FAQs

I was reading Little Mamma said‘s blog post about being asked questions about her son’s condition – well actually in this case she was asked outright ‘what’s wrong with him?’

I’ve been asked that about Sam. It was worse when he had his NG tube in because that was stuck on his face and impossible not to be seen. Now it is really when we are out and pump feeding him or when people (who we may know a little, or don’t know at all) stop and chat to us and notice something might be a bit different with Samuel.

I  know people don’t mean any harm or offense. We, as humans, are just terribly flawed when it comes to putting our foot in it. We say things without thinking. People essentially do mean well. If you are reading this thinking that you might have asked a daft question, please please don’t worry about it. But I do wonder though whether I should have a list ready of frequently asked questions to give to people before they come out with their questions.

An example could be, in no particular order:

Question/Comment: Gosh, isn’t he a big boy? My cousin has just had a big baby too. (This is said a lot, but it is because I have to hold Samuel as if he was a little baby because he is unable to support his own head and neck)  Answer: No, not really, he’s just right length and weight actually. He was only 6lb 4oz when he was born.

Question/Comment: Was he a premature baby? How early was he? Answer: He was full term, well one week short of being bang on full term.

Question/Comment: What’s that? (Said after spotting him being gastrostomy fed) Answer: He is having a feed via his gastrostomy button, it goes straight into his tummy.

Question/Comment: Oh, how bizarre (looking very confused), can’t he eat normally then? Answer: He hasn’t got a reliable swallow so all his feed and medicines go through his gastrostomy button.

Question/Comment: Was very sorry to hear about your baby. We’ve been thinking about you a lot but didn’t want to get in touch as didn’t want to bother you. Answer: No need to feel sorry for us, we have our child that we’ve always wanted and who we love very much. He has brought so much joy into our lives.

Question/Comment: What’s wrong with him?  Answer: He has a rare condition that affects the brain, causes severe epilepsy and global development delay. (It’s a funny question because with strangers or people I don’t know very well, how much detail do I go into? So I just mention the epilepsy and special needs in the hope that is enough to satisfy interest but not boring or scaring them with more info than perhaps they needed!)

Question/Comment: Will he grow out of it? Answer: No, unfortunately not.

Question/Comment: Would an operation help? Can they cure his condition. Answer: No unfortunately not. Samuel is missing a part of his brain & has lissencephaly which refers to the smoothness of his brain. This cannot be repaired or cured.

Question/Comment: I don’t think he likes me/is interested in what’s going on/he looks bored. (This is normally said when someone tries to interact with Sam, but Sam just ignores them)  Answer: (I’m never quite sure what to say here) He isn’t ignoring you really, he has special needs so doesn’t realise that you are chatting to him.

Question/Comment: I heard you were visiting the hospice. I didn’t realise things were that bad. Answer: There are a lot of unknowns with Sam’s condition, particularly as it is very rare. But we do know that he has a life limiting condition and that not only means that he is extremely limited in what he will be able to do, it does also mean that how long we have to enjoy him is very limited too. The hospice offers us great emotional and practical support and respite. They also have fantastic facilities and are great at looking after children like Samuel.

Question/Comment: So will you be having more children? Or when do you think you’ll start trying again for another one? Answer: Err, it’s not quite that straightforward and Sam is only 15 months so we will take our time.
Question/Comment: Does he sleep ok at night? Do you have to stay up with him all  night? Do you get to sleep? Answer: We are lucky in that Sam has a drug called Chloral Hydrate that helps him sleep at night. Doesn’t guarantee he will sleep straight through but helps him settle and gives him more of a night and day. He’s on a feeding pump for 10 hours overnight so is bound to do a massive wee nappy which can disturb him so often get up to do one nappy at night. Much like a lot of ‘normal’ parents I imagine.

Question/Comment: You are very brave. I don’t think my husband and I could cope with a disabled/special needs child.  Answer: Yes you could, you are a parent, you love your child and would do anything for them. You would move heaven and earth to help them. We are just like any other good parents who love their child.

Question/Comment: Is it ok to give him a cuddle? Do I need to hold him a special way? I wont hurt him will I? Answer: Cuddling Sam is just like cuddling a big baby. Just hold him close and if he has a seizure then just hold him tight.

Question/Comment: Oh is he having a little laugh? Answer: No, unfortunately he’s just about to have a seizure.

Maybe I should just give them a link to my blog post about how damn perfect my boy is.

Other random comments we get:

  • Oh my goodness aren’t his eyelashes amazing, why do boys always get stunning eyelashes?!
  • You would never tell anything was wrong with him when he is calm. He just looks so perfect.
  • My friends step-son has Downs Syndrome.
  • Could I have a cuddle with Sam please as I’ve had a stressful day and need a Samuel cuddle to relax me.
  • (Stranger looking at him snoozing or calm in his buggy, normally said when we are in a lift) Ah, sometimes you just want to keep them little like that. Enjoy the peace while you can as they grow up quick and will be running around causing havoc in no time. (My dream would be for Sam to be running around causing havoc!)
But one of my favourite things said to me recently by a stranger has to be, ‘I have to tell you that I think your baby is one of the most beautiful little creatures I’ve ever seen’.
If this post sounds all too familier to you, Kate from The life and Times of Team Kitchen blog wrote a great poem called Staring. Pop over and have a nosey.
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What is ARX?

Samuel’s condition is called ARX or Aristaless Related Homeobox. Although his neurologist suspected for quite some time that he had ARX, we got the confirmed diagnosis in April 2011. As with a lot of conditions there is a spectrum, from mild to most severe cases – Sam, unfortunately, is at the most severe end. This is based I think on the severity of his seizures and that they are so hard to treat.

Samuel’s particular form of the condition is called XLAG (an awful name, as is often the case for rare conditions) which stands for x-linked lissencephaly, ambiguous genitalia, absent corpus callosum.

The ARX gene is located on the X-chromosome which is where the name of the condition comes from. All of us have 22 pairs of standard chromosomes and then a final pair that are called our sex chromosomes. Girls have two X chromosomes and boys have one X chromosome with a smaller Y chromosome. The Y chromosome only really contains genes that turn that person into a male, but the X chromosome contains many different genes performing all sorts of functions around the body. Boys are more vulnerable than girls when it comes to changes on the X chromosome, as clearly girls have two copies of all the genes present, whereas boys only have one.

Mutations within the ARX gene in themselves are rare and the phenotype of X-linked lissencephaly with ambiguous genitalia (this is the medical phrase but in Sam’s case it means he has small genitalia and his testes had not descended at birth) is rarer still.

In some genetic documentation we have read, it says that 50% die with the first year. The problem is that the professionals are basing their information on such a small number of case studies and no condition, especially ARX, is particularly ‘textbook’. There are very few case reports in medical literature and although there is a very limited life expectancy in these groups of boys on the more severe end of the spectrum, Samuel’s neurologist has said that they cannot be definitive regarding a life expectancy.

How does it affect Sam? Well Samuel has global development delay. At over a year old he is still very much a little baby and has made no development progress. He cannot support his own neck or head. He has several seizures every day and the number of these can range, depending on whether we are having a good day, from five a day to 15.

He has poor swallow co-ordination (despite swallowing his own saliva, never having needed suction and not drooling) so takes no food orally and is instead fed through a gastrostomy button on his stomach.

Find out more about ARX

 

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