick. Yet another devestating blow to our family.
As far as treatments are concerned, there are very limited treatment options for Niemann-Pick at this time, with care being mostly supportive. We began the process of reaching out to the National Niemann-Pick Disease Foundation to learn everything we could. As a result of reaching out to other Niemann-Pick families, we also learned that Jake's so-called "unreported" gene affected another child name Kaitlyn, who had type-A Niemann Pick. Thus, we finally knew that Jake had an intermediate form of the disease -- type A/B. We were again devastated to know that he would probably have a more severe form of the disease than we originally thought, which would likely impact him neurologically as well.

A few days after Jacob's "official" diagnosis in August, we took off on a family camping trip. We needed an escape from reality and wanted to focus on enjoying our little man!

Our lives revolve around this very special boy, who brings so much joy into our world!

As we look back on the last year and all that Jake and our family have endured, I am reminded of a quote that I came across when we first started realizing that Jacob most-likely had a serious health condition...

"The greatest part of our happiness depends on our dispositions, not our circumstances"  -- Martha Washington

This quote really resonated with me and I often refer to it as a reminder to find the joy in every day. Josh and I have focused our efforts on giving Jake the most wonderful life possible, filled with an abundance of love and support -- he deserves it! Although we wish more than anything in this world that Jake did not have this horrible disease, we are so very grateful that we were chosen to be his parents. For someone who has never spoken a word or taken a step, he has taught Josh and I more and guided us through this past year more than anyone else has in both our lifetimes.We love our little man more than words could ever express and we treasure every moment that we have with him.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Walking on Sunshine

We're walking on sunshine (whoa)...and don't it feel good! Well, in our case it's more like strolling since Jake isn't able to walk, but he LOVES it!!

Josh works nights, so the evenings are always Momma and Jake time. For the past two months or so, we've been taking advantage of the warm, bright summer nights and taking an evening stroll up to the park near our house. Right after Jake was born (as in a few days after), I used to take him on walks nearly every single day until the weather got too cold and rainy.

One of our very first walks together

Since I work full-time, it's hard to squeeze in enough time to take Jake for a walk when there's only a short window of time to feed him dinner, play, bathe, read a story and get him set up on his feeding pump for the night. He was starting to be really restless at night and had difficulty falling asleep, so I thought I'd try to shake things up and add a little fresh air to his nighttime routine. It has worked pretty well and seems to both relax him, as well as offer just enough stimulation to tucker him out  -- sometimes the little neighbor kids even run up to say hello to "baby Jake" (they all call him that). The walks are also good for me since I don't really have much spare time to workout and with the baby on the way, I'm not able to run either...so walking suits us just fine! In fact, nearly every single night Jake lets out at least one big belly laugh during our walk, which let's me know that he really enjoys it! I'd walk for miles and miles just to make our little man laugh and smile : )

Don't let the tough guy look throw you...this is Jake's signature pose when we're walking - laid back and enjoying the ride

Monday, August 6, 2012

Where the Wild Things Are

Yesterday we took the little man on a fun adventure to the San Francisco Zoo. This trip was a belated 1st birthday gift for Jake's cousin Millie, who is just a few months younger and had never been to the SF Zoo (until yesterday). With all of Jake's illnesses and his G-tube surgery, we had to postpone the trip a bit. We decided to make a family fun-day out of it and it was well-worth the wait because we all had a wonderfully fun day filled with lots of laughs!

"Let the wild rumpus start!" We watched these little tuxedo dressed fellas for a while.

Cousin Millie getting up close and personal with a giant Grizzly Bear

“And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.” Meanwhile, Jake just took a nap.

Riding the carousel with Daddy, Cousins Abby, Kayla, Millie and Uncle Jeff and Auntie Libby

This pic is actually from our 1st SF Zoo trip when Jake was 4 months old  -- look at those crazy monkeys with mustaches!

Jake was a little tired at this point, but we had to get a pic with little miss Millie. I loved how she was looking out of her stroller several times throughout the day saying "Jakie",  just to make sure he was nearby.

Feeding the animals at the petting zoo area

"What kind of dog is that?" That was our little inside joke of the day : )
We only took a few pics, but thought we'd share nonetheless. Overall, it was a great day! Josh and I were impressed with how well Jake did considering he only took a quick 10 minute snooze in the stroller. We fully understand that Jake has limits on what he's able to tolerate, but sometimes you've got to get out into the wild (or nearby zoo) and have some fun...that's exactly what we did!