New Year, New Direction

Like many times before in January these past 7 years, I am seeking a new direction for my medical care as a serious illness continues. A recent autoimmune blood test found antibodies for a particular type of central nervous system disease. So of course we are off now pursuing the next big thing! Here’s an initial brain dump on the subject (absolutely no pun intended!).

Autoimmune disease (AD) is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells. There are up to 100 different types of AD (depending upon which resource you use) and 3 triggers that I can discern that initiate the onset of symptoms:

  • Gene expression that gets turned on. This is where your have genetic markers for a particular condition coming from somewhere in your family tree that starts to express itself as active disease when triggered by stress, infection, toxicity, or some traumatic event.
  • Infection by bacteria, fungus, or viral agents. This appears to apply when the infection is severe or chronic.
  • Cancer. This may be a chicken-or-egg type of dynamic where a patient may never know what came first.

Docs have diagnosed me with a few conditions in the past that may be considered autoimmune disease. But it wasn’t until my Doc finally decided to start testing me for AD antibodies (Cyrex Array #7) that something concrete was identified and it is serious. The condition mimics a neurological disease that my Father had. The biotoxin illness that triggered my 7 years of chronic illness (beginning the same year in which he passed away, interestingly) and subsequent infections may also contribute to my situation. Thankfully, no cancer has been identified so we will stick with the first 2 triggers as entering me into the AD phase of my long term treatment plan.

So I started researching as usual and discovered two primary approaches to neurological disease in general: 1) manage the symptoms of a debilitating, degenerating course, or 2) treat it with immunotherapy and medications that have the potential to reverse its course when there is an AD component. My Doc suggested continuing various supplements and physical therapy. A second Functional Medicine Doc suggested a “functional medicine chiropractor” and a neurologist who specializes in Parkinson’s Disease. Of course I will consider these but I am also not going to wait around while my body deteriorates without seeking something more substantial! Fortunately it appears that for me, there may be medical treatment options including what is called IVIg that have the potential to REVERSE THE EPISODES THAT APPEAR SEIZURE-LIKE, VIRTUALLY EVERY DAY FOR NEARLY 7 YEARS!  Yes, let’s do that!

Yesterday I set up an account and submitted a brief case history for review by the Autoimmune Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Their neurologists specialize in neuroimmunology, participate in the latest research, and are willing to initiate trials of immunotherapies and medications to help their patients. I had contacted a couple of researchers directly, consulted the leader of a regional support group, watched lectures and interviews, and reviewed the literature on the factors relevant to my case. “Time is brain” and “time is cerebellum” appeared several times in the studies, suggesting not waiting around for something to happen. Overall, this field of study is very complex; I believe that I understand the main principles enough to share with my beloved Stevers and, as one accord, proceed in this new direction in my medical care.

As with anything new and complicated, there are many unknowns ahead of us. Will the neurologists accept my case and when will I be able to schedule my consultation, testing, treatment? How much, if any, will my insurance cover? How will I tolerate a lumbar puncture procedure likely needed for comprehensive diagnostic work-up even if administered under anesthesia? Will we be able to pay for the travel and out-of-pocket expenses that, for immunotherapy, could exceed tens of thousands of dollars? Can any of the treatment, if indicated, be completed locally and how many times will I need to return to Mayo Clinic (a full day of driving away from home)? In the winter when it’s too cold to camp, will I be able to tolerate staying in a hotel often laden with fragrances that trigger convulsive episodes? Will our aging and endearing pup Elle be able to travel and stay with us?

You know we are praying about all of these questions already! I am a bit frightened by the diagnosis I have been given, having worked with persons with movement disorders during my career as an Occupational Therapist. Yet I am also in awe that this information came NOW and not 3 years ago when I first considered a consultation at Mayo Clinic. We have learned so much since then, ruled out other conditions that don’t apply to me, treated conditions that put me in a better position to benefit from an Autoimmune Clinic, confirmed that this illness is not psychiatric, and know the process of travelling for medical care (as in my craniomandibular specialist whose care continues).

I feel like the expression on Elle’s face in this picture. Three paws in view and one paw under the rug with the unknowns lurking underneath there as well. Will there be Rubber Duckies or sweetness from the Lord to lighten this journey? Surely. Each phase of this time in my life has brought blessing with the hardships. Besides, you know I love road trips with Steve! And Elle!

Hang tight Gentle Reader. We may be headed north really soon! JJ

Just short of maximum destruction

monster truck, women, riding, Maximum Destruction, celebrate, ride a truck

That’s me with my brother’s girlfriend catching a ride on a Saturday night as I waved to my husband from the Monster Truck ride at the Maximum Destruction show.  Although I had never ridden in a jacked-up truck before, the figure-8 track of an auto raceway not far from the Motor City is nothing new for me.  I grew up hollering and hooting during demolishion derbies on hot summer weekends in the Detroit area where I grew up.  Virtually everyone in my family worked in the auto industry, the men in my family all tinkered with their cars, and my Dad founded a company that produced the fastest slot car motors on the tracks in the 1960’s.  It seems so long ago yet the adrenaline is so easy to tap into when I hear those engines get revved up!

The racing was exciting!  The effect it had on me was not-so-much exciting as it jittered my fragile nerves.  We did make it all the way through to the trailer races on the figure-8 track at the end of the night:  battered vehicles of all types pulling various types of 2-wheeled trailers for about 10 laps around the track.  The smash-ups drew roars from the crowd and the buggy towing the large teddy bear in a row boat took home the trophy that night.  I was exhausted as my own River Bear drove us home into the wee hours of the morning back across the State lines to Indiana.  What a crazy night!

I am not sure if it was all of the smoke that seeped through my charcoal mask, the vibration of the roaring engines, sitting on those damp wooden bleacher seats, or what exactly affected me the most on Sunday.  I sure slept a lot!  Certainly any of it would have kept me home just 1 year ago.  I am doing better in many ways.  But today brought another bad convulsive episode that seems to be happening again about every other day now.  We are puzzled; I am discouraged.  The healing from the specialized dental appliances and upper cervical chiropractic care appeared to be helping to decrease my reactivity, normalize my sleep/wake cycle, increase my activity level, and overall decrease the episodes.  There were at least 2 days per week when I had no seizure attacks at all!  And now they are back.

The only possibility we can think of right now, after nearly 7 years of serious illness and more medical care than you can imagine is a hidden issue in my cervical spine.  Cervical vascular disease can give rise to traditional seizures but more in the acute phase of these issues than in a chronic phase.  When neck extension can trigger them and the episodes can include a near paralysis of one side of my body then I start to think there is more going on than some pinched cranial nerves.  Have the dental appliances reduced my symptoms 80%?  Yes, until now, they have yet I still deal with the remaining 20% every day.  Chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy  have both triggered and resolved an onset of episodes.

My medical doctor took some convincing then ordered the first of a couple of diagnostic tests after realizing that I have a family history of carotid artery  and heart disease.  I was at the race this weekend with my brother who had a devastating stroke 4 years ago due to occlusion of his carotid arteries.  For me, initial testing shows that my carotid artery is fine; it is the vertebral artery that could be most suspect as it travels around the first cervical vertebrae called the atlas.  More testing should clarify what is going on.  I often have instability or rotation at the level of  C1.  It doesn’t move correctly during flexion or extension according to specialized cervical xrays.  We have got to figure out what is going in these structures in my neck!

Today and some other days recently, Steve providing simple distraction technique of my neck eventually resolved my worst symptoms during a bad episode.  Extreme fatigue follows with an emotional release of frustration, despondency, exasperation, grief, and sorrow.  This has just been going on for so very long!  I am amazed that all of the massively destructive movement patterns occurring thousands of times day after day for years has not caused more damage to my weary frame.  This finding actually gives me hope — that if the episodes stop then maybe I can regain some physical health and fitness with with what is left of me, with the body my Lord has entrusted to my care.  Even those beat-up sedans, pick-up trucks, and other stock cars on the race track somehow keep going to win races week after week.  Just tune ’em up, sure-up the quarter panels-n-bumpers, and onto the track they line up to race another day.

Perhaps that will be me at some level too in my race called “life.”  Only I think I’ll add a little more bling to my frame than the lipstick ladies did to their jalopies during the first heat this past Saturday night.  I might even spruce up the “paint job” on my hair color too.  Next weekend (or hopefully one day soon) just might be my night to shine when the official waves the green flag to get up and go.  Surely that will be a prize worth waiting for . . . just short of the ultimate finish line in heaven.  Yes my Lord, I’m ready!

JJ

Hebrews, 12:1, run, the race, with endurance, Bible verse, race of life

A Matter of Perspective

humor, bathing suit, top, insert, perspective

Alone on the beach I lain

Broken-hearted and abandoned,

Missing my other half

A bit humbled in the warm sun.

She left me here all alone

Doesn’t she miss me or know I’m gone?

Maybe she broke free from the tyranny

Who needs a padded insert to swim in the surf anyways?

I suppose you all figured out the item in the picture by now?  I found it to be hilarious finding it on the sand of the beach at Port Canaveral, Florida earlier this month!  My beloved and I were there to witness a rocket launch a mile away to the south along Playalinda Beach.  It was surreal.  I wonder if the gal missing part of her bathing suit top felt the same way?  🙂

That day was a bit of an oasis in the middle of a medical trip that continues to change my life for the better.  I was exceedingly exhausted just 1 week after treatment began and felt out of place sitting on a sandy beach with large, acrylic dental appliances in my mouth.  I was unable to eat without changing out appliances (which meant rinsing them in a Ziploc plastic bag with paper towels to soak up the mouthwash) and was nearly nauseous with a lot of head-jaw-neck pain from the aggressive dynamics achieved by the splints.  On the other hand, Steve was geared up to hit the waves in our outrigger canoe!  We both slathered on the sunscreen and lugged our stuff up a long flight of wooden steps, over the berm, and down onto the beach.  With a big umbrella in-hand, I was going to make the best of things that 86-degree day  . . .

And so we did.  I sat in front of the most majestic view you would never find in our home State of Indiana (note new cover photo above!) munching on my lunch, brushing dental appliances, and taking pictures of the coolest dude on the shoreline.  A few hours later I witnessed the magical sight of a rocket being launched into space:  a satellite developed by the same company that Steve works for in Indiana.  Steve had gotten an inside scoop from co-workers at the Melbourne headquarters of how to get the best view.  (Incredibly Harris allowed him to work there remotely between my medical visits and before we would return home.)  The launch was spectacular!

Harris, rocket launch, Cape Canaveral, March, 2018, sky, trails, space

 

I have come to believe that the Lord cares for everything in our lives from the mundane to the big, spectacular moments in time.  He attends to every detail, crafts them for our best good.  I am thinking that many of the rewards in life generally come in some way or another when I am able to move off my limited view and trust that my Lord, Jesus Christ has a bigger plan.  It just might be a good one.  My change in perspective will help to find it.  The fact that so many years have held me captive with much agony in the past is really no predictor of what the future holds.  I simply do not know.

This leap of faith to pursue a new treatment approach 1,000 miles from home is changing my life day by day.  The minor setbacks are easier to take than in the past and don’t last very long, gratefully.  My perspective on most things in life, my expectations, my faith, and so much more have changed accordingly.  One of the sweetest rewards is sharing this  newness of life with my hero, my Stevers.  I love him so!  And I am so proud of him, grateful for him, and in awe of his strength, faith, and love during our eleven years together.  The anniversary of our first date is coming up soon!  Oh I could go on . . .

How about if I just end with another awesome sight from the beach that day.  Isn’t he just the coolest dude ya ever did see?  I love you Stevers!  :JJ

outrigger canoe, beach, surf, OC-1, carry, carbon fiber, racing, Mocke, life vest, life jacket,
My River Bear carrying our OC-1 out from the surf as the tide rolls in onto Playalinda Beach, north of Cape Canaveral, March 1, 2018

I gotta change my teeth!

Alright.  It’s a few decades too soon in my life to be fussing over fake teeth in a restaurant but that is exactly where I have landed.  Or an acrylic mouthpiece of sorts, that is.  Then there’s the one with metal wires in it.  Aaaargh!  This is all kinda gross, especially with bits o’ lunch in thar!

It’s not your average bear that carries around a bottle of mouthwash in a gallon Ziploc freezer bag with 2 paper towels, a funny little brush and a clam-shell plastic box with air holes in it with a spare mouthpiece in tow.  Gentle Reader, you knew I was not undergoing a normal treatment plan when I signed up for this next phase in my recovery from a serious illness.  After all, who said that specialized dental appliances would stop almost 7 years of daily seizure attacks?

The answer:  no one really.  Persons with Tourettes Syndrome, dystonia, and tics have found relief in addition to persons with severe TMJ or Temporal Mandibular Disorders.  Only one expert mentioned “atypical seizures” and another “movement disorders.”  It was the Lord who led me to  examine my own pattern of symptoms and triggers, led by an observation from an ENT in a recent exam, and extensive research that seemed to indicate that I, too, might benefit from this highly skilled approach within the dentistry profession.  It made sense to me that a Craniomandibular Disorder Specialist would be able to relief pressure on my aching jaw.  If it relieved pressure on cranial nerves in the surrounding tissues as well, then there would be a good chance that many of the episode triggers and the convulsive episodes themselves could go down.  So I interviewed thirteen professionals in the USA  then said, “sign me up!”  My beloved agreed.  Graciously, many wonderful folks helped make it happen.

And I am glad that it did happen.  The convulsive episodes are now EIGHTY PERCENT IMPROVED!!!  Yeah God!  Praise the Lord!  Holy cow!  Cool beans!  Plus every other exclamation of joy I have ever used on this here blog.  Just Julie is going to get well!  I can now lie down and get up from bed most of the time without 30 or more minutes of convulsive episodes.  THIS IS HUGE!  Bonus:  my reactivity to noxious sensory stimuli is also down.  My posture is better.  I am able to eat a few more foods that I have been able to in many, many years without triggering a seizure.  Other symptoms have come and gone yet even the nagging jaw pain is also reduced.  I am looking forward to seeing what will happen over time as the improvements continue . . .

The battle is not yet won, however, as my devices will need adjustments and I’ll possibly need new dental appliances as time goes forward.  This will require significant travel to my Doctor out of State, a leap of faith in the Lord’s provision, and a massive testing of my health status to travel by myself.  Am I up to the challenge?  Absolutely.  We will plan carefully and proceed with caution.  Looks like I am on a good path for recovery at last.  I am humbled and grateful beyond what I can put into words.  Thank you Jesus!

Here are a few pictures from the process from my first week on this new journey.  I look a mess in most of them yet that is because I was very sick going into these appointments.  I had six violent convulsive episodes just trying to do the 5 hours of evaluation and was quite depleted by the time it was over.  Afterwards, my hubby and I were so trashed that we stood in the parking lot late that sunny afternoon and ate every snack and drop of water we had with us!  It took days for me to recover yet somehow I knew that my life was about to change very soon.  Three days later I had another very long appointment to receive my mouth splints.  The changes began within a day and continue three weeks later!  Stay tuned for more good news as this story develops.

Gentle Reader, if you are struggling with serious health issues, I encourage you that the Lord sees your suffering, grieves for you, and promises to be there for you for each and every breath, now and forever.  Call upon His name.  There is “hope beyond” what we can see.  Consider trusting the person of Jesus Christ Who will see you through, carry you this day and always.  I would have never made it this far without Him.  I hope we can share in my joy together someday Gentle Reader.  Our God is good!  JJ

xray, dental, appliances, TMJ, TMD, specialized, dystonia, seizures, atypical, tics, Tourettes, Dr. Ralph Garcia, craniomandibular, disorder, treatment
Assistant Josh took about a dozen x-rays to start the evaluation process.

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Dr. Ralph Garcia takes a detailed history; the smell of acrylics from the lab requires wearing a mask.

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EMG testing of the face and jaw

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Bite evaluation by Dr. Ralph Garcia

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Assistant Julie takes photos with and without the new dental appliances.

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Multiple impressions are taken with soft polymers that triggered episodes when the material was cold. Trying to stay calm to get the proper fitting was challenging.

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Waiting room in Dr. Ralph Garcia’s office! We definitely are not in Indiana!

Sunset Beach, Florida, Tampa Bay, wife, husband, couple, married, sunset, sunrise
A little shy first time out in public wearing the smaller of the two dental appliances so I could have a snack while watching the sun go down on Sunset Beach. So grateful that my Dentist’s office was in sunny Tampa, Florida!

Moving forward with the next big thing

Sure is humbling sharing the nitty gritty of an ugly illness with the world.  Yet I would not be a good steward of the experiences the Lord has allowed in my life for His purposes if I hid them in shame.  So with courage and trust that this will be used for good someday, I share with you my newest video:

Please consider helping us out with our campaign covering us in prayer as we embark on this new treatment adventure for me.   We are hopeful again!

For more details on this amazing story, check out the posts below from this past week.  Thank you to all who have participated already.  We are humbled and exceedingly grateful!  🙂

And Godspeed Gentle Reader.  I appreciate you so!  JJ

The Next Big Thing

Pursuing the Next Big Thing

Julie’s Neuro Treatment