112 posts in the category “Rare Diseases”

Member Kimberly opens up about living with a rare disease

Posted February 28th, 2017 by

Today is Rare Disease Day 2017, and to raise awareness Kimberly (firefly84), a member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors, recently shared some of her experiences living with autonomic neuropathy, a rare disease: “Perhaps you’ve heard the saying ‘when you hear hoof beats, think of horses not zebras,’ but I am the zebra in that herd of horses.”

Kimberly touches on the impact of living with a rare disease, and also what she had to go through to get a diagnosis for her condition. Watch her video to hear what she has to say…

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“We are the ones that know what is required to give us the care we deserve” — Member Ann shares her story for Rare Disease Day

Posted February 29th, 2016 by

 February 29 only comes around every four years – and this year, it’s extra special: Today marks the 9th annual Rare Disease Day. In the United States, a disease is considered rare if it affects less than 200,000 people at any given time.

This year’s theme is all about elevating the patient voice, so we caught up with member Ann (annpkerrigan) to learn more about what it’s like to live with alkaptonuria (AKU), a rare disease that affects 159 PatientsLikeMe members. Here’s what she had to say…

How would you describe AKU to someone who has never heard of it?

I suffer from AKU, which is a rare genetic disease with no cure or treatment but not fatal. This is what I was told six years ago when diagnosed after many years attempting to identify my condition. AKU is a metabolic disease, which causes severe early-onset osteoarthritis. It can be a painful and degenerative disease.

Over the years, I’ve learned to adapt and make changes to my home. I live alone and it’s crucial I can manage everything. Prior to diagnosis my knees were very painful so I moved to a ground floor apartment in Bristol to be closer to work and because using stairs became impossible. My GP referred an occupational therapist to assess my home and she provided equipment to help, like a sock aid and a long-handled comb. She also authorized the council to install a wet room, which provided safety and independence. When my shoulders deteriorated it became painful to change gears when driving so I was able to get an automatic car through the Motability scheme in the UK.

How has your life changed since your diagnosis?

A major problem was washing my hair because I was unable to hold my arms up for any length of time, so I’ve been going to a hairdresser weekly for years. I’ve also lost three inches in height because my spine’s compressed. I’m only five feet now, so I’ve had shelves lowered in my flat and I’m currently saving to adapt my kitchen.

As for work and social life, everything’s changed. I haven’t worked since diagnosis, which coincided with redundancy because of my disease escalating. I contacted The AKU Society in February 2010 and was invited for three days to undergo tests to aid research and to help me. The trip was wonderful because I met experts who understood my disease and I no longer felt isolated. The tests revealed a lesion on my chest and I was referred for a CT scan, which identified a 9cm tumor tucked underneath my breast bone – beside my lungs and heart – which had to be removed. I wasn’t symptomatic and it was thanks to Liverpool this was identified!

The main problem I face is financial. Having left work at 50 I’ve lost a good income and standard of living. I’ve also spent my redundancy on emergencies like a new washing machine, refrigerator and to supplement my income, and have lost 15 years of pension contributions. However, the worst part is knowing there’s no cure, and trying to come to terms with it.

However, the AKU Society’s been brilliant, as has peer support, and I’ve been surgery-free for more than two years. But moving forward, I’m having a right hip replacement in March and carpal tunnel surgery in May. My social life is very different now because there are activities I can’t participate in, and although I’ve always loved to travel this is also difficult now. Essentially, my life has completely changed and while I try to remain positive and independent I sometimes suffer from depression.

What changes do you think need to happen in society to raise awareness about rare diseases like AKU?

AKU is largely an invisible disability – patients look perfectly normal on the outside. I have a blue badge for parking because I need the extra space to get my legs out of the car, and because I have a problem walking, but I’ve been shouted at for parking in a disabled space because I don’t fit the stereotype. So I’d like to see a campaign to highlight the difficulties of invisible disabilities. The government hasn’t helped either because they’ve targeted vulnerable groups in society and labeled the disabled as fraudsters. Families of AKU patients need support, too, and could help each other if a group was established or a forum available.

How can healthcare become more compassionate towards patients with rare diseases?

I’d like to see every newly diagnosed patient given counseling and have an AKU buddy for peer support.

Rare diseases like AKU are known as orphan diseases because they affect a small percentage of the population. As a result, they lack funding and largely remain unknown to government, medical practitioners and the general public. I would love to see a campaign to educate government, medical practitioners and the general public about invisible disabilities and rare diseases. I’ve been involved in teaching third year medical students for the last three years so that they’ll know how to identity AKU earlier and to think outside the box!  Medical practitioners need to listen to their patients and if a patient reports something that doesn’t easily fit a diagnosis, this could be the red flag pointing to a rare condition.

I think patients will start to receive better care once doctors listen and respond quickly, which will come about through teaching, improved resources, funding and changing the mind sets of the public and government. I’d also like to see more partnerships between patients with rare diseases, medical practitioners and government because we are the ones that know what is required to give us the care we deserve. Therefore, we need to educate and inform all the key stakeholders so that they too will become advocates.

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1http://www.rarediseaseday.org/article/what-is-a-rare-disease


Recapping with our Team of Advisors!

Posted June 19th, 2015 by

Many of you will remember meeting our inaugural Team of Advisors from when we first shared about this exciting team last year! This group of 14 were selected from over 500 applicants in the community and have been incredible in their dedication and desire to bring the patient voice directly to PatientsLikeMe. As the team is wrapping up their year-long term as advisors, we wanted to make sure we update the community on all the hard work they’ve done on your behalf!

First Ever In-Person Patient Summit in Cambridge
Your team of patient advisors travelled from all over the country to join us for 2 days here in Cambridge. They met with PatientsLikeMe staff, got a tour of the offices and began their collaboration together as a team!

Blog Series
The advisors have also been connecting with the broader community as part of an ongoing series here on the blog! This is an impressive group and we hope you’ll read through to learn more about the team.  Some of the interviews featured so far include profiles on BeckyLisaDanaEmilieKarla, Deb, AmySteve, Charles, Letitia and Kitty. If you haven’t had the chance to read their stories and what they’re passionate about yet, feel free to check these out!

Best Practices Guide for Researchers
As part of their mission, this group discussed how to make research more patient-centric and ways that researchers can learn to better engage with patients as partners. Out of this work, the team developed and published the ‘Best Practices Guide for Researchers’, a comprehensive written guide outlining steps for how researchers can meaningfully engage patients throughout the research process. You can hear more about the whole process in this exciting video from some members of the team as they discuss their experiences with the creation of this guide:

Community Champions
The advisors have been wonderful community champions throughout the year, providing invaluable feedback about what it’s like to be a person living with chronic conditions and managing their health. This team has weighed in on new research initiatives, served as patient liaisons and been vocal representatives for you and your communities here on PatientsLikeMe. Whether it was sitting down with a research team to give their thoughts on new projects, discussing their experiences with clinical trials, giving feedback about medical record keeping or opening up about patient empowerment – this group has been tireless in representing the patient voice and PatientsLikeMe community!

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Amy

Posted May 13th, 2015 by

We’re been introducing the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors on the blog over the past 6 months, and today, we’re happy to announce Amy, a member living with a rare genetic disease called Fabry. Below, she shares about the importance of being aware of patients as individuals, and how she’s learned to live (and thrive!) with Fabry.

About Amy (aka meridiansb):
Amy is currently on the Patient Advisory Board for Amicus Therapeutics where she serves as a patient voice for researchers as they work to develop a new drug for Fabry Disease. Amy is a great champion to have in your corner, with a self-reported ‘wicked sense of humor’, and passion for connecting others to the right resources and information. She has experience advocating for others as a medical social worker, and believes in the importance of getting to know a patient population, writing materials that they can relate to, and understanding how managing their condition fits into their life as a whole. Her tip for researchers and healthcare professionals: “Remember, not everyone fits into neat categories. Those that fall outside of what’s typical can be an invaluable resource when researching a particular condition.”

Amy on patient centeredness:
“Patient-centeredness means that above all else, you have an awareness of the patient as a unique human being, because diseases don’t exist on their own, they happen to people. It means not always doing what is easiest for the doctor or researcher, but what is appropriate for the individual. It means being open-minded and adaptable, not everyone fits in a neat little box. It means not treating people like they are stupid just because they don’t have a medical degree. People know their own bodies, and live with their condition day in and day out and if doctors and researchers don’t listen they can miss crucial information that can help many. These days people have access to a lot of information, and they want to be treated like partners in their care not problems to be solved seen only through the filter of illness, and certainly not like a nuisance because they have an opinion about things.”

Amy on the Team of Advisors:
“Being a member of the Team of Advisors at PLM has been an incredible experience. Having had to quit school and work due to illness, I felt at times that everything I had achieved was for nothing and that I had nothing to offer to this world, which was beyond discouraging. Being a part of the Team of Advisors has given me a meaningful way to use my knowledge and experience to help shape the way physicians and researchers interact with patients. The first time I sat in a room with the team and the wonderful people at PLM I felt a sense of hopefulness that it was all happening for a reason. It taught me that even when your path is diverted by something out of your control, you can find a new path; there is good to be found in every circumstance even when you can’t see it right away. I feel lucky to have served on the Team of Advisors with such a diverse and passionate group of people.”

Amy on having a rare disease:
“Having any illness can be confusing and overwhelming, but when 95% of the doctors you see haven’t even heard of your disease, it can be exasperating and daunting. Having a rare genetic disease, Fabry, has presented me with an even greater need to advocate for myself and others with my same condition. I’m lucky enough to have a background working in hospitals as a medical social worker, so I am no stranger to advocacy and I have no problem speaking up; but this isn’t the case for everyone. Upon my mom’s diagnosis, and then my own, I quickly jumped onto message boards and support groups for Fabry, only to find there are many more questions than answers. I am lucky to have access to a geneticist that is familiar with Fabry, but most people don’t. Because our disease is so rare, many people are hundreds of miles from anyone else with Fabry. In person support groups aren’t really an option, so the internet and learning from each other on social media is crucial. I spend a lot of my time gathering questions from other people with Fabry and working them into my appointments, then reporting back to the message boards. Others do the same, and together we find our way to new tools to manage our lives with Fabry, new things to ask our doctor’s about, and new resources to call upon in trying to figure out this disease. In addition, I try to support others in being assertive with their doctors. I think we have been deeply conditioned in our society to respect authority and education, which is not inherently bad, but it can create an obstacle to honest communication with our health care professionals. It can be really intimidating! You try telling a person with 8-12 years of medical education and years of practice experience that you would like to teach them about a medical condition they don’t already know about! Some egos are better equipped than others to handle the learning curve required in having me as a patient. I ask a lot of questions and I expect good information in return. I always come from a respectful place, as I don’t expect every physician to know about Fabry, but I expect them to be open to learning about it. Some are more than willing and some aren’t and I’ve had to “break up” with my fair share of doctors who weren’t willing. But really, if they don’t care to continue growing as a provider, then I don’t really want them as my doctor anyway. So really, you have nothing to lose by setting high standards for your providers. But you have a lot to lose by remaining in the care of a doctor that wants to treat you like everyone else. You are not just like everyone else! You can miss out on valuable information that can seriously affect your care. So speak up, be respectful, but be assertive. And if you don’t feel that your needs are being met, cut your losses and find someone that does. You are the only one that can make those decisions for yourself! And if you need some moral support, just message me!”

More about the 2014 Team of Advisors
They’re a group of 14 PatientsLikeMe members who will give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients like them. They’ve already met one another in person, and over the next 12 months, will give feedback to our own PatientsLikeMe Research Team. They’ll also be working together to develop and publish a guide that outlines standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage with patients throughout the entire research process.

So where did we find our 2014 Team? We posted an open call for applications in the forums, and were blown away by the response! The Team includes veterans, nurses, social workers, academics and advocates; all living with different conditions.

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Day-by-day, hand-in-hand

Posted February 28th, 2015 by


All around the world, everyone impacted by a rare disease is taking everything day-by-day. But they can take each day hand-in-hand with the help and support of others. Today, on Rare Disease Day (RDD), EURORDIS (Rare Diseases Europe) and its global partners are calling on everyone to lend a hand to anyone affected by a rare disease.

RDD’s international theme is “Living with a rare disease” because every patient’s story and needs are different, and only by sharing our experiences and raising awareness can we all hope to improve the lives of those living with a rare disease. It’s also about the million of parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends that are impacted and who are living day-by-day, hand-in-hand with rare disease patients.1

Check out the official video below:

According to the Global Genes Project, there are 350 million people living with a rare disease around the globe. Just how many is that? If you gathered those people into one country, it would be the third most-populous country in the world. There are more than 7,000 identified rare diseases, from skin conditions to progressive neurological disorders, and more are being discovered every day.2 Here’s how you can get involved in spreading the word:

Rare diseases have a personal connection with PatientsLikeMe – our co-founders’ brother, Stephen, was diagnosed with ALS in 1998, and their family’s experiences with the condition led to the beginning of PatientsLikeMe. In 2012, we partnered with the Global Genes Project to create the RARE Open Registry Project to help those diagnosed find others like them in one of the over 400 rare disease communities on the site, and launched the first open registry for people with alkaptonuria (AKU) with the AKU Society in early 2013. We also accelerated our focus on enhancing the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) community through a collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim. And now, the IPF community on PatientsLikeMe is the largest open registry with more than 3,700 members …and counting.

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1 http://www.rarediseaseday.org/article/theme-of-the-year-living-with-a-rare-disease

2 http://globalgenes.org/rare-diseases-facts-statistics/


Uniting for hope on Rare Disease Day 2014

Posted February 28th, 2014 by

hopeToday, healthcare professionals, research advocates and many people living with rare conditions are coming together to observe Rare Disease Day. It’s all about raising awareness for rare and genetic diseases, improving access to treatments and learning more about what exactly makes a condition rare.

In the United States, a disease is considered rare if it affects less than 200,000 people at any given time. Rare diseases affect almost 1 in 10 Americans, and many times, they cause common symptoms that can be mistaken for other conditions.1

 

All across the world, people are raising awareness for rare disease. Here are just a few things you can do to join them.

  • Wear your favorite pair of jeans today to help the Global Genes Project promote the Blue Denim Genes Ribbon
  • Use the hashtags #CareAboutRare and #WRDD2014 and share them with @GlobalGenes on Twitter and Facebook
  • Find an event in your state and participate in local activities
  • Print out this flyer, take a photo of yourself with it, and submit it to Handprints Across America

Rare diseases have a personal connection with PatientsLikeMe – our co-founders’ brother, Stephen, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1998, and their family’s experiences with the condition led to the beginning of PatientsLikeMe. In 2012, we partnered with  the Global Genes Project  to create the RARE Open Registry Project to help those diagnosed find others like them in one of the over 400 rare disease communities on the site, and  launched the first open registry for people with alkaptonuria (AKU) with the AKU Society in early 2013. We also accelerated our focus on enhancing the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) community through a collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim. And now, the IPF community on PatientsLikeMe is the largest open registry with close to 1,900 members …and counting.


1 http://rarediseaseday.us/about/


Living with hope – An interview on AKU with Alycia and Nate

Posted January 27th, 2014 by

We’ve had the pleasure of talking with and featuring many PatientsLikeMe members on the blog over the years, but Nate is the youngest by far. He’s just 5 years old and is living with Alkaptonuria (AKU), a rare metabolic disease, sometimes called Black Bone Disease. Recently, we had the chance to chat with his mom, Alycia, who spoke with us about Nate’s experiences with AKU and her role and philosophy as his caregiver.

To get started, what would you like everyone to know about your son?

My son is an extremely happy and energetic 5 year old. He has recently started school and loves playing sport. His favourite sports are cricket and Australian Rules Football. He has a younger brother who he loves getting into mischief with. He also has a rare Metabolic disease called Alkaptonuria. However, we have chosen not to tell him about his disease at this stage.

Do you remember what the first sign or symptom was? And can you talk a little about the diagnosis process?

The only symptoms he had were black urine and dark ear wax. We never really thought much about his dark urine because we only noticed it when he had accidents during toilet training and as he is our first child we didn’t know any better. When Nate was 3 he was hospitalised with post infectious glomerulonephritis. About 6 months later his kidneys had recovered but his test results were still not normal. With further investigations he was diagnosed with Alkaptonuria. Now the unusual urine stains make sense.

Can you tell us a little about your day-to-day experiences as a caregiver?

Due to the slow progression of Alkaptonuria, caring for Nate on a day to day basis really isn’t much different than for any other mum. The only things I do are to ensure that his ears don’t have any visible ear wax, as we’re very conscious of him being picked on. I also have to take him to a few extra medical appointments as he is under the care of the Metabolic team.

How has connecting to other caregivers, or others living with AKU, on PatientsLikeMe impacted you?

I was devastated when Nate was diagnosed with AKU and even more so when I found out how rare it was. I wanted to gather as much information as possible to help me understand and to help ease the way I felt. It wasn’t until I found the AKU Society in the UK and then PatientsLikeMe that it helped to alleviate some of those feelings. It’s been great to have a group of people who truly understand the disease and who you know will never judge you for any question you ask.

As a carer it’s my job to research as much as I can about AKU so when the time is right to tell Nate I can provide him with this information and he can connect with everyone on PatientsLikeMe himself. PatientsLikeMe has really had a positive impact on my life, at times it’s been comforting to know what potentially could happen to Nate and the quality of life he may have, but the benefits of having access to this site help outweigh some of these feelings.

If there was one thing you could tell everyone who is caring for someone living with AKU, what would that be?

Use all the resources out there like PatientsLikeMe and the AKU Society, which are amazing tools for reaching others who understand AKU better than anyone, fellow patients and carers, to research as much as you can about the disease. I believe that there is a potentially bright future for AKU patients if Nitisinone becomes available.

I also greatly believe if you’re a caregiver to a child with AKU, to let them be a child and let them have the childhood every child deserves and don’t weigh them down with their disease until you absolutely have to. Unfortunately the AKU will always be there.


Keith & Sarah’s personal journey with rare lung disease. Part III, “Bonus round”

Posted June 22nd, 2013 by

Over the last few months, Keith and Sarah have been sharing their journey with us. In this final interview of our three-part series, they talk about how he got on a transplant list and their “phones at the dinner table” policy. If you missed our first two interviews with Keith and Sarah, you can find them here.

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What did you have to do to get on a transplant list? Did you have to meet certain criteria?
[Keith] The transplant assessment process is an intense and very time-consuming one. When you are contacted about being assessed for transplant, you are sent a large envelope listing out a weeks worth of testing, doctors visits, and appointments in Toronto at Toronto General Hospital. The hospital evaluates you on many things, and ultimately if you are deemed “healthy” enough (because you can actually be too sick, or too healthy) as a result of this testing, you are placed on the list. There were psychological assessments, nuclear cardiac testing, liver testing, kidney testing, pulmonary function testing, physical testing, blood tests (LOTS of blood tests) to name a few.

Can you talk about your “phones at the dinner table” policy and how it changed?
[Sarah] Phones allowed at the dinner table. Most families discourage this, as it is always nice to have the family come together at the end of the day and talk about their day. The one time when people are tuned to each other as opposed to their devices! Once Keith was placed on the list, we were waiting for that call to come which would signal the next phase of our life. This meant that our phones were even MORE attached to us, and yes, were placed on the dinner table until that call came.

SK$

How are you doing post transplant?
[Keith] I feel fantastic! Being able to breathe with deep breaths every minute has been the most life changing experience for me. I am still sifting through a bit of a fog with some pain medications but as they are reduced, I find myself feeling more and more enthusiastic about what lies ahead. Each day is a gift, and I am enjoying my “bonus round.” The realities of transplant are such that we never know what tomorrow will bring, so I am living my life to the fullest every day that I am here.

What’s the one thing you both think every rare lung disease patient should know?
[Sarah & Keith] There is hope. With awareness we can educate people on the necessity to be organ donors, which can ultimately get rid of the list! The transplant program at Toronto General is exceptional and if you do what they tell you, take care of yourself and do your physio…there truly is hope for a better life with new lungs. The hospital’s goal is to help you through your disease in any way possible, and transplant is the last option, but if you need it, this is the place to be.

Sarah and Keith are part of our “Spotlighted Blogger” series, where we talk with people who are sharing their personal health experiences to help raise awareness and change healthcare for good. Sarah started blogging about her fiancé Keith’s journey with a rare lung disease back in July of 2012 on her blog Taking a Deep Breath.


Keith & Sarah’s personal journey with rare lung disease. Part II, “Lungies”

Posted May 22nd, 2013 by

In this second interview of our three-part series, Keith and Sarah talk about how their daily lives changed and the importance of connecting with others. If you missed our first interview with Keith and Sarah, you can find it here.

S-K 2

What were the most noticeable changes you had to make in your daily life?
[Keith] My ability to enjoy time with family was impaired because I could no longer be active with my children or my wife. I could not work because when I tried to do the simplest task, I became out of breath. I could no longer carry a toolbox, go up a set of stairs, or do everyday tasks at home without becoming winded and requiring rest. I wanted to rest all the time and was never comfortable.

As a caregiver, what things could you do to help Keith the most?
[Sarah] Keith eventually got to the point where he needed me for many personal tasks as well as taking care of all of the home tasks. I showered him, and took over our business, and we hired a cleaning service every two weeks to try to keep the house in order. Keith really needed to know that I was there for him. I made lots of special food for him because he needed to gain weight in order to be active on the transplant list.

How did you connect with other transplant patients and why did that help?
[Sarah & Keith] From the beginning, we began to seek out others who had received lung transplants. We found one in our town and eventually met many others through our many visits to the hospital. The lung transplant “family” is a tight one and it really helped to have others to talk to who were waiting, as well as those who had received their transplants and could offer hope and advice. Facebook became a good way to find people through other friends from the hospital, and eventually we developed a close group of “lungies” that we keep in touch with.

Besides PatientsLikeMe, what would you suggest to others patients who are trying to connect with someone like them?[Sarah & Keith] Finding groups on Facebook that relate to organ donation / transplant and beginning conversations with others is a great way to find people. Starting your own Facebook group or blog to raise awareness about your situation is another excellent way to let people find you.

Sarah and Keith are part of our “Spotlighted Blogger” series, where we talk with people who are sharing their personal health experiences to help raise awareness and change healthcare for good. Sarah started blogging about her fiancé Keith’s journey with a rare lung disease back in July of 2012 on her blog Taking a Deep Breath.

 


“Make memories starting now!” An interview about idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis with Kim Durand

Posted May 17th, 2013 by

Many of you have seen our “Spotlighted Blogger” series, where we talk with people who are sharing their personal health experiences to help raise awareness of disease and change healthcare for good. Well for the first time on our blog, we’re talking with a “Facebooker.” Kim started her Facebook page, Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness, after her father passed away from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). She recently took some time to talk with us about her experiences with the disease and the benefits of online patient communities.

Kim1

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your experience with IPF?
My father was diagnosed with IPF in July of 2006. He always had a chronic cough and never got it checked out until one day it got really bad and my step mom made him go get checked out. He had a chest X-ray and the doctor gave him the tentative diagnosis of IPF. Surely, the only true way to know if a person has IPF is through a lung biopsy so that’s what he had done, I believe in September of 2006.

There was a complication during the biopsy. His lung collapsed and he was in the hospital for about 6 weeks. The lung never did fully inflate. He ended up having 2 chest tubes while in the hospital. He was in good spirits though, always reassuring me that he was doing well and things would get better. Over the next few months he started the process of getting on the lung transplant list at Duke University. He did all the rigorous testing and lost the weight. I went to take care of him for a few days and while he had trouble with catching his breath when walking around, he was still walking on the treadmill to lose that weight. He was in good spirits even though he was exhausted. He was on oxygen therapy 24/7. At Christmas time, we spent the day together and he had a hard time talking because he couldn’t breathe very well. It was the last time I heard my father speak.

A few days later they moved to NC where they waited for the call. His health deteriorated quickly and about a month later he was rushed to the hospital because he couldn’t breathe. It was a Thursday when I got the call from my step mom that my dad was intubated and that my sister and me needed to go down to NC to be with him. She informed us that it wasn’t good and that it was the end. It was the hardest trip I ever had to make.

Kim2

We walked up to his hospital room in the ICU and I slowed down before we got to his room and I looked in and backed away and fell to the floor, crying. I couldn’t believe that my father, this strong man, was lying so helpless in a hospital bed, so dependent on machines to keep him alive. The kind staff at the hospital helped me go to my father in the room where I sat by his side. I didn’t hold his hand right away. Touching isn’t something he liked so I respected that. We spoke with the doctors and nurses and organ donation coordinators. We waited as long as humanly possible for lungs to become available. It was decided that Saturday he would be taken off the list because he had been intubated too long and his heart was working too hard. We could have extubated on that day but I know my father and I believed he wanted to be an organ donor. So we postponed his passing by one day so that the donor team could get ready with recipients.

The next day around 7:30am we arrived at the hospital to say our goodbyes. I remember checking his monitors pretty regularly and when we walked in his heart rate was around 70 and when my sister and me finally held his hand, his heart rate went up to 87. We talked with him privately about what his final wishes were. We knew he couldn’t talk but we wanted to talk to him anyway and try to get any sort of response out of him. We waited a couple more hours for the stuff to be put in place and then they wheeled him down to the operating room. We waited in the family room for a few minutes where the coordinator went over with us what to expect. They said that if he breathes on his own for 10 minutes after he’s extubated he will be intubated again and taken back to his room. But this never happened.

We were there for him during his final minutes. Telling him that it was ok to move on, that we would be ok. I am next of kin so it was my decision to make him an organ donor and my decision to take him off life support. It’s my signature on those papers. Something I will never be able to change. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to sign in my life. We watched as he peacefully tried to breathe. After his last breath, we all continued to sob and the doctor confirmed that he had passed.

We had approx 2 minutes to say our final goodbye before they wheeled him in to the OR for organ recovery. It wasn’t a good atmosphere for us to be in when he passed because there were teams of doctors and nurses standing in this big room with us waiting for him to pass. But I tried not to focus on that part too much. My step mom was at the helm, talking to him while he tried to breathe. At about 10am on Jan 28 2007 my father passed away waiting for a lung transplant due to IPF.

 

You’ve been very active in the IPF community for a long time. How have you seen online communities help patients and caregivers with IPF?
I created the Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness (PFA) group on Facebook initially as a memorial to my dad; just a place for my friends and family to go to remember him. It now has almost 5,000 members. I have met so many wonderful people through this group. Many who are patients and care givers. All have been affected by IPF in some way. This online group has become a community where they can share their experiences, trials and tribulations. A lot of members go on there to just read about other people’s issues. We have several “regular” members that post quite often. I feel like if I hadn’t made this group, some of these members never would have met and that is so humbling to me. Having an online community really helps in this digital age because many of those struggling with IPF aren’t able to leave the house or have trouble getting around in the community, so they are able to reach out and socialize over the internet. I am proud to have helped in that way.

How do you think information sharing platforms like PatientsLikeMe benefit patients?
I think it’s a fantastic tool for those dealing with any illness to track their progress. It’s multifaceted, somewhat user friendly and very well put together over all. It’s another great outlet for those who can’t leave the house due to their illnesses or those who can but want to document their life.

What are some other helpful resources that you think IPF patients should know about?
There are so many communities and organizations available to IPF patients. The PFA group is partnered with the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, so a lot of our members come from there and some of the members of PFA go there for resources. There’s also the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis. I get a lot of newsletters from them. They were the first organization to tell me about the new drug pirfenidone when it was in its clinical trial stage and now it’s in the manufacturing stage.

What’s one thing you think every patient with IPF might not know, but should?
MAKE MEMORIES STARTING NOW! I will never be able to create memories with my dad anymore. Had I known he was going to pass so quickly, I would’ve spent more time with him, called him more etc. Each day is a gift and each day a new memory should be made. Cherish them. You never know when it’ll end.

If you’re living with IPF, find others just like you in our growing community of almost 400 IPF patients on PatientsLikeMe. Learn what they’re doing to manage their condition with symptom and treatment reports, and share your own experience with a personal health profile and in the IPF forum.

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Keith & Sarah’s personal journey with rare lung disease. Part I, “Fine”

Posted April 18th, 2013 by

As part of our “Spotlighted Blogger” series, we’re talking with people who are sharing their personal health experiences to help raise awareness of disease and change healthcare for good. For our latest interview, we’re talking with Sarah and Keith. Sarah started writing about her fiancé Keith’s journey with a rare lung disease back in July of 2012 on her blog Taking a Deep Breath. In this first part of our three-part series, Keith and Sarah talk about why they started blogging, and the difficulties of finding the right diagnosis.

Keith:Sarah1

What prompted you to start blogging about Keith’s journey and what’s the reaction been? 

[Sarah] When Keith’s health took a turn for the worse in the winter of 2011, I asked him repeatedly if he would allow me to share his story, knowing that we were likely going down a very difficult road, and selfishly wanting lots of support while we (I) went down that road. He wasn’t comfortable sharing until the day we drove away from his respirologist’s office, after an appointment where the doctor said that Keith was “fine,” wasn’t a candidate for transplant, and didn’t need to be on oxygen. We knew different. I blogged, we got a second opinion, and Keith was on oxygen within 4 days, and referred to the transplant program at Toronto General Hospital (TGH) within 2 weeks.

At what point did you know that something was not right? What was your first symptom?
[Keith] I got a cold that wouldn’t go away, and it turned into a pneumonia. I was hospitalized in the fall/winter of 1997. I never fully recovered.

What was involved in finding a diagnosis? Did Keith ever receive an official diagnosis?
[Sarah] Keith visited various specialists and respirologists and was misdiagnosed with various diseases (BOOP {bronchiolitis obliterans organizing pneumonia}, COPD, asthma) before the final diagnosis of diffuse panbronchiolitis (DPB) was given. It was a strange diagnosis since the disease strikes people of Asian descent, and Keith is Caucasian. DNA testing was done to see if there was Asian blood in his makeup, but there was not. Interestingly enough, in the final pathology of Keith’s old lungs after removal – this diagnosis was confirmed.

What advice do you both have for patients that are struggling to find a diagnosis? 
[Sarah & Keith] Ask as many people as you can who have experience with lung disease, or know someone who has it. Find out doctors’ names, get referrals and stick to your guns. If you don’t feel right, tell someone!


PatientsLikeMe in the News

Posted March 6th, 2013 by

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at PatientsLikeMe.  Here are a few media highlights showcasing all the exciting things that are going on, from new partnerships with Aetna and Boehringer to the major grant we were awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to TED2013 Fellow Paul Wicks’ presentation at TED2013 last week.

Paul Wicks at TED2013

PatientsLikeMe Is Building a Self-Learning Healthcare System
(Forbes)

Social Network Could Revolutionize Disease Treatment
(Wired)

PatientsLikeMe Leads Crowdsourcing for Patient Outcomes
(Fierce Biotech IT)

What the NHS Can Learn from Innovative Health Practices Abroad
(The Guardian)

Boehringer Partners with PatientsLikeMe on Rare Disease Community
(PMLive)

Networking Medicine: Patients Take a More Active Role in Science
(The Scientist)

PatientsLikeMe:  Crowdsourcing Healthcare
(AllVoices)

For more PatientsLikeMe media coverage, visit our Press page.


Living with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

Posted March 1st, 2013 by

What is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)? How many people does it affect? Do we know what the cause is? Can it be treated? If you don’t know the answers, you’re not alone. IPF is considered a rare disease by the National Institutes of Health and much of the research surrounding it is not definitive.

© Kempski | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos

So what do we know? IPF is a degenerative condition with no known cause that gradually scars a person’s lung tissue. As more and more tissue scars, the lungs slowly lose their ability to transfer oxygen to vital organs. This can lead to shortness of breath and dry coughing. As the condition progresses, everyday activities become exhausting – just climbing a flight of stairs can be a challenge. It usually affects people between the ages of 50 and 70 years old. More than 100,000 people in the US are diagnosed every year and nearly 40,000 will pass away. The only known cure is a lung transplant.

If you’re living with IPF, find others just like you in our growing community of more than 900 IPF patients. Learn what they’re doing to manage their condition with symptom and treatment reports, and share your own experience with a personal health profile and in the IPF forum. If you haven’t read about our collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim to create this customized IPF experience on PatientsLikeMe, check it out here.

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Raise Your Hands for Rare Disease Day

Posted February 28th, 2013 by

Today, February 28th, is Rare Disease Day, a worldwide event showing solidarity with rare disease patients and their families around the globe.  The theme for this year is “Raise and Join Your Hands,” and everyone is being asked to participate, whether you’re an individual, an office with 10 people or a public gathering with 1,000 people.

Here at PatientsLikeMe, we are taking part by raising our hands and sharing our group photo in solidarity with the campaign as well as all of our members living with rare diseases, which affect 1 in 10 people worldwide.  You are encouraged to submit your own photo here.

PatientsLikeMe Employees Raising Their Hands for Rare Disease Day 2013

Rare diseases are a special passion for PatientsLikeMe, as our company was started due to our founders’ experience with a rare disease called ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  Since then, we’ve partnered with the Global Genes Project to form the RARE Open Registry Project to connect patients fighting rare diseases and help them share and learn.

“It’s terrifying to think you’re alone and manage your rare illness with a doctor who might not have ever seen another patient like you,” says PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder Jamie Heywood. “We will change that.”  Most recently, we launched the world’s first open registry for patients with alkaptonuria (AKU), the first genetic disease discovered.