Recently my family has been advocating for a drug called Ataluren (Translarna), a treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. All three of my sons with DMD have had access to this drug though a clinical trial. And now the drug company that makes Ataluren is fighting for FDA approval.
There have been articles about our family and our desire to have Ataluren FDA approved in Parent Herald, Exceptional Parent, and we are working on one that will run in Momaha (Omaha World Herald’s women’s interest and parent blog). I have been happy for the press and awareness the articles are helping to generate. But truth be told; they are just scraping the surface. What this drug means to me runs much deeper.
There was a time that my naive youthful self would never have known about something like this. If I had only known then that 3 of my children would be diagnosed with this cruel and unrelenting disease, I would have paid so much more attention in biology and chemistry because I would have known how much this would truly mean to me. I would have known it would affect the life of my children. Affect their life, but directly impact their quality of life and my amount of time with them on this earth.
I want to share with you how Ataluren impacts my sons’ lives. Some of these things may not sound like much at all, but to a parent of a child with Duchenne, they are huge things.
I’ll start with my oldest son, Max. Max is quite a character. Max is 10, he will be 11 in November. I can’t help but compare him to other boys I know that are his age, who have Duchenne, and are not on Ataluren, or any other trial drug. This is how I know Ataluren is working; other boys his age with Duchenne cannot do these things.
Max loves performing in the theater. Two summers ago he was the clock in Beauty and the Beast and this past summer he was Michael Darling in Peter Pan and Wendy. He was really awesome in both productions, and I am trying very hard not to be biased with that description.
That may not sound like something that Ataluren would have an effect on; but here is how I know it was helping. Max went to 2 hour rehearsals every day for several weeks. There were 6-7 steps that led to the stage. He was able to maneuver up and down those steps several times each rehearsal and performance. At the end of the night, when he was at home, he was not exhausted. Prior to being on Ataluren that would have exhausted him. But on Ataluren he could do the rehearsals, the performances, and still come home and have energy to spend time with his siblings, his dad, and me.
The second example I want to share with you is that this past summer Max was finally tall enough to go on the water slides at the water park in our home town. He was so excited that first day; I felt sick to my stomach trying to imagine my almost 11-year-old son with Duchenne climbing the two stories of stairs it would take to go down the slide. But I was so pleasantly surprised that I found myself in tears. Max went up those stairs and down those slides 4 times that day. His brother without Duchenne could have done that 10 or 20 times and it would not have been a celebration; but for Max it was like winning the lottery! He did it 4-6 times every time we went to the waterpark this summer. I know in my heart of hearts that other boys his age with Duchenne could not do that.
That brings me to my middle son Rowen. Rowen is a 2nd grader and bit quieter and a more serious little guy. Rowen is my weakest, confirmed by his neurologist. His Duchenne is more severe than that of my other sons. It is like he just started out weaker and now the disease is progressing much more quickly through is body. It is hard to watch. He is never going to be able to do the stairs at the water park. He doesn’t have the stamina to do a play.
But, again, I can compare him to other boys close to his age that I know. When I do that I can see Rowen has a more stable gait. Some boys walk with more of an extended leg, more up on their toes, and more curvature in their back. Rowen as weak as he is has a more stable gait. Some of the other boys seem to thrust their chests forward more and swing their hips from side to side more. Rowen does not do that, even as weak as he is, his gait is stable. I believe that Ataluren helps you where you are at, even the weakest of Duchenne patients.
And finally, I want to talk a little about my youngest son Charlie. He is a joy, truly and honestly, you have not met a more joyful child than this boy. Charlie is doing better than either of my other sons were doing at age 5. I believe that having access to Ataluren since the age of 4 plays a large role in that.
Charlie started kindergarten last week. And instead of falling asleep or being crabby because of the demand of the full school day he has never experienced; he played outside with his neighborhood friends and even rode his bike (with training wheels) until it was time to come in to eat. Ataluren is the only explanation for the fact that he was able to do that. Neither of his brothers could do that during the first weeks of kindergarten.
That same week as I was looking out the window and saw one of our little neighbor boys running in the grass I noticed another little boy running after him. It took me a minute, but then I realized it was Charlie running with very limited Duchenne characteristics that are easy to see when you see a boy with Duchenne; especially to my trained eye. To someone who didn’t know he had Duchenne, I’m not sure they would have noticed.
I want so badly for this drug to be approved so that my boys continue to benefit as well as all boys with the same mutation. I know Ataluren is not a cure, but it is making meaningful differences in the lives of the boys who take it.