Tag Archives: Spooner Family

Two NUBPL Families Meet For First Time, 2,000 miles apart

A little over two years ago, we received Katherine’s results for Whole Exome Sequencing (WES), giving us a name, NUBPL, to the disease that was a mystery to her doctors and is responsible for the atrophy of her cerebellum. Although we finally knew the name of the mutated gene, and that it was considered a rare form of Mitochondrial Complex 1 Deficiency, we didn’t know much more than that. In fact, at the time we quickly learned that her disease was recently discovered.

Although we were elated to receive a diagnosis, we realized that we didn’t know how the disease would affect Katherine’s life. Her doctor had never seen another patient with NUBPL, so he didn’t have much to tell us in terms of disease progression.

We searched the Internet looking for any information we could find, which included a couple of scientific articles citing six patients from 5 unrelated families. From these articles, we learned more about the patients, including sex, age, country of origin, clinical signs, MRI details, when and if they walked independently, and cognitive function. We had no way of contacting any of these families without knowing their names or doctors. We didn’t even have a photograph.

I felt like a detective scouring the Internet hoping to find a clue. I started tagging everything we shared with “NUBPL” and searched the Internet several times a day for a signal from anyone out there who had this disease. I posted in Facebook groups and wrote blog posts, anything I could think of that might put us in contact with another family with this same disease.

Just a few weeks later, I was looking through posts on the Global Genes Facebook page when I noticed a post from a mom sharing a link to a documentary about their 14-year journey to a diagnosis for both her daughters who were diagnosed with NUBPL. As I watched the documentary, tears rolled down my face as I picked up the phone to call Dave to tell him I’d found another family. And that they looked happy and one was walking independently. After living with a misdiagnosis for nearly two years of a quickly fatal disease, I’ll never forget the moment that I saw the smiling face of a 16-year old girl with same disease as Katherine.

Everything is about perspective in this life. After being told that my child was going to die by the age of seven, that first glimpse at Cali Spooner’s face added  years to my child’s life. In her photograph I saw Katherine smiling back at the camera. For the first time, I saw Katherine as a teenager.

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And then I saw Ryaan Spooner’s face and recognized my Katherine in her as well. And she could walk independently. Their body types were even similar.

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The Spooner Family

I got off the phone with Dave and contacted their mom, Cristy, who responded immediately and we’ve been in contact ever since. She put us in touch with their doctor at UC-Irvine, Dr. Virginia Kimonis, who was growing fibroblasts to learn more about the disease. We contacted Dr. Kimonis and sent Katherine’s skin biopsy for research.

Last week, our family traveled to California to attend the first NUBPL Family Conference at UC-Irvine and to spend time with the Spooner Family.

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We heard from several researchers and toured the lab where they have been growing our daughter’s fibroblasts.

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And a few days later, we were able to introduce our girls to one another for the very first time.

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Both of our families instantly hit it off as we watched our girls play together. We were all sad that the night had to end and we had to go back to living on opposite coasts.

Katherine and Ryaan share a love of dolls and both are fiercely determined and independent. They are very similar in many ways. Katherine watched Ryaan walk independently, which she learned to do at Katherine’s age (they are two years apart). After seeing Ryaan walking, Katherine is now determined more than ever that she’s going to do the same. And I know she will.

Our girls are three of 11 NUBPL patients identified in the world. After spending time with The Spooner Family, I am reassured more than ever that we will find more NUBPL families in the future. These things take time and we are just getting started.

We are two families brought together through science, hope, love, and a fierce determination to give our girls the best chance possible at life. Where science hasn’t caught up, we will fund the research ourselves through our non-profits. Where there are barriers to diagnosing more patients in the future, we will spend our time to eliminate those barriers. And when we cannot find those patients as they are diagnosed, we will do everything we can to make sure they can find us.

As our families were spending time together in California, a mom with two daughters made contact with both of us. Yes, I am hopeful that we will grow our NUBPL community.

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NUBPL – Mitochondrial Complex 1

IMG_6825As many of you have already heard, KB was recently diagnosed with NUBPL – a rare form of Mitochondrial Complex 1 disorder. We cannot say enough good things about the genetic testing company, GeneDx, that provided the Whole Exome Sequencing. They have a very generous financial assistance policy (FAP) that allows them to work with patients on their out-of-pocket-costs, which is such a blessing on this financially strenuous journey.

We are pleased to let you know that since being diagnosed with NUBPL we have found another family with two daughters, Cali and Ryaan, with this same disorder. From the moment we watched their video, The Life We Live, and saw their photographs, we knew we found our community. What’s more is they are a wonderful family who shares the same passion for their family and drive to find a cure. They introduced us to their doctor, Virginia Kimonis, University of California Irvine, who has discussed her research with us. Here’s a wonderful article about Dr. Kimonis and The Spooner Family. We have spoken at length with Dr. Kimonis and are planning a trip to California to meet with her team and The Spooners.

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The Spooner Family

At this time, we have just three patients from the United States – Cali, Ryaan, and Katherine Belle. We are very hopeful we will find others in time. For now, together we face the monumental task of privately funding NUBPL research. Both families agree we will not let financial obstacles stand in the way of helping our children. We have created a NUBPL.org site and Facebook page to facilitate the search for other NUBPL patients and raise funds. Please take a moment to view our new site and Facebook page and share with your networks. A special thanks to Matt Might for the shout out in his informative post, Discovering new diseases with the internet: How to find a matching patient.

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Ryaan, 6
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Katherine Belle, 3

Last week we learned the wonderful news that KB has been accepted for the U.S. National Institutes of Health EPI 743 clinical study. We feel very blessed to be in this study and are quite hopeful this drug will greatly improve her mitochondrial function. We are hopeful that Cali and Ryaan will be admitted to this trial in the future.