She ran into Steven Gray, a researcher in the Gene Therapy Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (yes, my fellow North Carolinians – the world of Batten disease is a dark and scary one, but there is promise – and it is right here in our own backyard!). Mom and my uncle David, a neurosurgeon in Greensboro, and I all drove to Chapel Hill to have dinner with Dr. Gray last year; as we left the restaurant that night, I knew we’d meet again.
Mom met Arlene Drack, an ophthalmologist from the University of Iowa. Mom saw Dr. Drack’s poster and knew she just had to talk to her; Dr. Drack is investigating the retinal degeneration that leads to blindness in Batten disease. Children with Batten disease face so much loss – the vision loss alone is incredibly devastating. These kids are already fighting to walk, to express themselves in ways most of us take for granted, to socially engage with their peers – but the blindness drops a heavy curtain, ensuring their separation from so much that makes life “normal.” If the blindness alone could be stopped, kids like Taylor would have a much greater quality of life. For six fleeting weeks in 2006, we thought Taylor had retinitis pigmentosa (RP) – an incurable, progressive eye disease that causes loss of central and peripheral vision. I remember how our world came crashing down on us the day we got the RP diagnosis. For six weeks, RP was the worst thing in the world.
She spoke to Andy Tincu and Bruce Vuillemenot, two talented scientists with BioMarin; they are working on a promising therapy for late infantile Batten disease.
It is apparent that science has made great progress since Taylor’s diagnosis nearly six years ago…and yet, there is much left to do. Rare diseases need more funding; they need the voice of the people. They have been overlooked for far too long. “Thank goodness for these scientists fighting a good fight to find therapies for patients with rare diseases – many of them children!” Mom writes.
Mom’s next words to me aren’t her last, but they’ve stuck with me more than the rest.
“I’m not fighting hard enough,” she says, calling out others as “incredible warriors who have made a difference. I’m humbled.”
I have an extraordinary amount of respect for all of the other warriors brave enough to wage this war on Batten disease and all rare diseases. I, too, am humbled.
But I have a difficult time letting my mother get by thinking she’s not fighting hard enough. She’s the greatest warrior I’ve ever known – a warrior willing to cross oceans and even galaxies for children – if only she had a spaceship.