Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How the Histiocytosis Association of America supports JXG research by Jeff Toughill

It is so wonderful to see how this special group has come together in support of JXG patients. A BIG thank you to Maria Jose Diaz Frias for making this happen. As a parent of a child with Langerhans cell histiocytosis and the Founder and President of the Histiocytosis Association I am well aware of how hard this is to accomplish. In my case, it was the support of friends and family that helped give birth to our Association. I can see that Maria has had the same experience. I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about the Histiocytosis Association and what we are doing to find better treatments and a cure for JXG. As you may know, the histiocytoses are a group of disorders that are related to each other. Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH) is the most prevalent and the other forms; JXG, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), rosai dorfman (RD) and Erdheim Chester (ECD) are considered to be even rarer. Even though they may have different names physicians and scientists have found that there is similarity in the way these diseases affect patients and the problem cells involved. The Histiocytosis Association (www.histio.org) is funding scientific work that we anticipate will lead to cures for all these related diseases. Even though a scientist is studying cells in Langerhans cell histiocytosis what he or she learns can possibly be related to JXG, ECD, HLH or RD.
Like the National Institutes of Health the Association’s Board of Trustees understands that “revolutionary ideas often come from unexpected directions”. Once a year, the Association sends out an announcement to physicians and scientists around the world asking them to submit their best work to the Association. We list a variety of interests in the announcement and specifically include JXG. After all the applications are received they are reviewed and scored by the Histiocyte Society’s Scientific Committee. The grants then receive a second review and scoring by the scientific members of the Association’s Board of Trustees. This competitive process ensures that we are funding the best research with the best possibility of increasing knowledge.
In addition to funding grant awards we have been very successful in ensuring that the Histiocyte Society includes all of the rarer histiocytic disorders, including JXG in their studies. I have been very active when communicating with the Society that even though some of these diseases are even rarer we must find a cure for ALL of them. The Histiocyte Society is an international group of over 200 physicians and scientists from around the world who are studying these disorders. We have been working with the Histiocyte Society to establish a Rarer Histiocytic Disorders Registry that will collect data on patients with JXG, RD, ECD and, adult LCH. The Association has funded the start-up costs however the it will take several months for the registry to become active. We still need to work out how to cover the on-going costs and comply with the legal requirements of other countries. I want to ensure all JXG patients that the Association is working very hard to find better treatments and a cure for JXG. This site will be an important vehicle for the Association to share information with all of you. If you haven’t already, please feel free to join the Association so that we can keep you informed about our activities. It’s also important to raise funds for research. As a rare disease it is only through the work of families and friends that research can be funded.
Thank you for this opportunity to tell you how the Association is working for you.

Jeffrey M. Toughill
President of the Histiocytosis Association of America

Saturday, July 17, 2010

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE (5 month old)

When Santi was almost five month old, one of my dearest girlfriends sent me an email that only had an attachment that looked like a wine bottle label, I thought she made a mistake. When she called me in the afternoon to tell me that she spoke with a very knowledgeable doctor in Buenos Aires (the capital of my home country) about Santiago’s condition and that he told her that he had a treatment for us. My heart stopped. She said that he was a very well respected doctor and he had been helping her family for years. The wine label attachment that I could not read was his name with all the medical specialties he practices and there were many!. After my initial excitement, I asked my girlfriend if she told him specifically that Santi was diagnosed with JXG (if she actually used the right name?) and she said yes! I told her that I was astonished because all the doctors we had talked with in the U.S. (two very well known dermatologist and one excellent oncologist) said that there was no treatment and we just needed to wait. She gave me the doctor’s email address and said that he would be expecting my email. I thanked her deeply because even if it did not work, she took the time and the effort to make the connection and I knew she had only our best interest at heart. As I was writing the email to the doctor, it occurred to me that he must have thought that Santiago had a systemic version of JXG, and therefore, he would most likely recommend chemotherapy or radiation. I also thought that maybe he was into homeopathic or organic medicine, which I was open to. I finished the emailed, attached several pictures of Santi’s lesions and hit send with a lot of hope and fear of disappointment. The doctor emailed me that same afternoon and confirmed that he had treated cases of JXG and he could help us. He said that his treatment would have Santiago lesion free between 4 to 6 months at the latest! and he warned me that without treatment the lesions not always regress on their own. He then said that if I agreed to the treatment, I should send him $3,000 via Western Union. I froze! I was thrilled to imagine that the JXG nightmare could disappear in months instead of years, but I could not help noticing his lack of treatment details and the very high price (especially considering that the Argentinean peso/dollar exchange rate is 4 to 1). I emailed him back asking for more specific info about the treatment and I received a response the following morning. He said that the he uses Quantec Technology, Quantum Physics applied to remote healing and gave me a few links. I read all of them and I could not understand how it worked. Nonetheless, I knew someone that would, a very smart and successful Physics and Material Science Professor, my husband. When my spouse came home that afternoon, I told him the full background of the situation. He looked at me with love and some sadness and said: “Babe, this sounds like a scam. There is not such a thing as remote healing with Quantum Physics”. I repeated to him that the doctor was very respected and known in Argentina and that our friend’s family had been seeing him for years. It could not be a sting!. On my insistence, my husband agreed on reading the links and emailing the doctor requesting more in-depth information. We indicated this time that Physics is my husband's area of expertise and ask the doctor not to spare any technical details. We received another email full of links and with the mention of important universities such as Princeton and University of Granada. Once more, I could not make sense of these articles, my English was not good enough to read this level of science, so I asked for my husband’s help. “It is not your English babe, this is just mumbo-jambo using physic words but it does not make sense to me either. Plus, I know the guys at Princeton and this is not what they are working on. We gotta report this doctor to the Argentinean authorities!. I told him that I would not do that because of my friendship. I was devastated that the magical solution was shattered. The following morning still not ready to let go, I emailed the doctor for a last chance, asking if there was a guarantee for his treatment. As usual, he replied pretty quickly and this time he was furious! He said that Americans are used to get guarantees for everything, but his treatment was not like a pair of shoes that could be returned to the store if they did not fit. He was offended by my questions and he told me that he was an honorable doctor who has helped many people during his career and he had nothing to prove. He even went further and said that he understood now why Santiago got JXG. It was my husband’s and my bad energy that has caused it. So now, in order to heal Santiago, he would need to treat us too! He finished his email saying that he would keep the same price for the treatment of the 3 of us, just because he wanted to help our baby and he repeated the address where to send the money to. I was full with rage, I wanted this guy in jail now!. After a few days to calm down, I called my girlfriend to let her know what happened. She was very surprised by the doctor’s conduct but still swore to me of his honesty and capabilities. She trusted him with her own kids and her faith in him was so profound that she told me: “..but if you were rich, and you could spare $3,000 easily. Wouldn't you do it? I know I would”. After thinking a few seconds I replied: “No, I would not. If I had that money to spare, I would give it to Dr. McCain at Texas’ Childrens Hospital and the Histio Heroes Research Fund that are conducting the first JXG Registry in the country. It will not be a magical solution or a quick one, but when they get it (and I know they will), it will be a true answer.

*In honor to the relentless work that Dr. McCain, Dr. Allen and their teams have done to find answers and cures to histiocytic disorders.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

JXG CHAMPS (30 week old)

Becoming aware of other family’s JXG stories has been one of the most crucial components in accepting my baby’s condition. When we just received the news of Santiago’s diagnosis and we started to investigate what the doctors meant by a “rare disease”, a horrible feeling of isolation and fear came upon us. I remember reading medical papers and explaining what was happening to us to other people and wishing there was another human being that I could talk to and had gone through the same. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it is with tears of joy that I announce today the launch of our “JXG Champs” section. I know from experience that it is not an easy step for any of the parents to open up to the world and post their child’s journey with JXG. We give a lot of thought to the risks and rewards involved in the process and it is not a decision that can be made lightly. We all want to support each other and help other families struggling with this disease, but we must protect our kid’s privacy and we know we are running the risk of our intentions being misinterpreted or having people feel sorry for us. Yet at the end, we bet on the bright side of life. It took a lot of effort and courage from many people to be where we are today and I do not take it for granted. My hat is off to each of the families that share the story of their little hero. Their love and relentless fight cause nothing but admiration, respect and optimism in my heart. I hope it does the same for you!

*My deepest gratitude to Carolina Soza who created this beautiful logo for our group.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

TAKING ACTION (23 week old)

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of Cutaneous JXG is dealing with the feeling of powerlessness over this condition. Once the biopsy results come back and the doctor explains what it is and says: “we are going to keep a close eye on it” (meaning a follow up every 3 month with him and another one with the ophthalmologist), we think: “that’s it?. It can’t be”. So, most of us get home and launch into the internet to conduct our own research. After we absorb tons of info to the point that our brains become like mushrooms and we confirm that the doctor was right, we are still not satisfied. Now we look for a 2nd, a 3rd and even a 4th opinion! Besides some differences in tests (some doctors order more than others), they all tell us the same: “Wait. Be patient. It will go away in a few years” and this time our inner voice whispers “easier to say than to do”. After I posted a few articles on this blog, many of my dearest friends asked how they could help? What they could do?. Besides telling them to donate money in honor of Santiago to the Histiocytosis Association of America or the Histio Heroes Research Fund I did not know what else to offer. At that point that was the only thing I did but I knew it should be more. The last couple of weeks I searched other organizations and I discovered many other ways to fight back. I was ecstatic to see that so many people around the country are working very hard to find a cure and that I did not need to re-invent the wheel. I just needed to create a place where all these wonderful ideas could be easily accessed and this is how the “Take Action” section of the blog was born. As indicated there, some of these avenues do not take more than two minutes and many of them are free. I have tried all of them and even though some have not paid back yet, they made me feel empowered and not alone. I understand that all these efforts will not have a direct impact on my baby’s condition but they will help someone else's child in the future and that is a great sensation to have. In those days when it is obvious that impatience is winning the battle, my husband says: “Remember babe, a watched pot never boils” and a smile is drawn in my face immediately. Hopefully, by taking part in some of these efforts, we will not feel like the JXG pot takes forever to bubble.