patient advocacy

Did You Know…

Pompe Disease does not occur in adults. What?!?! That is what a neurologist recently told a patient. Again….what?!?!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by one of my cruise buddies. She has a friend whose husband is suffering from a mystery disease and has been trying to get properly diagnosed for a couple of years. My cruise buddy listened to the symptoms and asked if the woman’s husband had been tested for Pompe Disease as some of the symptoms sounded like mine. My cruise buddy directed her friend to my blog. After the woman had sifted through my ramblings about everything from headaches to accessible travel she decided it was worth considering Pompe as a possible culprit.

Armed with her new knowledge of Pompe Disease, the woman and her husband asked his neurologist if he would test for Pompe. The doctor, a neurologist, told them that Pompe does not occur in adults, nor does any other form of Muscular Dystrophy.

And this is where we pause so you can take a moment and really let that last sentence sink in.

Pause over. WHAT?!?!

The woman and her husband immediately decided they needed a new doctor. Good call. Even if this patient does not have Pompe, a new doctor who is up to date on current medical information is in order. Or at the very least a doctor who knows how to use Google.

The woman asked my cruise buddy to get in touch with me. Through a series of phone calls and emails I was able to help the woman connect with some experts in her area. I also suggested she contact the Mayo Clinic in case their diagnostic journey does not end with Pompe. The woman, armed with new information and contacts took to the phones with all guns blazing. Within a couple of days she had secured her husband an appointment with a new neurologist (one who has diagnosed and treated Pompe patients), sent his medical records off to the Mayo Clinic, and contacted Genzyme. Whatever the outcome is for this family, I have a feeling they are in good hands now. I hope their diagnostic journey comes to an end soon, so their next chapter can begin: Fighting Back!

In order to help this woman, I had to relay the situation to my contacts at Genzyme. The responses I received back ranged from “Wow” to “I gasped out loud when I read that.” There is still so much work to do regarding Pompe Disease awareness and education. I have come across several doctors, either through my own experience or through stories relayed to me by other patients, who have little information about Pompe Disease. This is the first time I have heard of a doctor giving patients really, really wrong information about Pompe Disease. Scary.

Lessons to be learned here? We can never assume our medical professionals are up to date about everything, especially something as rare as Pompe Disease. It is imperative to do your research, be your own advocate, and get a second opinion.

2011: A Look Back

And…..scene.

As the curtain closes on another year, it is time to quickly look back before moving forward. I know, how cliché right?

2011 was a productive and exciting year for me. It was filled with a fair bit of travel, a lot of which centered around Pompe patient advocacy. The year concluded with me receiving my 42nd Lumizyme infusion and a few new stamps in my passport.

January

I was invited to Boston, Massachusetts to speak at Genzyme’s annual marketing meeting… in between snow storms. While there, I was asked to serve on their Patient Advisory Board.

February

I met up with Pompe peep Karen who was in town visiting friends. Karen is a Pompe trail blazer in her own right. While I may have been the first Lumizyme patient, Karen was one of the first adult patients to receive enzyme replacement therapy through clinical trials years before Lumizyme received FDA approval.

March

I returned to Boston for a Patient Advisory Board meeting at Genzyme. After the meeting my friend Vanessa flew in to join me, and we spent the weekend exploring Boston together. Later that month I ventured to Europe with my friend Lonnie and her sister. While in London, I had the privilege of meeting up with 3 Pompe patients from the area.

April

I spoke at patient meeting in Atlanta, Georgia for Genzyme. The trip to Atlanta also gave me a chance to visit with my friend Lonnie at her home in Athens….during a tornado warning.

May

Genzyme flew me to Washington DC to speak to members of Congress about the importance of biotech research and development. After all this “hard” work, it was time to relax for a bit, so I took a two week transatlantic Disney cruise from Florida to Spain.

June

I spoke at a patient meeting in Tampa, Florida for Genzyme.

July

I spoke at patient meetings in Los Angles and San Bernardino, California for the United Pompe Foundation. While in California, I met up with some friends at Disneyland.

August

I headed back up to Gainesville, Florida and Shands at the University of Florida. I am participating in a long term study for Dr. Bryne. I also enrolled in a respiratory study that allows me to try and improve my breathing by using a respiratory trainer. I’m always willing to try something new, so Dr. Byrne got me up on a treadmill while in a harness. It was sort of an experiment to see of there was any possible research or therapeutic value in this type of approach to exercise.

September

I was asked to appear on the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s annual telethon again. Over the summer I visited with two of the hosts at their radio station and pre-taped a segment for the telethon. They aired the segment and also interviewed me live the day of the telethon.

About 20 of my friends from the transatlantic decided they wanted to do the return trip, so I joined them. We all met up in Spain and took another two week Disney cruise all the way back to Florida.

October

The Lysosomal Disorder New Zealand patient group flew me to Wellington, New Zealand to help with their campaign to secure treatment for patients there. I spoke with members of Parliament, the media, and the head of PHARMAC. The battle continues in New Zealand as we head into 2012, the Pompe patients there desperately need enzyme replacement therapy and soon.

When I returned from New Zealand my own infusion was delayed due to paperwork. Why don’t pencil pushers realize how critical this treatment is to our survival?

I also spoke at a patient meeting here in Orlando along with several specialists from the University of Florida, including Dr. Byrne. The meeting was hosted by the Muscular Dystrophy Association through an educational grant from Genzyme.

November

It was uncharacteristically quiet which turned out to be a good thing as my health really started to decline as I waited for my next infusion. I ended up going 4.5 weeks without Lumizyme and I really felt horrible. The pain in my muscles as well as the headaches returned. My respiratory function even declined, which was a huge step back for me. When I finally received my infusion, I could immediately feel the difference. I’m back on track with regular infusions, but missing just that one really took a toll on me. I still don’t think my respiratory function has returned to where it was before my missed treatment.

I met up with Dr. Byrne at Downtown Disney and I invited to join Brad, Allyson, and me at the Magic Kingdom the next day. Dr. Byrne was in town for a conference but was able to sneak away long enough to spend a few hours playing with 3 of his lab rats….er, Pompe patients.

December

Allyson came down to Walt Disney World and we attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

A couple of days after the party I was on a plane to California. It was a spectacular Christmastime celebration at Disneyland with friends from elementary school, high school, and college.

Allyson’s family from New Zealand arrived at the end of the month. We passed the time waiting for their flight to arrive at Downtown Disney where we ran into Pompe celebrity/hero John Crowley!

When I was actually in town, I had several visitors, many of whom I had met on my Disney cruises. Friends from all all over the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and England visited the “the House of Mouse” and me this year.

Perhaps 2012 will be filled with even more opportunities to advocate for patients. I mean, how many people really get the chance to make a difference in the lives of others?

It was my hope to return to work in 2012, but missing just one Lumizyme infusion set my recovery back more than I had expected. Time will only tell what the future holds for me.

What I do know, is there’s a lot of hope on the horizon for Pompe patients. The next generation of enzyme replacement therapy is currently in human clinical trials and a chaperone drug is about to enter human trials. Additionally, there is the amazing work Dr. Byrne is doing in gene replacement therapy which is also in human trials and is showing great promise for our younger Pompe warriors.

2012, the Year of the Dragon….how appropriate. Keep fighting!

Genzyme’s Patient Advisory Meeting #1

 

Last week I found myself braving the fierce weather in Boston again – well, ok it was fierce for this Florida girl. Luckily, I still had my limited supply of winter gear handy from my recent trip to Europe (more on that adventure later). I had the pleasure of attending a Patient Advisory Meeting with fellow Pompe patients, parents, and Genzyme employees.

 

I love meeting up with others in the Pompe community and Genzyme always treats us very well. So while all bundled up and fighting a cold I caught in Europe, I spent the better part of Friday discussing the needs of the patient community and how Genzyme could help us with an amazing group of people, who I look forward to working with.

I would like to thank everyone who submitted information to me to take to this meeting, and rest assured I brought all of your concerns to the table and they are being addressed. This first meeting was really about getting everything “out there” if you will, and formulating a basic strategy on how to deal with the most common concerns – which seemed to center around improving communication and increasing/improving ways for patients to connect to one another.

As we move forward with things I will update you and I welcome your continued input and interest. This meeting was only the first step in a long journey which I believe will improve and strengthen our community.

Here we are enjoying dinner with our Boston tour guide Amy, who was kind enough to take the photo and bring us to this delightful Lebanese restaurant.

On a personal note, I took advantage of the “warmer” ahem, Boston weather and took a few extra days to site see with my best friend Vanessa. I have known Vanessa since we were 4 years old and she is an amazing supporter not only to me, but to the entire Pompe community. Whenever I have called for letter writing she is always the first to submit to the cause – and she is a fierce letter writer!