What Drives Me

By Laura Edwards

Tonight marked the fifth annual meeting of the board of directors of Taylor’s Tale. I slid behind the wheel of my car at 9 p.m. – almost three hours after I pulled into my parking spot and long after a faded sun dipped behind swollen, purple clouds outside the windows in the board room.

Four-plus years have passed since we became a public charity; six-plus years have passed since we declared war on Batten disease. The discussion at tonight’s meeting reflected the incredible progress that has been made since my mom placed a bulk order for copies of The Cure, Geeta Anand’s stunning account of how John Crowley raised $100 million in an effort to save his children from Pompe disease, and distributed them to a small battalion of hand-picked soldiers in a Charlotte living room in the fall of 2006.

IMG_0932Tonight, my mom sat at the head of a board room table to deliver her updates. Some of the faces around the table were the same; some of them were different.

One month ago, Mom attended the first Southeast Venture Philanthropy Summit in Chapel Hill. Other attendees included the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the Gates Foundation and sleek biotech companies of all shapes and sizes.

Three days ago, Mom and two other board members toured the University of North Carolina’s Gene Therapy Center Vector Core – the most advanced facility of its kind in the nation. Down the street, one of the nation’s top gene therapy experts, Dr. Steven Gray, is leading a two-year gene therapy study for two forms of Batten disease that is partially funded by Taylor’s Tale. If successful, the work could lead to a human clinical trial in just a few short years. And as much as we want this for Batten disease, it’s much bigger than that. If Dr. Gray gets this to work, it can treat a lot of people with all types of problems; the principles can be applied to many other diseases – from Parkinson’s disease to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) to Alzheimer’s disease…I could go on. And not only that, but it will be a one-time, low-cost, minimally invasive treatment as opposed to life-long, expensive, potentially invasive treatments that – in many cases – address some of the symptoms but don’t treat the disease.

VectorCenterbannerSeven years ago, I was learning the ropes of healthcare marketing and PR, coaching a girls’ soccer team, covering sports for the local paper and planning a wedding. I had a half-finished young adult novel and figured I’d get to it as soon as the honeymoon ended.

That all changed when I got the phone call.

Google “neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis” and skim the search results. That’s how I first learned about our new world – and Taylor’s – on July 24, 2006, sitting at my desk at work, with my sobbing mother on the other end of the phone line.

The geneticist who diagnosed my sister said we shouldn’t bother with hope. My response from day one was “Screw that,” but fighting is easier said than done. It’s never been easy.

We’ve lost so much since that day.

But I’m proud of what we’ve achieved. Mom’s reports at tonight’s Taylor’s Tale board meeting embodied all that our team has accomplished and the astounding impact we stand to have.

Our fight began because of our love for one little girl. In those early days, we saw the love and the laughter and the courage that we so cherished about Taylor embodied in all of the children fighting Batten disease, and we fought for them too.

As we forged on, we learned more about the impact of rare disease: 30 million people in the United States – and 350 million worldwide. We realized that we could be doing more with the incredible scientific innovation we already have. We partnered with or endorsed organizations like the Global Genes Project and the EveryLife Foundation and went to Washington to lobby for all those fighting a rare disease.

And as we learned more and more about the wonders of gene therapy and the incredible people behind it, we realized that we could be part of something bigger than we ever imagined.

The possibilities of the immediate future and these next few years are boundless, and my mind races as I think about the impact we – the little group called Taylor’s Tale that my mom and I and a group of women who don’t like to take “no” for an answer founded in a mishmash circle of couches and ottomans and chairs over pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches – could have – directly or indirectly – on millions of people.

That’s what drives my mind.

But in my heart, I’ll always be driven by my love for “T.”


Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis

By Laura Edwards

I hate July 24.

On June 3, 2006, my grandparents hosted my wedding shower at their house in Wake Forest, NC. It was the first day of the happiest seven weeks of my life. At the time, I had no way of knowing that it would be the next-to-last time that I would have my entire family and my closest friends together for a happy occasion (my wedding would be the last). We grilled burgers and chicken and dined on card tables set up on the lawn behind Grandma Kathryn’s beloved back porch. The sun sank beneath the horizon about the time John and I opened the last gift and my grandfather polished off the last piece of cake; my little sister, Taylor, and our cousin, Morgan, hung Hawaiian leis around their necks and chased fireflies across the grass, their bare shoulders bathed in the soft moonlight and their laughter in our ears.

Taylor and Morgan in leis

On June 24, I married my best friend from high school in a beautiful inn famous for its lush gardens in the mountains of North Carolina. Taylor and Morgan ruled the tiny, makeshift dance floor in the inn’s parlor after the ceremony.

On July 24, my husband and I wished each other a happy one-month wedding anniversary, kissed each other goodbye and headed our separate ways for work. As I drove to the office under a clear blue sky, I thanked God for all the gifts He had given me. I was newly married to my best friend and had an amazing family, a great job and even a promising novel in the works. I felt invincible.

A few minutes after 10 that morning, I hit ‘save’ on a press release to take a call from my mother.

I can’t remember much of what Mom said to me. I don’t know how much I heard over the loud ringing that filled my ears after she said the words “neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis” in reference to Taylor. I remember, with my sobbing mother still on the phone, Googling that phrase with trembling fingers and crumpling into my chair like a crushed soda can when I read the summaries listed with the search results until my eyes filled with tears and I couldn’t read any longer. The words and phrases shot off the screen and straight into me like icy daggers, each one more awful than the last:





Motor deterioration.

Cognitive deterioration.


No treatment.

No cure.

Early death.

I don’t remember the rest of that phone call, but I will remember July 24, 2006 for as long as I live.

Taylor doesn’t chase fireflies in the moonlight anymore, but I will never forget the innocent beauty of that night she shared with our cousin, Morgan, before a sleeping genetic defect awoke from its seven-year slumber and began its systematic destruction of a life with great promise.

I no longer need Google to tell me what neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis – or Batten disease – does to a child like Taylor. I’m an expert on a disorder I never wanted to know. I’ve spent time with the world’s greatest Batten disease scientists. I’ve seen it unfold in real life. I’ve watched it wreak havoc on my sister. I’ve seen the names of children I know added to the list of “Batten angels.”

I declared two wars on Batten disease on July 24, 2006 – the war for my little sister, and the war to end Batten disease forever.

Batten disease is winning the war for my little sister. It’s had six long years to do its dark work.

As I’ve watched how Taylor has faced her disease, I’ve realized one thing that gives me satisfaction, if not true solace:

Batten disease may have the power to destroy a life with great promise.

But it can never destroy a heart with great love.

Notes from London: Day One

By Laura Edwards

Yesterday afternoon, Taylor’s Tale’s co-founder, current president and greatest embodiment of the word “believe” – my mom, Sharon King – took off from Charlotte bound for London, England – site of the 13th annual international conference on neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (Batten disease).

Transoceanic flights are never easy, but Mom’s proved to be especially draining. Our good friend and fellow board member, Callie, drove her to the airport around 1:30 p.m. EST Tuesday; this morning around 6:30 a.m. EST, my iPhone trilled the arrival of an early-morning email – Mom’s, announcing that she had at last arrived on the other side of the big pond after getting rerouted through our nation’s capital and suffering through a “totally forgettable” overnight sardine imitation in economy class.

Despite her rough night of “sleep” in a sardine can, though, Mom had a busy first day at the University of London’s Royal Holloway College. She quickly stumbled upon the first organizing meeting of the Batten Disease International Alliance. Though she hadn’t been aware of the meeting, the woman at the registration table “knew” Taylor’s Tale and urged Mom to attend the meeting.

Outside of the meeting, Mom also had the opportunity to catch up with some familiar faces.

The venue itself is wonderful – a very old, grand campus (in Mom’s words – kind of “Harry Potter-ish!”) coalesced with a modern conference center, all in an incredibly compact setting. The building was constructed in the 1800s as a women’s college and christened by Queen Victoria. There was a reception in a grand gallery filled with beautiful paintings. Mom commented that the conference is very well attended (sold out, in fact) and that 40-plus family members are expected to join the scientists (well, and hard-core family members like Mom!) on Friday.

More to come soon!

Royal Holloway

Breaking Through

By Laura Edwards
Beverly Davidson, PhD, and her research team at the University of Iowa have discovered a way to cross the blood brain barrier and deliver therapeutic molecules directly into the brain. This is work that is historic for all of medical science – work that will touch the lives of countless people suffering from the NCLs (commonly known as Batten disease), all other lysosomal storage diseases, and possibly other neurological diseases.
Thanks to Dr. Davidson, her team and all of the talented researchers out there who fight day in and day out for the lives of children like Taylor. We are infinitely closer to a cure than we were just a few short years ago; by supporting organizations like Taylor’s Tale, you can help ensure that crucial research continues. We won’t stop fighting until we’ve unlocked the greatest gift of all.
Click here to read the University of Iowa press release for additional details.

Notes from Germany

By Laura Edwards

Mom is in Hamburg, Germany to represent Taylor’s Tale at the 12th International Congress on Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinoses (NCL). Each day through June 6, check out my blog for updates from this gathering of the world’s top Batten disease experts – those who represent our greatest hope for preserving the dreams of children like Taylor.

Mom didn’t make it to the University today after her longer-than-expected journey over the Atlantic. After flying the first leg to Dulles in Washington, DC, she watched through the window as Air Force One headed down the runway en route to the Middle East. Her own flight was late getting into London, and when she finally touched down in Hamburg, she traveled to her hotel without her luggage, which opted for a longer layover in London and still had not made it to Germany when I last heard from her. Chilly weather greeted Mom – people dressed in jackets and turtlenecks, and no one wore strappy sandals like those that hit the streets in Charlotte well over a month ago.
We’re about seven hours behind Hamburg, but I’ll make an effort to post updates as quickly as possible throughout the duration of the conference. Mom’s alarm should be going off shortly – the first session starts in a few short hours, and you’d better believe she’ll be there.

Light Years and Stars in the Sky

By Laura Edwards

I just came across a headline on the Web announcing that scientists have discovered a “nearly Earth-sized planet” some 20 light years away, dubbed Gliese 581 e. Though it was immediately discounted as a habitable world due to its proximity to the nearest star, Gliese 581 e gave scientists who study the universe renewed confidence in the idea that we really might not be all alone, after all.

Reading the article made me remember a night I shared with my dad when I was around 9 years old – younger than Taylor is today.
For about five years, we were Snowflake and Running Wolf, part of the Miwok tribe in the YMCA’s Indian Guides program. My favorite memories are of the weekends we spent at Camp Thunderbird, just over the state line in South Carolina, and Camp Cheerio, nestled in the rolling mountains of western North Carolina. This particular moment took place one crisp fall evening at Camp Cheerio, in a field just beyond the rec hall where all of the other girls and their dads were watching an animated movie on a big projector screen.
That fall, I was the oldest girl in my tribe and on the verge of aging out of the program, and I stuck my head into the rec hall just long enough to determine that the movie selection for the night was too childish for me. That was just fine by Dad, and he suggested we go out to the field and count stars instead. For the first time in the 17-plus years since that night, I can feel the soil and the grass under my back and the light breeze that danced across our faces and the brim of the too-large baseball cap that held my long hair back out of my eyes. I can see the peppering of solitary stars and the Milky Way spray-painted across the black night sky.
Just as anyone who’s ever gazed up at the stars and let their imagination run free, Dad and I talked about the remote worlds suspended above us and the possibility of life – intelligent beings, even – populating them. And though we had no telescope large enough to gaze upon their oceans and mountains and civilizations – and though we had no camera advanced enough to even capture the magic of the stars as they appeared over the camp that night – we had no reason not to believe that those worlds could exist. And so, though my back remained snugly against the earth for the hour or so that we spent in the field, my memory of the moment was preserved all these years not by the smell of the slightly damp grass or the slight chill in the air or the faint voices drifting from the rec hall into the still evening beyond, but by the worlds to which we traveled in our minds and the excitement we felt in our hearts when we arrived there.
Nearly 18 years later, we are still searching for extraterrestrial life, though the telescopes are much larger and the cameras much more advanced than those that represented the very best in 1991. And all these years later, we are still searching for a cure to the disease that was first observed in four child siblings in a small mining community in Norway in 1826. But like the progress being made by scientists with NASA and other research teams, such as the Geneva University (Switzerland) group that discovered Gliese 581 e, amazing advancements are being made right now in the study of all of the various disorders that make up neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis. As part of a family that has been deeply affected by Batten disease, I am always searching for answers. And whether they are to be found by the medical community’s equivalent of a super telescope or in the most unexpected way – perhaps by a chance sighting of a comet as it streaks across the sky – they WILL be found, and in the thirty-three months that I’ve been in THIS field, this field of Batten disease, I’ve seen more stars than I could have ever imagined in the earliest days of our knowledge of Taylor’s plight. And if we could come to be more familiar with those stars, as I believe we are so close to doing, then – and only then – would I realize my greatest dream of all – one not of life like ours on other worlds, but of a life for children like Taylor in THIS world.