|Sam and Henry|
We just returned last night from the CRF Day of Hope family conference in Newport Beach, California. This was our second time as a whole family, and it is the highlight of the year, even bigger than Christmas! Nancy and Geoff Stack go all out to make the families feel welcome, comfortable, educated, and, most importantly, full of hope that life for people with cystinosis will get better and better. There were 40 families that attended this year, and it was like going to a big family reunion.
We chose to drive again because it's just easier for us to deal with screaming children in our own car than on a crowded airplane. It's also nice to have constant access to snacks (Lars's favorite word) and have room to bring blankets and sleeping pads and basically anything else we feel like cramming in our car. The boys made sure to bring their new stuffed animal dogs they got from Ashton's grandma, Jackie.
The conference kicked off with dinner at the Balboa Bay Resort. It's a fantastic evening where we see old friends and meet new ones while our children run wild (despite parental instructions). It's amazing to watch the kids together. Sam reconnected with Henry Sturgis immediately, and also had fun playing with Jackson Blum and Andrew Cunningham and chasing Tina Flerchinger. We were all pretty worn out that night from traveling, and went to bed right after medicine time.
|Sam and his buddies Henry Sturgis, Andrew Cunningham and Jackson Blum.|
Friday morning we had breakfast and then dropped the kids off with the babysitters. This is one of the things we love the most. Lars was in heaven with the huge snack table and unlimited opportunities to scribble with markers. Sam loved playing with all his buddies and seeing Spiderman.The conference started with all the families circling up, and we each got to get up and share what our wishes are for our loved ones with cystinosis. Ashton wished that Sam would be able to fulfill all his dreams, and that Lars would never need a kidney transplant. I wished that they would both have long and happy lives. Sam wished that Lars would become a Greek soldier, and wished for himself to become a spy. We put our wishes on paper cutouts shaped like flowers and put them all up on a large tree representing our cystinosis family. It was really a beautiful symbol. The best moment of the morning was when Kevin Partington lifted up his sleeve to show off the prototype patch that Ghanashyam Acharya has been working on for the last year as a better way to deliver cysteamine. Ashton and I both started crying when we saw that. There were a lot of tears shed in general that morning.
The rest of Friday we went to talks by the different researchers and physicians in the cystinosis community. Dr. Grimm gave a fantastic lecture on living with Fanconi syndrome, and Dr. Mak got everyone excited about the potential benefits of Vitamin D on muscle wasting. Dr. Dohil described the research related to GI issues in cystinosis, including the development of Proscysbi. Dr. Sergio Catz talked about a novel mechanism for improving removal of cystine from lysosomes, which involves trafficking by a protein called Rab27. He's looking for an existing drug that would induce Rab expression, forcing lysosomes to fuse with the cell membrane and dump their contents. It sounds like a pretty cool adjunctive therapy to enhance the effects of cysteamine.
Dr. Cherqui gave us an update on her progress with the autologous stem cell transplant project, and said she hopes to have a clinical trial in 2-3 years. Dr. Jennifer Simpson and Dr. Ghanashyam Acharya gave updates on their nanowafer delivery system for corneal cystinosis, which should be in a clinical trial soon. Then Dr. Acharya spent just a few minutes talking about the development of the patch, which is very exciting. All of these talks were followed by a question and answer session with the physicians and researchers, and then a brainstorming session for parents to discuss solutions to common problems like eating, bedwetting, etc.
|Spiderman and Cinderella came to visit. Sam was probably more interested in Cinderella.|
Saturday we resumed meetings and heard from Dr. Grimm again about kidney transplants, which was a very helpful and educational talk. Who knew that cats were so dangerous for transplant patients?! It's a good thing we're a dog family. And it turns out cystinosis patients keep their transplants longer, probably because of the anti-scarring properties of cysteamine use. We also heard from Dr. Doris Trauner on neurologic issues in cystinosis, and Dr. Angela Ballantyne, who talked about practical ways of dealing with neurologic, behavioral and educational issues, as well as quality of life.
Then we heard from the real giants, the adult/teen panel. Bailey, Joe, Jennifer, Shannon Keizer, Natalie, Tom, Mack, Bryan and Shannon Paju all shared inspiring insights about growing up, going to school, working, and living with cystinosis. Some of the most interesting confessions surrounded medication compliance, which underscores the importance of better drugs like Procysbi to improve medical adherence. We ended the session with another family discussion where people shared the challenges and silver linings of their journeys with cystinosis. There was a lot more happy crying and hope. We started talking about the "Power of Awesome," when Erin Little surprised Nancy Stack with a beautiful quilt of the Day of Hope Tree, with pieces of fabric sent in by families from around the world. That was pretty cool.
Saturday night was the big Natalie's Wish event, which is always incredible. We got to present our check from Sam's Hope for a Cure, which included money raised in 2012 with our first letter campaign fundraiser, as well as the money raised in 2013 by Mary Ann Franson with her garage sale, totaling $15,560. We were so impressed by how much other families, like the Sturgis, Flerchinger, Cunningham and Partington families brought in -- over $600,000 combined! We had an excellent dinner and got to sit with the Smethhurst family from Logan and the Head family from the Seattle area. A big highlight was seeing the new 2014 movie, which featured Hadley Alexander and her family. We were surprised and delighted to see some clips of Sam and Lars in the video as well (even if it included a traumatic blood draw!) Altogether the event raised almost $2.3 million for cystinosis research, and thanks to the generosity of the Stack family, every single dollar will go to research.
It was hard to leave. That night Sam said, "I want to go to the babysitters tomorrow so I can play with my friends. I don't want to go home." We spent the 11 hour drive home yesterday brainstorming on ways we can raise more money and help the cystinosis community. We are definitely counting down the days until next year.