The Rare Conundrum…..

If I had a penny for every time my children have confounded the medical profession, I would as the saying goes, be a very rich lady.  I won’t dwell on the fact that if I had a penny for every time they have confounded me, I’d also be very rich…and probably less wrinkled, less dependant on caffeine (IV drip anyone?) Chocolate and wine but that’s another story.

However, let me elaborate why my precocious precious cherubs have elicited such responses as “we have never seen that before” or “that’s very unusual/odd/strange” and my personal favourite: “that just doesn’t happen!” – when confronted by my child doing exactly what doesn’t happen right in front of their eyes. 

You see my children, well 2 of them at least, are considered “rare.” On the whole I try to see that as a positive, albeit at times I think the whole world should appreciate their uniqueness by observing them inside a perspex case in a museum but usually those days are few and far between 😉

‘& here we have the lesser-spotted children horribles preserved for prosperity….’

2 years ago I wrote a blog piece to explain what being rare means and how it affects our family. If you would like to have a read: https://definitelynotthewaltons.com/2018/02/

Rare Disease Day is once again looming large upon us – 29th February 2020 to be exact. This year marks the 13th International Rare Disease Day which is held every year on the last day of February. 

Given that every 4 years the month of February inveigles an extra day into the calendar month and thus is a little bit quirky in itself, it seems especially fitting to celebrate all things rare in a unique month, highlighting the weird, wonderful and downright peculiar  (of the medical world you understand(!) – In fact this year there are reportedly 146 events in over 100 countries to raise  awareness on the day itself as well as  thousands of other events throughout February. You can learn more https://www.rarediseaseday.org/article/about-rare-disease-day

You may find yourself thinking that you don’t have anything in common with a rare disease or even know anyone affected by such a thing but if you will spare me a little more of your time, I’ll explain why in actuality, this misconception is most likely wrong.

Based on current data it is accepted that 1 in 20 of us will at some point in our lives be diagnosed with a rare disease and the majority of them, being so rare, will have no cure. Some of those rare diseases may be transient, others life changing and in the very worst cases, life limiting. 

It is not my intention to scare you or depress you (how am I doing so far?!) Merely to heighten awareness around the fact that rare diseases, well really they aren’t that rare and if you personally aren’t affected by one (or more) you are bound to know, possibly even be related to someone who is living with a disease or condition that falls under the rare moniker.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my family background, I am a mother of 4 of the human child variety, married to the long-suffering Mr DNTW’s, owner (used in the very loosest of terms) of 2 crazy dogs and 1 cat. We used to have 2 cats but one couldn’t stand the melodrama of life with us and shipped himself out. Funnily enough he was also sort of rare, being of the ginger hue – ginger cats are apparently less common than the typical moggy; perhaps he just couldn’t face the competitive nature of this family in the rare stakes?

Furry friends

In a sense of irony that befits our family largesse, all our children have unique and/or rare genes and in a further twist of fate, we only discovered their ‘foibles’ for want of a better turn of phrase, in reverse age order!

I sometimes feel I have to add that bit in almost apologetically – the fact that we discovered this from youngest backwards I mean. When you exchange the usual pleasantries on meeting new people and the topic invariably comes round to the whats and wherefores of each other’s lives, they already think you are a bit bonkers because you have 4 children (or that you don’t have a TV – so, funny…ha, ha, ha….not!) Add in extra/special needs and they either assume you must have adopted and are therefore saintly or if they are your actual birth children, then you are clearly more than a bit soft in the head . Why would you go on to have 4 when you already have one or more with special needs?! Of course no one has been rude enough to say that to our faces (yet!) But you can feel the silent judgement all the same.

All the same, I will confess it was a bit of a poke in the eye with a sharp stick moment (understatement) when our then 17 year old (20 this year!! How?? Believe me I have asked myself this question a lot – I don’t feel old enough to have a 20 year old, although I definitely look and physically feel it) was diagnosed out of the blue with a congenital heart condition, solely as a result of a medical he had undergone because of his chosen career path.

Not only was this new diagnosis very scary – well to us as parents anyway, he took it with the brevity of teenagers and their immortality concept – I did have a bit of a why us moment? In fact I distinctly recall saying that in spite of us making beautiful, amazing and rather fabulous children, (offspring if you are reading this, don’t bother asking for a pocket money raise!) Mr DNTW’s and I are clearly a car-crash genetically.  

Considering there are approximately 7.8 billion people on earth, you have to wonder what the odds are that 2 people who are not related to each other in anyway other than by marriage (we have been asked by sooooooo many medical professionals over the year whether we are cousins/inter-family marriage and such like!)  manage to meet, marry and have kids, all of whom likely have extra needs all because of wonky DNA (technical term wonky!) from each parent; whose chromosomes whilst not an issue individually, in combination have resulted in the difficulties our children face.  There was a distinct wanting to rage against the unfairness of it all and a feeling of being given the shi**iest end of a really shi**y stick. It didn’t help that he received this news at a time I was also stuck in our local hospital with G-Man, (our 3rd) because of his own medical issues.

After a strong coffee (and probably wine) I gave my head a wobble and we began the medical process to discover more about his condition and the implications of it for his future. As these things go, if you have to have a heart condition, he has escaped relatively lightly. Whilst it is progressive in nature and will need addressing in the future, we already know that there are things that can be done when the need arises and because of our wondrous NHS, he will be reviewed regularly and receive the very best care and attention. 

According to an article produced by NHS England in 2016, congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect. Approximately 8 in 1000 children are born each year showing signs of disease and the figure rises still further to a prevalence of 4 per 1000 in adulthood – not quite sure why the discrepancy in figures. Perhaps because associated issues or co-morbidities of the disease are leading to an improved diagnosis ratio?   

Moving on. our almost 17 year old (another DNTW’s on the road later this year?? UK watch out!) is diagnosed with high-functioning autism, sensory processing disorder and traits of Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) 

Whilst it is right and proper that autism in his presentation is now more often referred to as autism spectrum CONDITION (previously stated as a disorder and within the medical/scholarly community, it largely remains so) it would be unfair to gloss over the difficulties that this diagnosis brings with it. 

Our son is many things: clever, bright, articulate on subjects he is passionate about (of which there are many) intensely focused on specific interests, able to recall events and facts from an astonishingly wide range of areas (and years of family memories, both a blessing and a curse!) and with a sense of humour that borders on cheek but *just* manages to avoid rudeness….most of the time. Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or wish I could gaffer tape his mouth shut; usually depends on the audience. 

But over the years, it has been hard to not understand each others perspectives. At times it’s  felt as if we were each speaking a foreign language with no hope of translation or commonality. It’s been scary and worrying and frustrating. 

Autistic people can find social interactions and communication in general problematic. There are so many surprising ways that we interact with each other so interpreting body language, tone of voice, facial expressions and even the spoken word can lead to a whole host of misunderstandings and anxieties which have knock on effects on self esteem, mental health and well-being.  

To witness his struggle to make sense of this world, to comprehend that the things we say are not always literal – only years later can we laugh about our miscommunications: the expression I used to use when in a rush to get out of the house in the mornings for school: “C’mon, get a wriggle on!” shouted in exasperation and then looks of disbelief at the child appearing to body-pop across the kitchen, which resulted in more shouting (not my finest hour). Or the look of horror on his face when I would say things like “Keep your eyes peeled” if I was looking for a car-parking space. 

Sensory difficulties in so many aspects of life too have taken their toll. Going out to eat at a restaurant, going shopping, holidays, day trips and even visits to family and friends require meticulous planning and contingencies. 

The intensity of the world around you when you are over stimulated by your senses  – hypersensitivity –  and your ability to regulate them must be extremely stressful for many autistic people and especially those with sensory processing difficulties. 

There is an excellent video courtesy of the National Autistic Society which demonstrates this very well: (be warned before viewing, this could be triggering for some people)   https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=12&v=Lr4_dOorquQ&feature=emb_logo which my son tells me is very representative of how he feels when out in public. I know the first time I watched this I felt thoroughly over-whelmed and exhausted, craving peace and solitude by the end. School teachers I imagine this is a but a snap-shot of your day – kudos to you all.

Paradoxically people with sensory processing difficulties also experience significant hyposensitivity – under stimulation in certain senses, particularly tactile (touch) vestibularly (part of the brain/inner ear concerned with balance and eye movement) as well as proprioception  – awareness of one’s own body in space around you. These intertwined sensory needs can result in a craving for input in order for the person to self-regulate. 

These are all issues we have learned about and try to continually learn from in the best ways to support our son but it’s not an exact science.

So is autism a rare condition or one that’s being bandied about like a box chocolates? Hmnnnn, that’s difficult to answer. Certainly I have heard time and again that “autism didn’t exist in my day” more times than I care to recall. There’s a great meme, something along the lines of:

There was no autism diagnosed before 1830……

Mount Everest wasn’t ‘discovered’ until 1856 but I suspect it was there all along!

Our son didn’t receive his diagnosis until he was 10 and this isn’t unusual, even though we had first sought help and guidance when he was around 3 years old. Adults are increasingly being diagnosed later in life but diagnosis rates still vary hugely across the UK alone and there is no one specific test that can confirm whether an individual is autistic.  

In our wider family, there are a number of children with a confirmed diagnoses of autism and/or co-morbidities thereof. Whilst there may be a genetic component for some, testing may only indicate the presence of a known autism gene rather than whether the individual themselves is autistic. Genetics is advancing and evolving rapidly but there remains a long way to go. 

I personally believe the exact cause of autism is irrelevant and understanding, management and appropriate support should always be the best practice approach.  

So far, so not particularly rare or unusual you are probably thinking. However, where things get a little more complex is with our youngest 2 children, G-Man 13, and Minx 11. They may be the youngest but are truly determined not to be left out and are the 2 largely responsible for causing the medical community much vexation. For the time being we know that Minx has an as yet, undiagnosed neuromuscular condition, likely genetic in origin and it is likely that G-Man has a variant of this too.

Minx is the more severely affected but both children are tube fed, had severe reflux as babies, both have dysfunctional swallows related to muscle fatigue of repetitive action and there are various commonalities in their difficulties. 

This is what just 2 weeks of tube feeding equipment/nutritional supplement looks like….. for 1 child!! 🤦🏽‍♀️

Both children are SWANS. This is not a diagnosis. It stands for Syndromes Without a Name and you can learn more here: .https://www.undiagnosed.org.uk SWAN UK is the only designated support group for children and families in the UK without a diagnosis and they have provided my family with a life-line, connecting us with other families in similar situations, even though their children’s needs may be very different to my own. It has given us a sense of belonging, people to talk to at all hours of the day and night, balloons after hospital stays, coffee mornings and family days out. I know from my own experience and talking to others how valuable this is in our rare and undiagnosed community.

Thank you SWAN UK for balloons!

In the early weeks after Minx’s birth her difficulties came to ahead at the age of 9 weeks resulting in an emergency hospital admission and a flurry of subsequent appointments. None of them gave   answers.

I felt very alone and I pinned all our hopes on every specialist or therapist we encountered. I was convinced for at least the first 3 years of her life that the next appointment or admission would be the one where we got ANSWERS and  a PLAN. 

But despite being on genetic studies from the age of 6 months, enrolling on DDD – Deciphering Development Disorders: https://www.ddduk.org in 2013 and https://www.genomicsengland.co.uk/about-genomics-england/the-100000-genomes-project/ in 2015, at the age of 11 ,we still have no over-riding genetic answers.

I can reel you off a list of conditions: upper limb arthrogryposis, lower limb hyper-mobility, gastrointestinal reflux disorder, gastrointestinal dysmotility, chronic abdominal pain, muscle weakness and fatigue, congenital myopathy, etc etc  – but although we have seen specialist consultants in numerous different fields, at many different hospitals and although many differential diagnoses have been proffered, thus far nothing explains why my children require a feeding tube for nourishment, why Minx is a part time wheelchair user, has had to undergo countless operations, tests and procedures over her tender years. Why I can’t explain (to her immense frustration) why she is able to do something one minute but not the next; why she can be running around like her friends and then her legs turn to noodles and she can barely stand, let alone walk;  why her hands can hold a pen and write one day but the next it is all she can do to hold her head up; why the things so many of us take for granted are such a battle for her.  

I’ve held her in my arms as a baby, screaming as she was prodded and poked, as Doctors trooped in and out, relentless personal questions about whether my husband is my cousin or other close relative,  examining this body part and that – hers and mine!  X-rays, MRI’s, needles, blood tests, skin biopsies, muscle biopsies. 

I’ve handed her over to anaesthetists, surgeons or gastroenterologists more times than I can recall, laughed about her antics and singing (caterwauling?!) over pre-meds (an early indication of what she might be like when intoxicated in later years I suspect) manipulated her joints for intensive physiotherapy, tried different diets and multiple medications.   Soothed her, cajoled her, bribed her (she is VERY good at extortion!!) wanted to yell at her for being non-compliant but secretly proud of her feistiness and determination that has got her this far. 

G-Man too has had more than his fair share of tests, procedures, trials and tribulations. Both kids have been through more in their young years than many adults do in a life-time.

I’ve paced hospital corridors, driven in a state of recklessness when I should have called an ambulance, ridden in the back of them on blue lights, cried, put a brave face on, been meek when I should have called out poor practice and learnt to fight my children’s corner when necessary. 

I will always have respect for those in the medical profession but equally I no longer place them on a pedestal or assume they know best. They know their speciality, they don’t know my child/ren. It sounds a bit cliched and twee but I have learned such a lot over the years and I do consider it a journey of sorts.

These days I don’t often dwell on the fact that we don’t have a diagnosis and I try not to worry about what the future may bring. Other than typical parental worries: will they drive me to distraction by refusing to wear a coat even though it’s minus 2 with a windchill of minus 10 and snowing? HOW SHORT are those SHORTS?! Will she stop stealing my lipsticks, will he ever hang up his towel instead of leaving it on the bedroom floor,; will they do well in their exams (not because it matters to me as such, more that it opens doors for them),will they have a nice group of friends, make only the kind of mistakes they can learn from without devastating consequences? 

But sometimes in the small hours, or when something new rears it’s ugly head or when they ask me questions I can’t answer, those worries can’t be so easily silenced. And the truth is we don’t know what the future holds. I can waste time worrying about the ifs and buts and maybe’s but down that path lies only doubt and pain and I wont give it headspace.

Tomorrow is never a given for any of us so we may may as well make the most of today ❣️

Same but different….rare as Unicorn 💩???

Rare disease G&A Photo 2018This year 28th February 2018 is the worldwide celebration of Rare Disease Day. 

The very first ever Rare Disease Day was held in 2008 –  a leap year so the perfect occasion for the initial 18 countries that signed up to celebrate.

Every year since, countries across the world have united to raise awareness of all things rare in terms of disease.

Last year 94 countries highlighted their commitment and support to raising rare awareness which is a pretty fantastic achievement.  In fact that’s an increase in ‘productivity’  of 422.2222% for want of a better way of describing it!!! (I had to ask my eldest son taking A-level maths to work that out so if the stats are not right, don’t blame me!!)  So it isn’t surprising that highlighting all things rare is close to the hearts and minds of those who live with a rare disease or have family members affected by a rare disease.

What does ‘rare’ mean to you? I googled the word rare in the Oxford English Dictionary and the top definition that came up as an adjective was this-  “RARE:  – of an event, situation, or condition not occurring very often. ‘a rare genetic disorder’,”

After that it went on to talk about rare steaks, uncommon birds and such like. Interesting I thought however that the very first sentence used to define ‘rare’ was in the context of genetic disorders!

Actually I think the use of the word ‘rare’ in the context of rare diseases is a bit of a misnomer. Why? Because at any given point 1 in 17 of us will be affected by a rare disease! Surprised? Think about this number in terms of the day to day and see how it relates to your experiences.

If you used public transport today (probably a bad example since much of the country seems to be under snow!) was it crowded? More than 17 of you on board? Probably. Bought a coffee in one of the many high street chains? Hopefully not 17 of you in the queue at any one time but probably more on the premises tucking into a hot drink or waiting anxiously for their turn.

17 is lucky in some countries, unlucky in Italy. 17 is the number of muscles it takes to form a smile, 17 syllables in a haiku poem. 17 is the least random number in a study conducted by MIT asking people to choose a number between 1 and 20. So again, not that rare.

A rare disease/condition in Europe is classified as affecting 1 in 2000; in the US fewer than 1 in 200,000. 80% of rare diseases are genetic in origin whilst others are as a result of infections (bacterial or viral) allergies, environmental factors, degenerative or  known as proliferative eg cancers.

Of those diagnosed with a rare disorder a staggering 75% will be children.  In fact, many of these children are a whole new breed of rare. So rare that their medical/physical and or cognitive difficulties don’t actually have a name!

Presently we know that there are approximately 6000 children born each year in the UK  alone who have an UNDIAGNOSED condition. Of those, only 50% undergoing genetic testing on the NHS will ever get a diagnosis. And this is something very close to my heart because 2 of my children are undiagnosed.

Whilst we can indeed be enormously thankful that medical science is evolving and improving so rapidly –  approximately 5 new rare diseases per week are described in medical literature  – organisations like https://www.raredisease.org.uk provide essential support and a voice for those affected by a rare condition.

For those of us still in unknown murky waters, studies such as  DDD – Deciphering Developmental Disorder  https://www.ddduk.org  or the 100,000 genomes project /https://www.genomicsengland.co.uk/the-100000-genomes-project/  offer families like mine the best chance of getting an answer as to why our children experience various difficulties and potentially the best way to manage their conditions, obtain treatment or assistance and potentially connect with families in a similar situation.

Families such as mine with children who are undiagnosed and/or ultra rare can often feel alone. SWAN UK http://www.undiagnosed.org.uk provide the only dedicated support network for families of undiagnosed children and young adults affected by a genetic condition. Hand on heart I can say that the support I have received by being a member (and now a volunteer parent rep) has been a veritable life-line.

Although my youngest 2 children have a myriad of medical terms/symptoms and diagnoses, to date we have no unifying “umbrella” that explains why they are affected. Their medical notes are vast. Between them they have confounded some of the brightest and most well respected specialists across the country. If I had a £ for every time I had heard the words ‘rare’ ‘atypical’  ‘uncommon’, ‘complex (the list could go on for a while, you get my gist) I would be a very rich woman.

If a part of the human body or a specific organ is supposed to work a particular way, you can pretty much guarantee with my kids that it won’t. If unusual presentations or the extraordinary were olympic sports, my kids would be gold medalists. Several times over.

So over the years, being able to talk to those who understand what we are going through, who have felt left out, different or isolated has been incredibly important and helpful.

If one in 17 of us will be affected by a rare disease in some way, IT COULD BE YOU

Please click on some of the links above to find out more and if you can, please consider fundraising or donating: https://www.raredisease.org.uk/donate/      https://www.undiagnosed.org.uk/donate/

“There are known knowns”…

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. ” 

Credit: Secretary of Defence Feb 2002 – Donald Rumsfeld 

Why the above quip which I’ve shortened to meet my own needs? Well as a very different Donald (to the tangoed-recently US elected one) said it so well…. I’ll explain further down…. hopefully I’ve peaked your intrigue and you will keep reading! 

Friday 28th April 2017 is a day to celebrate for Undiagnosed Children in association with SWAN UK who fall under the umbrella group of the Genetic Alliance.

Not only is this a fabulous day to celebrate all things unknown, rare, unique and downright puzzling, (with our children, not all the wonders of the world!!)  it’s a day to raise awareness amongst friends, family, professionals in any area of the medical field and wider still. 

Most importantly: our big ambition this year – to raise awareness, provide support and a place to feel at home for all those parents/Carers who are bringing up a child without a medical diagnosis. 

To quote directly from SWAN UK:

Our Big Ambition is that all families who have a child affected by a syndrome without a name get the support they need, when they need it. We want it recognised that being ‘undiagnosed’ is not always a temporary stage; the genetic cause of some conditions may never be known. We want every child and young adult with a syndrome without a name to receive high-quality coordinated care and support both in hospital and at home.

Surprisingly and sadly, there are still families out there who aren’t aware of the invaluable work and support that SWAN UK can offer them. 

In some cases, SWAN UK has literally thrown out a lifeline to desparately tired, lonely, scared and isolated people who feel they have nowhere else to turn. And of note, SWAN UK is the only support group in the UK dedicated to families raising children without a diagnosis – we can offer 24 hour support (give or take) since whilst all our SWAN children have varying difficulties and concerns, a large majority seem to share the view that sleep is the work of the devil so you can often find a parent on line offering or asking for support or just catching up on info they haven’t had time to digest during the day!  

Of course, raising funds to support the emmense work load of SWAN UK is also really important but I’ll get on to that in a bit.

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will probably be able to quote back many of the statistics I’m about to blurt out; & yes I may have banged on about this one way or another every year for the past few in connection with celebrating Undiagnosed Day (and often times between) but you dear reader, even if you are personally unaffected will likely know a family with an undiagnosed child or will come across one (or more!) in the future. 

Just maybe you can be the one to offer someone out there light in the darkness and point them in the right direction to access the crucial support and signposting they need and deserve, particularly in the early days of their journey be that before birth when pre-natal scans pick up on possible genetic issues, those early days post birth when it becomes obvious that something is not quite right with their much longed for, hugely anticipated tiny baby or as in other cases when a seemingly typically developing child begins to fall behind their peers or shows regressive behaviour.  

From personal experience I know how tumultuous those feelings can be; how overwhelming. Just like the (approximately) 6000 children born in the U.K. each year, our daughter has a Syndrome Without A Name. 

My little Minx (not so little now, a whole 8 years old!) was born almost at term and despite a complicated pregnancy, seemed utterly perfect to us in every way. She passed her paediatric discharge – if awards were given, hers would have been gold (proudly boasting mother) but she really was the cherry on top of our cake. 

A little girl after our amazing 3 boys (not one of which we would have changed at all; we were never “trying” for a girl and personally, unless there is a very good genetic reason for sex selection, it’s a step too far for me) but it was so exciting to experience, even from the very first day, the differences of having a bundle of the female persuasion – nappy changing = no peeing in the eye moments as my dear boys got me so many times over the years for a start… although cleaning poop out the girly bits was…. daunting…. I’ll stop there rather than make anyone think too vividly. 

Our first few weeks in amongst the haze of feeding, washing, attempting to sleep when the baby slept – (i.e. never) and generally fight our way through the sea of all things pink that friends & family far and wide sent to us (yes I know it’s a stereotype and girls, for that matter boys, can wear any colour but did you really think with Minx being the first great/gran/daughter after 3 boys she wasn’t going to be in dresses and frills and shades of pale pink, lilac and basically looking like an explosion in a pink workshop?!) 

However, as a 4th time Mum I had a serious case of “the niggles” even in the very early days of the Minx having been brought home….she cried virtually constantly (but not like a collicy baby, I’d had 2 of those) she started feeding well but would then cough, choke, delatch and occasionally snort milk out of her nose (very different to her greedy brothers who had trouble latching initially but would soon settle into rhythmical suckling until they had refuelled) and she held her head/neck/arms so awkwardly.

I’ll spare you the VERY long story that brought me to this part of our journey as best I can (if you would like to, you can read some of my earlier blog posts and discover more about our journey to date).

Suffice to say mother’s intuition is a powerful thing and over the years we have collected a myriad of teams, specialists, equipment and partial labels to encapture Minx’s difficulties but like that dastardly elusive last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, we don’t have the complete picture. In fact as it stands at the moment we don’t even have the picture on the box – frustrating & like working in the dark. 

I can give you some examples of her varying issues:

  1. Upper limb arthrogryposis
  2. Lower limb hypermobility
  3. Blood sugar instability
  4. Possible growth issues
  5. Gastro esophogeal reflux disease
  6. Dysmotility of the entire gut/colon/bowel
  7. Low heart rate when sleeping
  8. Pain (in the gut & bowel
  9. Chronic constipation requiring stoma use to manage
  10. Congenital myopathy
  11. Neurogenic issues
  12. Severe feeding difficulties necessitating gastrostomy feeding tube to give specialised milk during the day & overnight
  13. Swallowing difficulties
  14. Muscle weakness and fatigue
  15. Food allergies….

Have I forgotten anything? More than likely! We see that many specialists and consultants in 3 different hospitals and use multiple pieces of medical equipment, aides, pharmaceuticals and so on; sometimes it’s hard to keep track!

Minx has a wheelchair, a stair lift and  bath lift for when she’s too tired/unable to get in/up/out or mobilise for herself. And who could forget the amazing self-cleaning toilet with padded seat and washer/dryer function, complete with arm rests, feet support and a medical pillow for comfort whilst “performing”. Honestly, it truly is a marvel to behold… and I’m told in Japan, it’s particularly de rigeur to own a similar commode, albeit not usually for medical purposes.

So back to Donald Rumsfeld’s now infamous quote, which yes, I’ll admit I have chopped up a bit to suit my own purposes, there are lots of things we know about the Minx but there are equally lots of things that we know we don’t know. The unknown unknowns if you will.

So many of her issues fit neatly together and others frustratingly don’t. As has been much muttered by her neuromuscular consult (complete with wringing of hands) “but we just don’t SEE this presentation of neurogenic and myopathic symptoms and difficulties”

Except of course you do, because Minx presents with them. So it’s back to the drawing board, tearing up the medical text books and much head scratching – although these days it’s a bit more technical than that and there are some fantastic genetic studies that we have been invited to take part in. Largely, down to information provided by SWAN UK, I knew which ones might help us get some answers and who to approach to see if we could get on to them too. If you want, you can learn more here: https://www.ddduk.org 

Also: the 100,000 genome project https://www.genomicsengland.co.uk/the-100000-genomes-project/

Minx has been tested over the years for various myasthenia genes, myopathies and so on but the above 2 studies give us our best shot of learning what Minx’s overall condition is. 

To some extent, it’s unlikely that having a formal diagnosis will change much in terms of treating Amelia and her difficulties. Unless it’s something that a very specific medication or therapy can improve, then it’s extremely unlikely that what she has is curable – in our life time and maybe even hers. But it does give hope for the future, for gene therapy, for others following our pathway and for siblings to make informed choices in deciding whether they want to know if they are carriers or affected by the particular genetic fault. It offers hope, choices, plans and preparation. Maybe far off for now but gaining ground every day. 

It should be noted that our family wouldn’t change a thing about our feisty little Minx (except maybe her stealing my MAC lip gloss & suede boots) Whilst we all wish she didn’t have pain, surgeries, physical weakness and so on, some of those exact difficulties have helped shape the amazing, bright, sparky and self assured young lady she is becoming, not to mention the dab hand she is becoming on using technology to help her in every day life – I-pads, tablets, lap tops and PC’s are increasingly being utilised to assist her at school and in daily life. 

Maybe my point about not changing her sounds odd? Most assuredly, I wish she and many of her SWAN UK comrades didn’t have to go through the dark, trying, and in too many cases, tragic outcomes I have witnessed over the years. 

There is something fundamentally, inherently wrong about a parent out living their child. It is not the natural order or design of this world and is beyond cruel to far too many of my contemporaries, friends, people I have formed and shared extra special bonds with over the years. Some I have only ever had the pleasure of meeting virtually through our SWAN UK on line community, others at the plethora of events that SWAN UK hold every year to give a glow to our special needs kids, their oft neglected siblings and exhausted but exultant parents who meet for regular coffees or stay and play type events. https://m.facebook.com/SWANchildrenUK/ 

Please do go and have a look at our website for more info about the group and what we can offer https://www.undiagnosed.org.uk/about-us/

So what can you personally do you may wander? Well, you could share this blog post on various forms of social media, change your profile picture like I have done to raise awareness of SWAN UK and Undiagnosed Children’s Day – I’m happy for my profile picture to be shared but please check with other people before sharing their stories or pics. Get tweeting far and wide – celebs, politicians, the rich and famous to raise awareness (and maybe even ask them ever so cheekily for some cold hard cash!) 

Get Undiagnosed Day trending (I’ll pretend I vaguely understand all these terms in connection with social media) because I know that one is important on twitter but I’m not too hot on all things tech. To those of you who are, I salute you – help this Luddite out and get sharing far and wide.

As well as raising awareness, WE WANT YOUR MONEY!! 

For more info, ways to donate etc go to the SWAN UK page or public face book page. You can donate via text/post/online or even fund raise for us directly! 

If you would like to make a one off donation you can also do this via Just Giving or Virgin Money Giving or text SWAN11 plus the amount (up to £10) to 70070

Online Donations You can donate through our page on Virgin Giving or Just Giving. If you are a UK tax payer don’t forget to tick ‘Gift Aid’ as this scheme allows us to claim tax back on your donation, making every £1 you donate worth £1.25.

Little heroes can fulfill big dreams and ambitions with your support! 

Thank you 😘

Shoulda, woulda, coulda…..

I’m not often given to introspection or too much dwelling on the past; after all, it rarely helps in changing anything going forward and dredges up old emotions and difficulties that you can’t fix. Indeed, as my Father is so fond of saying “If your Aunty had bo**ocks, she would be your Uncle!  (so couth, you can tell where I get my social graces from can’t you?!)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m rather partial to the fond memories of yester- year and have (very!) rose tinted views of those halcyon days of early child rearing.  In fact, I must be more than fond, some would say questionably insane and definitely have done more than reflecting on memories since I ended up with 4 of the now not so little blighters but generally speaking, I am much more about the present and the future. Of course there are lessons we can learn from our past. History tells us that often enough right? (although judging by the current state of world affairs, I’m not so sure what we learned but this isn’t a political piece so I will move swiftly on.)

So, why the title of this blog? Well, I’ll get to that properly in a minute but first let me explain that, 29th April 2016 sees the annual celebration of Undiagnosed Children’s Day – an event that is hugely important to families like mine because it gives us the opportunity to come together, support each other and know that we have something unique to celebrate – our uniqueness is flipping awesome!!

In a world defined by labels,  especially where special needs, medical issues/conditions are concerned, in a myriad of coloured badges, ribbons, stickers, plastic bracelets, just giving pages etc etc, we too have a specific day to raise awareness, feel the love and hopefully share some of the important info we have all learned over the years, which might, just might, prevent another parent or carer feeling alone and isolated; a space truly  dedicated to those who don’t have a diagnosis.

Back in January a group of SWAN UK  (SWAN UK: Home)  bloggers got together to focus on this years Undiagnosed Awareness Day and some of the key points that we as parent- carers would like to get across to the world at large about why it’s so important to spread the word and ensure that all those in need of support find their way to us. Aside from a weekend of laughter, giggles, and perhaps more than the occasional glug of pinot grigio (strictly post workshop you understand!) there were many, many issues that came to light.

In spite of it being the year 2016 and the huge advances in medical science and technology,  we know that approximately 6000 children are born EVERY YEAR without a name for the medical issues and difficulties that they face. One in 25 children is born with a genetic condition and based on current data, 50% of children undergoing genetic testing through the NHS won’t get a diagnosis!  Scary reading isn’t it? Even more scary being a part of that statistic but regular readers of my blogDefinitely Not The Walton’s…. | The Life & Crimes of a …will know that we have 2 children with what is felt to be an undiagnosed genetic condition.

Our youngest children are 9 and 7 respectively but our journey on the undiagnosed path only began shortly after the birth of our youngest child and it leads me back succinctly to the title of this piece. Over the years, and most particularly in the early days of learning that we had a physically and medically complicated child, there are so many things that would have been helpful to know; so many things that I wish someone had taken the time to explain to me, not least of which that actually answers wouldn’t be forthcoming just like that and that 7 years into our journey of riddles, we would not necessarily be any closer to unravelling the mystery. That at times, the plot would actually thicken!

The Minx in particular is a conundrum most contraire (entirely reflected in her personality too!) Her response to specific investigations to define whether her overall condition is  muscle related or nerve related (albeit with some interaction from both) have repeatedly come back as inconclusive. Frustratingly, more than one of her consultants has admitted that clinically they don’t see children in the pattern she presents with – technically the results produced don’t happen or are more clear cut – not in the Minx’s case naturally!

Normally such investigations define whether the problem is nerve OR muscle based but in Minx’s case, neither can be ruled in or out since aspects from each are prevalent and not in a helpful, lets pin this down kind of a way.

7 years of looking at specific genes for myasthenia, nearly 3 years being on the DDD study  Deciphering Developmental Disorders (DDD) project … and almost 6 months under the Genomics England | 100,000 Genomes Project we are still waiting for that elusive diagnosis and who knows if we will ever get one.

Perhaps more importantly, will we get one that means anything? Despite the rapid advances in genetics, many parents are still only receiving a bunch of numbers and letters, detailing duplications/mutations or missing links and these being  so rare in themselves, tell them nothing about what to hope for in their child’s future or how/if any future children they may go on to have will be affected. Whilst we have definitely closed the door (what do you mean after the horse has bolted?!) on that particular matter, I still couldn’t answer when my 16 year old asked if any future children he may have will be affected.

So if I could go back to the me of old, at the start of this phase in her life, mother of a newborn, beautiful baby girl, I would reassure her that actually, even 7 years after being on this undiagnosed journey, she would still have her marbles  (as much as any 30 year old  +10+1 mother of 4 can have anyway) that she would hold it together most of the time (see earlier comment in brackets!)  and that nothing she did/didn’t do was to blame, not even that rogue glass of wine or piece of brie that crept in somewhere along the line during the early days of unknown pregnancy.

I would give that woman a hug and tell her she would find a way through those early days of painful physiotherapy, 3 times a day doing stretches, 3 times a week at the child development centre with a distressed toddler screeching his accompanying woes to the cacophony of crying. I would show her that the all physiotherapy would produce a strongly independent child who can hold a pen, draw, colour and write beautifully in joined up hand writing no less.

I would tell her to ignore the off the cuff remark from some ‘helpful’ consultant  about the possibility of her child never walking – after all if they can’t tell me what’s ‘wrong’ with my daughter, how can they tell me what’s right? A far too simplistic view of course but you get the gist.

I would let her see those days of feeding difficulties that resulted in 6 different meals being prepared in the desperate hope that she would eat something, ANYTHING (even a cheesy wotsit) would result in a self assured little girl who despite not managing much in volume from oral consumption, would have a palette far superior to her typical kids who would happily survive on a diet of pasta and pizza. Present the Minx with a plate of smoked salmon, coleslaw, olives, Bruschetta, salad, you name it really, she would tuck in with gusto. At the very least if she is having an off day and food is a total no-no, that her feeding tube, specialist milk and pump will sustain her.

Perhaps most importantly I would show her that she would draw on reserves of strength that she never knew she had. That she would stand up to Doctors and consultants and nurses who thought they knew better but woe betide you confront or ignore a mother preparing to support her child in times of medical need. You may have the letters after your name, the fancy certificates, diplomas and steady surgical hand but I, I have my child’s utmost well-being, heart and soul to think of and in that, other than my child herself, I rule supreme. I really hope in reading this that it comes across as intended, not as some arrogant, bigwig, thinking I know more than the medical teams, but that I understand my daughter and her needs better than anyone else. My future self would probably also tell me right now to stop justifying what I mean 🙂

One of the other essentially vital things I would have done differently in those early days of isolation and fear, worry and struggling to find a place where we would fit in, would be to have directed that me to SWAN UK.  http://undiagnosed.org.uk/undiagnosed-childrens-day-2016

Instead of 4 years gadding about in the no-man’s land of the undiagnosed, I could have been part of a fantastic, amazing, inspirational support group of parents who would have scooped me up, drawn me in and given me a place to belong. That me would have relished the feeling of being ‘home’ in spite of the unknown, knowing someone would be there to answer my random worries in the middle of the night when swans like to cause mischief and fight sleep (no cleaning the cat litter box out did NOT cause Minx and G-Man’s issues!)

So now, this me, wants to help other parents, wrap them in the warm blanket of understanding and support and light the way to SWAN UK. You, Dear Reader, can help to. How? Please donate whatever you can to SWAN UK’s: Just Giving page or  Virgin Money Giving page.

You can see our fabulous SWAN UK Lauren Roberts achieve a child hood ambition by taking a dunk in a bath of beans: http://www.justgiving.com/BeanGate

You can learn more about SWAN UK and the marvellous work they do: What does SWAN / being undiagnosed mean? | SWAN UK

Oh and you can also share my blog piece and visit my FB page: Definitely Not The Waltons – Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com › Other

Thank you 🙂