Tag Archives: stem cell research

Emma on the Telephone

I must begin this post by stating the obvious.  I am not a scientist.  Biology was the one class in high school I almost failed.  In fact I had to go to summer school in order to restore my grade point average.  In both undergraduate and graduate school I avoided all things science by first going to Parson’s School of Design and majoring in Fashion Design and later did my graduate studies in Creative Writing.  Science courses did not play a large role in either of these majors.  That I now find myself steeped in science, stem cell research specifically, is more than a bit ironic.  And I have to say my avoidance of science is not serving me well in these on-going conversations with some of the most highly regarded stem cell specialists in the country.

Tuesday Richard and I had more disheartening news regarding the stem cell treatments Emma underwent.   We spoke with another stem cell specialist.  He told us if the donated umbilical cord blood from which they harvested the stem cells was from a male, then she could develop troubling complications as she reaches puberty.  Another specialist we spoke to an hour later refuted this claim.  I will not pretend to understand or repeat all that was told to us, suffice it to say, the news was not good.  On an optimistic note, we are learning a great deal even if I am unable to articulate all of it and there are some very positive things happening on the stem cell front in this country, just not so much with autism.

Richard and I are scheduled to speak with several other stem cell and autism specialists within the next few days.  In the meantime we are doing our best to manage our fears.  And it really does come down to just that – management.   I allow myself a specific time frame, say five minutes, in which I let myself think every frightening thought and then I tell myself – okay.  Time’s up, you have to think about something else.  As an entrepreneur, there is always work to be done, so this technique works well.

I am ending with a scene from yesterday afternoon.

Emma returned home while Richard was on another phone call.  Emma patiently waited a minute then went to his computer to watch a youtube video of the Beatles singing Happy Birthday.

“Emma, I’m on the phone you’ll have to wait,” Richard said.

“Have to wait,” Emma said, turning the video off.  She stood in front of the computer waiting.

“Hey Em, it’s Geneva, do you want to talk to her?” Richard asked, hoping to distract her.

“Yes!” Emma said, taking the phone from him.  “Hi Geneva!” Emma said.

“Hi Emma!  How are you?” Geneva said.

“No, not going to see Geneva on the airplane,” Emma said, shaking her head.

“No you’re not going to see me on the airplane…” Geneva began to say.

Emma interrupted her and laughed, “That’s so silly!”

“But you’ll see me when you get back to New York,” Geneva said.

“Okay.  Bye Geneva!” Emma said brightly and then handed the phone back to Richard, before turning back toward the computer.

“Not yet, Em.  You have to wait til Daddy’s off the phone,” I reminded her.

“Wow!  That was the longest phone conversation Emma’s ever had with anyone,” Richard said.

“Yeah, that was great,” I agreed.

“Hey Emma, do you want to talk with someone else?” Richard asked, holding out the phone to her.

Emma nodded.  “Hi,” she said.

“Hey Emma!” Joe’s voice was heard to say.

“Hi Joe!”

“Is your stomach still hurting?” he asked, referring to the 24 hour stomach flu she just had.

“Yeah, bye Joe!” Emma said cheerfully and then placed the receiver back in the cradle.

“Em!   Your stomach doesn’t hurt and you just hung up on Joe! ” Richard said.

Emma gave him an impish grin and began to laugh.

“You want to listen to your video, don’t you?” Richard said, laughing.

“No you cannot hang up on Joe!” Emma said, giggling.  “Now watch video?” she added quickly.

“You hung up on Joe so you wouldn’t have to wait any longer, didn’t you?” Richard said.

“Watch video?” Emma said, grinning.

For more on Emma’s therapist, Joe go to:  http://www.emmashopebook.com/?p=615

The Journey Continues

Many concerned people have contacted me asking what’s going on, so I will try to explain the recent course of events.  But before I do so, I just want to say I am extremely conflicted by what we have been told to date and by the opinions we have recently been given.  Unfortunately this represents the inherent problems with autism.  One is given a diagnosis based on observation and by the anecdotal evidence provided by parents.  There is no blood test, no x-ray by which a diagnosis is made.  No one knows what autism is, no one knows what causes it and no one knows how best to treat it.  There isn’t even one thing (whether a drug, a therapy, or any other kind of remedy) that everyone agrees will help.  As parents of an autistic child struggling to make sense of all the opposing opinions, it becomes a formidable task to wade through the copious amounts of information, opinions, articles and books.  We are continuing to do our best to make sense of all we are hearing, reading and learning and will continue to keep posting as we gather more information.

To give a summary of what has happened in the past week – through a series of unrelated incidences, Richard was put in touch with the two Drs. he and I referenced in the past two posts.  They voiced their deep concerns with the stem cell treatments we have been doing with Emma.  They gave an example of a boy who evidently developed tumors as a result of stem cell treatments he received in a third world country.  I do not know any more details.  We have, since our initial conversation with them, been put into contact with a number of other professionals in the field of autism and stem cell research.  Richard and I are doing all we can to get as many opinions from different researchers and doctors who specialize in autism and stem cell research.

Last winter when we began looking into stem cell treatments, wondering if it might help Emma, we spoke with a number of doctors who felt it was worth a try.  The two doctors who have been following Emma and meeting with us over the past few years were in the process of putting together a group of 40 autistic children to take to the Costa Rican clinic before it was closed.  They had funding in place, which has since fallen through.  These two doctors were our main source of information as they had both been to the Panama clinic as well as the Costa Rican clinic.  In one conversation with them, I was shown the brain scan of an autistic boy before he had done any stem cell treatments and then his brain scan after six treatments, which occurred over the course of two years.  His brain showed marked change and he is now in a regular school.  Seeing that scan was a turning point for me.  I remember standing in the doctor’s office and thinking – we have to at least try this. For another example of anecdotal success stories see comment to my last post, “Hope for Emma?”

Prior to Emma’s first stem cell treatment in Costa Rica I spoke with a couple of other doctors, a few of whom felt it was inadvisable to go, but prefaced their comments by saying they did not know of the work the Stem Cell Institute was doing personally, and two who said they were watching what the Institute was doing and hoping to replicate their treatments once it was allowed in the US.

To date we have not seen the sort of huge uptick we would hope to see on Emma’s brain scans.  We have been told we shouldn’t expect to see results so soon and that these things can take up to six months to show up.  Again these are opinions regarding a treatment, which has only been done to a few hundred children during the past few years.  Richard and I intend to continue monitoring her through our own observations as well as with periodic brain scans.  We continue to pursue the leading specialists in the field of stem cell research and autism.

At the moment, however, we have decided we cannot return to Panama and the Stem Cell Institute.  Richard and I agreed, when we began advocating for Emma, we would try anything to help her if there was no risk of harming her.  We cannot ignore what we are now being told.

Hope For Emma?

I have spent several hours starting different blog posts over the weekend and this morning, but have been unable to finish any of them.  I am still raw after the phone call Richard and I had with the director of the Stem Cell transplantation program at Children’s Hospital in Boston and the director of the Stem Cell Research Program also at Children’s Hospital in Boston.  See the previous post below, written by Richard on Friday.  An hour after our phone conversation in which they both expressed their concern with the stem cell treatments we have taken Emma to in Central America we received an email from them saying:  “We know that you are trying to do the best for your daughter, but given the issues we discussed, George and I think that you should not go back for stem cell treatment.”

I am feeling overwhelmed with emotions at the moment which is why I am having such a difficult time writing a post.  This blog is about Emma, not my fragile emotional state and though I have certainly written of the difficulties in parenting an autistic child I have tried to always keep Emma front and center – she is the star of this blog.  And yet, it is hard for me to write about anything at the moment because this blog is also about our hopes for Emma.  At the moment my hope is in short supply.

Research

I’m feeling stunned. Early this morning, Ariane and I spoke at length with two of the pre-eminent doctors in the field of stem cell research out of Boston Children’s Hospital. They not only called into question the theoretical basis of what we had been told about the scientific rationale for the stem cell treatments we gave Emma, but warned us that they had the potential to be “extremely dangerous.”

It is possible that this could be another case of “he said, she said,” and that the doctors who recommended the treatment we have been following are every bit as knowledgeable and experienced as the doctors who were warning us not to undergo another such treatment, but frankly, these particular doctors are so highly credentialed that I have to give their opinions more weight – at least until we have gathered more information from others who are universally regarded as experts in both autism and stem cell research.

They gave us the names of two doctors in the Boston area who are considered to be experts in autism research and (perhaps?) stem cell research as well. It wasn’t clear to me from our phone call that the doctors being recommended were definitely doing research with stem cells, but they are involved with autism research as well as a variety of other neurologically based disorders. I made a promise to myself after the phone call today to stop making assumptions, so until we speak, I’ll just say that I’m looking forward to learning more. I visited both their websites and they have impressive credentials. They are both involved in genetic research so even if stem cells aren’t part of their programs perhaps they have other promising treatments under development.

Perhaps. Maybe. Possibly. I’m filled with doubt and uncertainty as to where we go from here. I do know that we have to keep doing more research, and since the entire field of autism is rife with contradictory theories from highly regarded researchers, we have our work cut out for us. More to come.

In Panama (Day 1)

It’s the rainy season here in Panama.  We’ve been told even by Panamanian standards this has been an unusually rainy one.  In fact, we just saw lightening and heard thunder close to the condo we’ve rented for the week.  To which Emma said, “Ohhh!  It’s thunder!  So scary.  It’s raining bubbles.   Now go swimming.  The swimming pool’s closed.”

All of this was said quickly without a pause.  I managed to confirm it was raining, but Emma seems to have the entire situation under control.

This morning we go into the clinic and speak with the doctors.  When we were in Costa Rica for round one they interviewed us, video taped Emma and then we went to the hospital to have fluid removed from her spinal column and blood drawn.   I believe this is the protocol for today as well.

When I arrived last night, Emma was sitting at a table in the living room listening to music on her ipod.  She turned and saw me enter the room, “It’s Mommy!  Mommy stay at Granma’s house,” she said.

“Emma!  Hi!!” I said.  I ran over to her and knelt down, “Emma!   I want a hug.”  I put my arms out and she leaned into me with a huge smile on her face.

“It’s Mommy!  Mommy stay at Granma’s house,” she said again.

“Yes, but now I’m here with you,” I said as I held her tightly to me.

“It’s Mommy!”  Emma whispered to me as she hugged me.

“I’ve missed you!” I whispered back.  I stood up with Emma’s arms still wrapped around me and twirled her around.  Emma laughed and wrapped her legs around my waist, gripping me even tighter as we twirled around and around.

It was a lovely welcome to a long day.

Later as we brushed her teeth she pointed to the reflection of me in the mirror and said, “It’s Mommy.”

I pointed to her reflection and said, “It’s Emma!”

Emma laughed.

As I tucked her into bed she said, “Night Mommy.”

I said, “Do you want me to lie down next to you for a minute?”

“Yes!”  Emma said, smiling.

I cuddled up next to her and put my arm around her waist.  She grabbed my hand and pulled my arm around her.  “Emma’s sleeping,” She whispered.

“I love you, Emma,” I said.   I waited for her to say, “So much.”  But she was already asleep.

Baseline

Before and after. Since we are not involved in any control group study, we need to establish a baseline reading of Emma’s brain waves before the stem cell treatment next week and then again afterward, probably a month or two post-procedure.

Joe and I will take Emma to the NYU brain research lab today where she will have a QEEG brain scan. It measures alpha, beta, delta, gamma and theta brain wave activity in the various regions of her brain illustrated with nifty color-coded pictures of her brain cross-sectioned from above and from the side. Black, navy blue, and brown – good news. Orange, yellow and red – not so good. We won’t see the results until after we come back from Panama so it will be a while until we can say anything about the ‘before’ baseline scan.

I’m hoping that we will see our doctor today and I’ll have an opportunity to ask him some more questions about the stem cell therapy. If so this will be a two-part entry. Before and after. If not, then it’s a brief blog today.