We have been blessed to have the same incredible team of therapists working with Curren since he was 9 months old. This was first covered through Florida's Early Intervention program, Early Steps, which offers services to eligible infants and toddlers (birth to thirty-six months) with significant delays or a condition likely to result in a developmental delay. When Curren turned 3, we were able to get medical coverage through Florida’s Children’s Medical Services (CMS Title 21), a Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) plan for children with special health care needs, which continued to cover Curren's 9 hours of weekly PT, OT, and ST. Curren's CMS coverage was critical to maintaining his therapy services at Ability Plus, since our private insurance through Cigna will not cover his services there. We are devastated to share that this is Curren's last week at Ability Plus due to loss of coverage, and despite intense efforts to appeal, Curren will not be able to continue seeing the therapists that have worked with him for almost 3 years now. There is no program in the state of Florida to provide the medical and therapeutic services that medically complex kids need (and private insurance will not provide) once they turn 3 if their families are found financially ineligible. These programs are not only necessary for assisting families with financial need, but also imperative for allowing access to services needed during a critical time of development when left otherwise without access.
To our caring and loving speech therapist - you were the first friendly face we saw when we walked through the door at Ability Plus with our 9 month old squishy baby. You taught Curren how to eat, and before your help, he could not swallow without gagging, choking, and crying. He was struggling with failure to thrive, and you helped him succeed during a time when his GI doctor was recommending a feeding tube. I remember worrying about Curren having a cake to smash at his 1st birthday, in fear that he would choke and cry and scare everyone. But he learned to chew and swallow, and Curren's first birthday party was magical. You have taught Curren how to express himself in his own way, and he is so much happier in life because of that. You have taught me not settle on expectations, and that we should be shooting for the stars. Curren is much more capable than he is often given credit for. Thank you for your commitment and investment in my son.
To our incredibly talented occupational therapist - you have such a unique ability to push Curren to work hard, but still all the while making everything fun. When Curren was little, he loved getting big squeeze hugs from you. You taught him so much, and opened our eyes to the world of spio suits, listening therapy, therapeutic brushing, and joint compressions. You cared so much that you even attended hours of Curren's first IEP meeting, to advocate for his services in the public school district. He lights up at home when we say your name, and almost always claps or blows kisses. He certainly has a special place for you in his heart. You have taught Curren how to play, how to feed himself, how to drink from a cup, and how to point - all things easily taken for granted, but are incredible gains that took years of patience and dedication. Thank you for your passion and determination to open difficult doors for Curren.
To our phenomenal physical therapist - you have changed the game for Curren. When we started coming to Ability Plus for OT and ST, I saw the impressive PT gym, and knew this was where Curren needed to be. When he first started seeing you, he was incredibly static, but through your guidance has now gained the strength and confidence to roll, push, creep, pull, step, and move to get from here to there. You always went above and beyond to get Curren everything that could help him - from hand making his own thera-tog suit (since insurance wouldn't cover it), to personal aqua therapy sessions in our pool. You were tough, yet encouraging, and pulled every ounce of energy Curren had into training his body to move, and most recently, helped him to really "find his feet". Thank you for giving the gift of mobility to Curren. He will only be going onward and upward from here.
To our intensive physical therapists - thank you for your rigor and determination. Spending 3 hours a day every day for 3 weeks with Curren has really changed the way he senses and uses his body. These programs were gigantic jumpstarts to take Curren to the next level. We will be walking sooner thanks to you!
We wouldn't have been able to start on this path without the support from our amazing case manager at Early Steps. You listened to me, and helped me to get all the services Curren needed. We are blessed to have been under your care, and you made a bumpy and unsure road feel much less daunting. Thank you for making Curren's early years filled with the best possible opportunities for him to learn and grow.
This team has been on this journey with us from the very beginning, and has provided so much love and support to Curren, from the office staff to the therapists. It is incredibly difficult to think about saying goodbye. Thank you all for making a difference in Curren's life.
My family is on a journey I didn't expect to take, and a foundation of hope has been my north star. Our journey can be inspiring but also many times daunting, and if we become hopeless we will lose our way. I would like to honor my son by sharing his brave journey.
Curren has been seen by 5 neurologists, 4 geneticists, a neurogeneticist, 2 developmental specialists, a GI specialist, an ENT specialist, 2 ophthalmologists, a orthopedist, 2 orthotists, a podiatrist, 2 psychologists, 2 pediatricians, 4 physical therapists, 2 occupational therapists, and 2 speech therapists - this has all been in the first 3 years of life. Beginning about 2 years ago, Curren ramped up therapy to 5 days a week, sometimes up to 4 hours in one day. He is a tough cookie, and he works very hard every day. Sometimes he forgets how to do the things he learns, but Curren never gives up.
Curren was born with a mutation in his HIVEP2 gene, but he was not diagnosed until he was 2 years old, after a long diagnostic journey. When reviewing his birth records, I noticed they recorded abnormal hypotonic behavior and muscular tone upon his first evaluation, but it was actually Curren's daycare that told me his muscle tone was not normal 4 months later. Between his low tone and difficulty with brain signaling, Curren has a very hard time controlling movement, especially in his legs. And although his muscles are strong enough to do it, Curren hasn't been able to crawl, pull up, or walk yet. He is, however, doing fantastic in his new wheelchair, and we are planning to get a mobile stander which supports Curren in a standing position but has wheels like a wheelchair so that he can move around and be at the level of his peers. Many people ask if Curren will ever walk, and it's a challenging question to answer. There is no way to know, but I have hope that he will.
We have been very blessed with good health over the past year, but that wasn't always the case. Curren was first sick when he was 4 weeks old, and was on antibiotics over 20 times during the first year and a half of life. He was diagnosed with reactive airway disorder at 4 months old, when he was in the hospital for respiratory distress. Curren also experienced a seizure and metabolic crisis event when he was two. Many of the other children with HIVEP2 disorder experience GI issues, but the only problem we have experienced is a failure to thrive diagnosis based on Curren's slow growth. We are also very fortunate so far to have good reports from the ophthalmologist, as eye problem are common for our community.
Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of HIVEP2 disorder is the developmental disabilities. Like many others, Curren was diagnosed with autism, although he is actually very motivated by social experiences. The features of autism that Curren displays are regressions, language disorder, sensory integration disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Curren is non-verbal, and it is so difficult for a child who has so much to say to not be able to say any of it. He understands what it going on around him, and he has intent for his legs, hands, and mouth to do certain things, but the message seems to get scrambled and the action doesn't happen the way it should. Lately, I ask Curren to touch his head (which is actually very challenging for him since he can't see it) and he starts clapping. I can tell from the look on his face that he is not thinking about clapping and is confused why his hands aren't touching his head, but the directions from his brain don't seem to be delivering the right message. I see this also in his speech. Once when we were in the hospital, and he was over it. He said clear as day "all done", but hasn't said it again in over a year. I can't imagine the frustration to have this disconnect between your brain and your body, but my son handles it incredibly.
On this journey, we have seen such kindness and compassion. It is so heartwarming to see Curren's fans, rooting for him to not give up. Curren has an exceptional team of professionals caring for him and looking for answers. We are eternally grateful to the doctors and therapists that are making a difference in Curren's life. It is not always an easy journey, but the people that support Curren do make hope feel more grounded. I am also so very proud of my son for the tremendous effort that he puts forth, and for his beautiful spirit that has not been subdued. I have hope for the future and what it holds!
And just like that, 2016 is drawing to a close. It has been a dynamic year of juxtapositions, with so many exciting new developments for Curren. It is also hard not to feel bittersweet, as I reflect on my hopes as we started the year. Would this be the year Curren starts to walk? Will he say a "first" word again, and keep it? I could not be more proud of the solid progress Curren is making developmentally, but it stings as reality sets in and the window for these milestones appears to be closing. Sometimes life feels like it is flying by and we are trying to just find a stable footing in the dust in order to take the next step. But it does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.
We have had many beautiful moments this year. Curren started using a wheelchair, and it has given him his first real sense of independence. He has now mastered moving forward, now we just need to work on turning! We transitioned into a 3-day exceptional education public school program and are so thrilled with the learning opportunities and care that Curren is receiving. We also traveled to Baltimore and New York to meet with experts and have made wonderful connections through that process. As a result, Curren was featured in the Wall Street Journal in a story about Dr Chung, and we organized our first HIVEP2 virtual family conference, with 5 families and many researchers and clinicians in attendence. There are many new opportunities on the horizon and the future is looking very bright.
I think the most difficult aspect of this past year really boils down to one issue - the challenge of communication with a non-verbal child. Any other problem is just compounded when we are not able to understand what Curren is trying to tell us. Last night, Curren cried for hours before he finally fell asleep and there was no way for me to understand what was wrong, what was hurting, or what he was feeling. At times, the lack of effective communication can be heartbreaking. Bigger still, is the task of maintaining an almost irrational faith in society; that my son's vulnerability will not be taken advantage of when I am not there to protect him,
Not being able to rely on verbal communication opens the door to many other meaningful nuances that would most likely be otherwise overlooked. Curren has developed a range of inflection that is a language of it's own. He speaks more like a song bird, with changes in pitch and tempo to indicate different emotions, Curren has also become very good at mimicking and echoing intonation and cadence. It is his way of engaging people. Because he can't yet verbally communicate, Curren relies on his charm to draw attention, and he is developing quite a repertoire of interactions. Without words, we are forced to read more into body language and expression, and it is so much more powerful than words. Five pats on the back means "I love you", a dramatic shake of the head actually means "I really like this" instead of no, and a crooked smile to the right means "I am proud of what I did". It is a beautifully meaningful way of communicating.
One of my favorite movie characters said, “Do you know whatcha gotta do, when life gets you down? Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” (thank you Dory and Ellen)! Whether you are feeling lost in unfamiliar territory, fighting battles that seem unbearable, or struggling in a rut and you feel you can’t overcome - these are words that symbolize what it means to truly persevere to the end. Moving into 2017, there is so much to be excited about, but when the challenges come, we will “just keep swimming, just keep swimming”. Happy New Year to everyone!
So I am weeks late with this post, but a lot has happened in the past month - a new president-elect, a new baby nephew, the thanksgiving holiday, and the first HIVEP2 family conference (more on that later!). But on November 8th, our incredible doctor in New York was featured in the Wall Street Journal. As part of the article, Curren and HIVEP disorder were mentioned! Dr Chung has provided motivation for me to continue to fight for Curren and HIVEP2 advocacy. Between the research opportunities and family conferences, we have so many more resources available to us than what you would expect for a community of only twelve patients. Rare disease patients can often feel isolated, but the opportunities that Dr Chung provides our community gives me hope for the future, and they have the potential to change my son's trajectory in life. We are so honored and blessed to be under Dr Chung and her team's care, and are beyond thrilled to have HIVEP2 mentioned in a national newspaper.
From the Wall Street Journal on November 8th, 2016, "The Doctors who Solve Medical Mysteries":
Our HIVEP2 community also had our first virtual family conference this past week, and it was so encouraging to connect with these families and researchers. I cannot say enough amazing things about the Simons VIP project and the work they are doing to further advance our understanding of the genetic components underlying autism and developmental disabilities. We can't wait to see how our community will grow in 2017.
In other exciting news, the revised 21st Century Cures Act passed by a sweeping 392-26 vote in the House of Representatives last week! While not everything that would have hugely benefited the rare disease community was included (such as the OPEN Act, additional resources for developing natural history registries for rare diseases, and more robust funding for the NIH and FDA), the revised bill is still a great step forward for the development of therapies for rare diseases. The White House is urging the Senate to promptly pass this bill so that the President can sign it before the end of the year. Thank you all for the support I receiving following my last blog post on the 21st Century Cures Act.
Most exciting of all, Curren has been getting used to his new wheelchair over the past month. Within the past few days, it has all come together and he is able to push his chair all by himself. This is short of incredible, as many things that most find easy can be incredibly challenging for Curren. After 3 years, my little guy is finally able to move around without relying on others, and it is the greatest feeling in the world!
After waiting almost 6 months, we finally have Curren's custom wheelchair. I have to say I have been preparing myself for this moment for a while and anticipated this to be pretty difficult, but instead the arrival of Curren's wheelchair has been completely incredible! His new little ride is so customized just for him. They made a special frame for him where the wheels are actually closer to the front so he can reach them better, The frame is lightweight aluminum for easier mobility, and the rims are carbon fiber mags with only five spokes and a guard to help keep his fingers from accidentally going in the wheels. He's got adult armrests because the kid ones are really small. And it looks incredible - it's lime green with electric blue wheel castors and front wheels that light up! But best of all, Curren loves his new wheelchair and it is going to open up a whole new world for him!
Along with this awesome new setup comes something even more moving than the wheelchair, Although my grandpa is no longer with us, his spirit and memories will be with us everyday now. We are blessed and honored to now have my grandpa's wheelchair accessible van, where we can just push Curren up a small ramp and lock the wheelchair down into the floor tracks in the van, His wheelchair even has a five-point harness system to keep him safe during vehicle transport. My heart is so happy for all of our new wheels and the opportunities the wheelchair and the van will bring to Curren, Here's to many new adventures!
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I am a mother, architect, wife, and a lover (not a fighter) - with a thirst for knowledge. My journey been recently refocused, as my family navigates through the world of medical and developmental uncertainty in hopes of providing every opportunity for my son to be his personal best in life.