Thursday, May 30, 2013

Finally: A Name - Nolan has a Diagnosis

Nolan is happy and playing again, much to my relief. He had a very tough weekend, which involved extreme bloating, an inability to eat, and vomiting. By Saturday he was so weak, he slept most of the day. Zofran did stop the vomiting for a period of time, thank goodness. I was so grateful to have the prescription!

We had his blood tests drawn on Thursday of last week, and I was grateful to get that part of the process done and over with. On Friday, the hospital lab called and stated they didn't get enough blood. Nolan was very brave and didn't cry when he had to get another poke for that last tube of blood.

I took him to the rheumatologist on Wednesday. She went over his blood work, which was mostly normal (some mild elevations or low levels, but basically normal). His AST level, which is often elevated, was normal for this round of testing.

They tested him for mutations in his MTHFR gene. What is the MTHFR gene, you may ask? The long name is methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, because you totally wanted to know that information. In any case, there were two mutations tested. Nolan has a mutation known as A1298C (two copies of the aberrant gene). He does not have the other gene (C677T). People who have both mutant genes often have many health problems, but since Nolan only has one "off" gene, he is likely unaffected by the mutation. It is interesting information to have, but not particularly enlightening for his current subset of symptoms. If you are interested, you can read more about this particular mutation here.

The rheumatologist tested his joints and noted his soft skin and bruises on his legs. His elbows hyperextend. His knees, ankles, toes, fingers, hips, and shoulders were assessed... basically, if Nolan has a joint, it bends more than it should. 

Taking his symptoms together, a picture forms. 

Hyperextensible joints
Obstructive sleep apnea
Laryngomalacia (floppy airway)
Acid reflux
Hearing loss 
Heart murmur (mitral valve)
Severe astigmatism
Soft, velvety skin

Nolan has been diagnosed with the Classic form of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). 

The only symptom not covered by this diagnosis is his posterior urethral valves, which are likely not connected to his other problems (he was hit by lightening twice).

His hearing loss level is not typical for EDS. The type of hearing loss associated with EDS is often conductive and mild-moderate. Nolan's hearing loss is mixed in the low frequencies and sensorineural in the high frequencies - and the level is moderately severe to severe. His progressive hearing loss is unusual for EDS.

EDS is a connective tissue disorder - Nolan's body doesn't have properly formed collagen. Every tissue that contains collagen will be fragile and weaker than it should be. His stomach doesn't contract as it should because the tissue is weak. His eyes have an odd shape because the eyes rely on collagen to keep their shape. 

He is already developing arthritis in his ankles.

He fatigues easily because of his loose joints. Since the blood vessels are also made out of collagen, blood has a tendency to pool in Nolan's legs as he walks. This can cause dizziness and fatigue (on top of the fatigue caused by the loose joints). He can't walk as far, or as fast, as a typical child his age. If we are going somewhere that requires a lot of walking, he will require mobility assistance.

His rheumatologist is going to get his brain MRI's to look for chiari malformation again. She wants to make sure they ruled it out, since children with EDS often have chiari malformations and can have a specific type of hydrocephalus.

In the meantime, we are treating his symptoms as they arise. There is no cure for EDS, so we can only help him symptomatically. Having a diagnosis means everything, despite the lack of a "cure:"

  • Future airway surgeries are likely to be unsuccessful with this disorder. The tissues around his larynx are likely to continue to prolapse. With a diagnosis, we can avoid unnecessary surgery.
  • We know that Nolan's inability to walk and leg pain is not a behavioral problem or "growing pains," and that he is in significant pain and must receive assistance when walking.
  • He must avoid contact sports to prevent permanent damage to his joints.
  • His heart must be monitored. Some people with EDS are prone to aortic root dilation and most develop mitral valve prolapse. Nolan has a heart murmur in the location of his mitral valve, though an echocardiogram was "normal" when he was three. In light of this diagnosis, it is likely that he will have mitral valve prolapse.
  • He needs to keep his hydration levels up to help prevent fatigue. His doctor wrote a note to keep gatorade at his desk during school hours.
  • We know his gastroparesis is unlikely to improve.
  • We are to give Zofran the minute we think he might start vomiting, rather than waiting for the vomiting attack to begin.
In any case, we are glad to have a diagnosis for the little guy. We can be proactive to keep him as healthy as possible and try to limit the damage to his joints. I do wish we had this diagnosis prior to attempting the second supraglottoplasty, though!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pediatric Rheumatologist: Finding Answers

We had a visit with Nolan's new doctor today - a pediatrician and a pediatric rheumatologist. Nolan's leg pain can be excruciating at times, occurs during the day and night, and can affect either leg. He often complains of knee pain, though sometimes it is the entire leg that hurts. He conveniently had an attack the other night and I recorded it:

And then, of course, there are all of the other issues. The progressive laryngomalacia with obstructive apnea, the lingering central apnea, the gastroparesis and vomiting attacks, the reflux, the posterior urethral valves, the vision, the progressive hearing loss, and the fatigue.

We saw the new doctor and went over his history. The first thing she did when she heard about the vomiting attacks was to ask us if we had a supply of Zofran on hand. For a child with a Nissen Fundoplication and cyclic vomiting issues, Zofran is a magic bullet to stop the vomiting. No prior doctor has offered it to us before - she had written the script before I could say "no, we don't have that at home." We now have a script for Zofran to keep on hand - if he starts vomiting again, we can give him the Zofran and (hopefully) halt the vomiting attack.

She then did a physical exam. She looked into his ears and saw the 2 tubes in his right ear and 1 tube in his left ear. She looked into his eyes and then started moving him around a bit. She showed me a few "fun tricks" Nolan can do.

His fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, hips, and knees bent ways that joints should not really bend.

While we were aware that he had some hypermobility in his hands, we were told a year ago that it was limited to his small joints. Now all of his joints are affected, and his knees and hips are extremely "loose." They are so loose that they can slip out of joint and dislocate. The awful knee pain Nolan gets is likely due to a dislocation. One way to get the joint back into position is to pull on his leg... this is probably the reason Nolan yells, "Pull my leg! Pull my leg OFF!" when he has leg issues. He has had one incident where his leg locked into a bent position and he was in agony - this was due to a dislocation of his knee. The rest of his pain comes from a type of arthritis caused by hypermobility.

Now, of course, we have to ask the question of why Nolan has extremely loose joints, hearing loss, digestive problems, fatigue, progressive laryngomalacia, etc.

Typically, a neuromuscular disorder or connective tissue disorder is the underlying cause.

The first thing the doctor is going to do is to request a copy of Nolan's brain MRI from when he was 2 years old. He fits the profile of a child with Chiari Malformation. While the MRI supposedly had "ruled out" this problem, they only scanned his brain. Apparently, the spine should also be surveyed to absolutely rule out Chiari. We may have to repeat an MRI - but the rheumatologist is going to review the CD's of Nolan's MRIs to see how much of the brain stem and cervical spine they managed to scan.

There are several other possibilities, and lab work has been ordered to rule out autoimmune conditions. A CPK has been ordered to rule out muscular dystrophies, and another test has been ordered for a gene called MTHFR (which can cause a host of various chronic diseases). This round of lab work may not give us an answer, but it will rule out several things so we can focus on other options. Of course, we may not get "The Answer," but many things make more sense now.

Nolan will have difficulty walking long distance and will become fatigued more easily than other children. His body requires more energy just to keep his joints in alignment and functioning than a typical child. The digestive system and laryngomalacia make more sense, too - those systems also rely on muscle tone and/or proper collagen formation to function properly. Nolan's severe astigmatism also fits into this picture - the eyes require proper connective tissue formation to keep their proper shape. The hearing loss doesn't quite fit into the picture yet, though several connective tissue disorders (and neuromuscular disorders) are associated with hearing loss.

As a side note, Matthew probably has a milder form of the same disorder. Children with these disorders often suffer from constipation (as Matt does) because the colon cannot keep its proper shape and doesn't "rebound" like a typical person's colon. He also has the reflux and late-onset laryngomalacia.

In any case, we will have the lab work done for Nolan and will see the specialist again next week. Even if we don't get a name, at least we will have tried and we know the general "category" of disorder that Nolan has.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Still Here, Just Incredibly Busy!

We have been so busy in the past 2 months. Some of the "busy" has come from medical appointments, but baseball/tee ball games, Piano Guild, and simply playing outside in the good weather has kept us hopping over the past few weeks.

On the "medical" side of life, Nolan's stridor has already returned post-surgery. Some nights he is quiet, and on other nights he is noisy. We have no idea if there is apnea associated with the "noise." Stridor is fine as long as he isn't dropping oxygen saturation numbers. Nolan will have a sleep study on June 23 to determine how he is faring.

Nolan had a vision appointment, and that went very well. His vision is now correcting to 20/20 in both eyes! When we first started treatment, his vision was 20/80 in the poorer eye (corrected vision - this means his vision was 20/80 when he was wearing glasses). Some people have asked if Nolan will continue to have to wear glasses, and the answer is "yes." He must wear them full time, or else the eyes may "separate" again (he could lose vision in the amblyopic eye). He is also nearsighted, and nearsightedness does not improve in children. The typical course for myopia in childhood is for it to worsen, as the eye lengthens as the child grows.

He has had to come home once from school, and was ill at school twice over the past month. This was not due to a virus, but caused by his gastroparesis. His stomach was bloated and he didn't tolerate his night feeds. This is a problem that we are monitoring, but he is growing and managing to do well overall. We take the bad days in stride and carry on.

We also had Nolan's IEP meeting, which will have its own post (because this one is getting too long)!

On the hearing front, things are looking good. He's only had one infection in the right ear since he had his fifth set of tubes placed in October 2012. His hearing levels were stable, with some improvement in the low frequencies (he had been testing at 75dB in the low frequencies, and he has returned to 60-65dB). We still cannot get aided testing performed, and have had no luck in finding an audiology location that will do real-ear measurements or aided testing. Nolan has some articulation errors due to this issue (he cannot discriminate "sh" from "ch," for example) - the articulation errors are minor and most people can understand him most of the time. He does quite well, despite being aided to only 40-45dB in the high frequencies (aided testing was performed at Buffalo Children's, but they cannot adjust his hearing aids).

 Nolan's right ear improved from 75dB at 500-1000 Hz to 60dB. His left ear, however, decreased from 45-50dB at 2,000-4,000 Hz to 55dB. His right ear drops to severe (70dB) at this level. His ears tend to "catch up" to each other over time. 

Nolan is able to detect spoken sound when it is at a volume of 50-55dB. He cannot comprehend words until they are between 85-96dB in volume. His aided hearing was not evaluated.

We have an appointment with the pediatric specialist in Buffalo on May 22. I am anxious to have the doctor take a good look at Nolan and determine what is causing his leg pain (and hopefully put some of the puzzle pieces together to figure out what is going on with our boys)!

Matthew is still having difficulty with his sleep apnea, and we will see the ENT for his tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy follow-up on June 3. He is on Prilosec and hopefully that will help with the inflammation in his esophagus/airway. Matthew still struggles with severe constipation and we saw a GI doctor in Rochester to try and sort the problem out. They believe he struggles with motility issues (in the same way Nolan does, but lower down in the GI tract). He is on an aggressive medication regime in the attempt to get the problem under control. There is some concern that he might have eosinophilic esophagitis (the concern is there with Nolan, too). This is an allergic condition where white blood cells called eosinophils attack the esophagus. This would explain Nolan's weird "exudate" during his last procedure, and we know that Nolan has a high eosinophil level from his biopsy. The high levels were blamed on reflux, but we may have to revisit the issue since Matthew also struggles with reflux and inflammation with motility problems. We won't deal with this potential issue until we get Matt's sleep apnea under control.

The appointments should slow down as summer approaches, and we are looking forward to having things quiet down for a few months! Matthew will require another sleep study, and there is a good likelihood that he will need a supraglottoplasty to trim away the floppy airway that prevents him from breathing well at night. Hopefully this will be the LAST procedure this year!