7 posts tagged “rare disease”

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


Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Steve

Posted May 29th, 2015 by

A few weeks ago, Amy shared about living with a rare genetic disease in her Team of Advisors introduction post. Today, it’s Steve’s turn to share about his unique perspective as a scientist who has been diagnosed with ALS. Below, learn about Steve’s experience with ALS research, his views on patient centeredness and what being a part of the Team of Advisors means to him.

About Steve (aka rezidew):
Steve is a professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was diagnosed with ALS in the fall of 2013 and his symptoms have progressed with increased debilitating weakness in his arms and hands. He was excited to join us as an advisor to lend his expertise on research methodology to the team. He has authored or coauthored an impressive 6 books, 91 peer reviewed publications, and 26 published chapters. When we talked about giving a background on research methods to the team, Steve said ‘I can teach it.’ He is passionate about helping teach others and believes “as a scientist who has been diagnosed with ALS, I regret having this disorder but I am eager to use my unique perspective to promote and possibly conduct relevant research.”

Steve’s view of patient centeredness:
“The obvious perspective is that patients should have some voice in decisions regarding what research should be conducted, what the participants in research should be expected to do, how participants in research should be selected, and how results of research should be communicated.”

Steve on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“Being a member of the Team of Advisors has helped me understand a wide array of perspectives on patient-centered research based on my interaction with fellow patients who have various health problems and who have various levels of knowledge about research. I am impressed with the consensual consolidation that has emerged from the Team’s dialogue about research.”

Steve’s experience with bibrachial ALS and research on ALS:
“A diagnosis of ALS can be associated with several different configurations of symptoms. Some PALS (Patients with ALS) begin with problems in their feet and legs, some begin with difficulty talking and/or swallowing, and some, like me, begin with weakness in their hands and arms. Also, some PALS start relatively young and have other PALS in their family. And, some PALS have dementia. We all lose our ability to breathe eventually and our array of symptoms broadens, but our initial experience can be very different. I am surprised and disappointed that the medical community has not done more to identify our subtypes and to track our progression within our subtype.

Developing a PALS taxonomy would help doctors provide support to PALS that is most relevant to our needs. It would also help us share our experience with fellow patients and learn from each other. An ALS taxonomy would also be extremely relevant for research on treatments. Ongoing research on ALS using rodents with SOD1 mutations may yield an effective treatment someday, but for now PALS would feel more supportive of this research if it used models that reflect the different taxonomies of ALS. We would feel even more supportive if more research allowed us to participate in studies that focus directly on medicines that could help our ongoing progressive terminal illness.”

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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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.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word for Fabry and rare diseases.


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/


“Stiff Lungs” -Ian’s Personal Journey from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis Diagnosis to Lung Transplant

Posted March 4th, 2013 by

“Short of Breath? See your Doctor,” said the poster in the pharmacy. I’d been short of breath for some time, but put it down to an unhealthy lifestyle, being 58 and being overweight. The poster encouraged me to visit my doctor, which I did. He sent me for a chest X-ray and I could tell by the reaction of the technician that he’d seen something. He discussed the X-ray with a doctor who then arranged for me to see my own doctor that afternoon.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 3.38.46 PM

My doctor explained the X–ray had shown I had ‘stiff’ lungs and that I should see a specialist a few days later. At this point I wasn’t too concerned. I was still convinced I would be told to just exercise more and take some pills. After seeing the specialist and having more tests, he told me that I had Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) and explained what it was. He also told me that left untreated I could expect to live about another 18 months! You can imagine going home and telling this to my wife and kids.

I’d never heard of it before so the first stop was the Internet. Most of the sites you visit frighten you to death. You find out the mechanics of it, the prognosis, but not how people live and deal with it. PatientsLikeMe gives you direct access to other people in your situation. It’s nice to hear from people who have had it for many years, what drugs they take, how those affect them, what they are doing themselves to keep a good quality of life and so on. Everybody is different of course, the illness progresses differently in each person, so it’s interesting to see all the variations in medication.

I have to say, I never believed at any point that I was going to die. I was bloody determined to have a transplant. I wasn’t going to die. I had to meet certain criteria to get on a lung transplant list and one thing was weight. I weighed 118kg (260lbs) when I was diagnosed and had to be 90kg (198lbs) to get on the list. So I started walking. I could only make it half a mile to start, but eventually got up to 5 miles with the help of an oxygen tank. It took nine months, but I dropped the weight. Then, everything happened very fast.

I was accepted onto the transplant list on a Friday, got a 12am phone call on Sunday about a possible transplant and was wheeled in for surgery that same day. They could only harvest one lung, but it was better than nothing. When they were taking me back for surgery I remember saying “bye” to my wife. I could tell she was hoping for something more than that. I probably should have added the ‘see you later.’

There were a few complications with my ribs post surgery and sometimes when I walk upstairs it feels like I only have one lung, but I’m glad to be alive, really. I was and am lucky to have a wife who has worked as hard as me, if not harder, to help make all this possible. Having support around you does make a difference. Sometimes you don’t realize it, sometimes you take it for granted, sometimes it’s frustrating having to have help doing things you used to easily do. And it’s great when you can give things back, like a nice roast dinner or some favorite biscuits that are within your capabilities. I do consider myself to be very lucky.

Ian is a member of the growing IPF community on PatientsLikeMe where people track, connect, and learn how to manage the condition together. Every experience shared by patients about this rare lung condition is also contributed to a data set on PatientsLikeMe that helps researchers uncover new insights about the disease. Do you have IPF or know someone who does? Sign up for PatientsLikeMe and start living better, together.