The Results are in: Timothy and CRB1

If you have not had a chance to read Timothy’s Story yet I have linked it here so you can catch up to where we left off on diagnosing his condition.

Timothy at 4 months old laying wrapped in a hospital blanket sleeping with an IV in.
Getting a preliminary Diagnosis.

Back in August we saw an ophthalmologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary where we live. Within a few seconds of doing the dilated eye exam he told us that Timothy had a problem with his retina and would be required to see a specialist out of Edmonton (about 3 hours away). He wrote down the words Leber Congenital Amaurosis on a piece of paper and told me this is likely what is affecting Timothy but we will need to undergo further testing to find out.

I started doing research the second I stepped out of his office and felt like there was not one thing about Leber Congenital Amaurosis or LCA I had not already read about (or so I thought). The only thing I needed to know was if my son truly had it. We waited three months for our appointment and it was a long hard day as my husband and I decided we would just drive down for the appointment and then come back home that night (6 hours of driving total).

When we first arrived Timothy had to go for a test called an Electroretinogram or an ERG. For this test he had electrodes placed underneath each eye and then a small camera like device was placed over his eyes and flashed different lights into them with both the lights on and then in the dark. The ERG reads the response of the retina to the light signals in both the light and dark settings. This test is used to help confirm a diagnosis of LCA if the response from the retina comes back severely abnormal or almost nonexistent. After receiving that test we got to speak with the specialist. He told us that the ERG showed little to no response from Timothy’s retina in both the light and the dark, he also examined Timothy and agreed he has little or no useable vision (especially central vision).  Although he said it is clear Timothy does not focus or react to visual stimulation, he also said that we won’t know exactly what he can or cannot see until Timothy is able to express that himself.  With these findings he said that we are looking at the diagnosis of LCA and the next step would be genetic testing to confirm 100% and tell us the gene type. We were luckily able to complete the blood work before we even left the hospital and began our 4 to 6 week wait on results.

Timothy at 6 months old. He has blonde hair and blue eyes. He is laying naked in a bassinet with his hands together holding his soother.
Sweet Timothy.

As soon as 4 weeks had hit I was anxious to hear back, I was confident that they would find something but I still had that nagging feeling  of what if they cannot figure out what is going on with my baby.  At 4.5 weeks I caved and called them to check in but there was nothing yet. As we got closer to Christmas I knew that if I didn’t hear back by the 6 week mark I likely would not have a result until the New Year. So because I am one of those moms I called again a couple times and on the 6 week mark exactly I finally got the call back. First she told me it confirmed the diagnosis of LCA and then she said the gene is called CRB1.

CRB1…okay. I recognized the name from a few families I had started following on social media.  The genetic counsellor went into details on how it is recessive and what that means in terms of future pregnancies with my husband (25% chance each child) and the chances of my children being carriers. She told me how this gene is only linked to vision problems and nowhere else in the body would be affected (thankfully). She told me they would have James and I complete genetic testing as well to show the whole picture of how the “non working copies” of the gene were passed down to Timothy. She wished me a Merry Christmas and that was it. CRB1 was now the final diagnosis.

This whole time we were awaiting the results I had promised myself I would not get my hopes up for a specific gene.  There is only one that has an FDA approved treatment in the USA and then only a couple more undergoing clinical trials. See after we got this diagnosis I had emerged myself in a community of parents going through LCA diagnosis’ and I was seeing some really awe inspiring kids regaining their vision from the one treatment. For me, wanting Timothy to receive the treatment had nothing to do with making life easier or simpler but had everything to do with those waves of grief that come with the loss of his vision. Even though I had told myself not to do it I let my mind wander into the thoughts of Timothy seeing me smile at him for the first time, or seeing the snowfall outside, or maybe a waterfall, a sunset, a flower. Yeah I let myself fall too far into those what ifs. So when I heard her say CRB1 the first thought I had was not very positive.

Fortunately we have been working through this diagnosis of LCA for months and I was quickly able to bounce back into my “how can I best help Timothy succeed” mode.  Within the day I was in touch with several great families whose children also have LCA CRB1 and they were so comforting and encouraging. Then I was able to connect with Kristin Smedley who not only has two sons with LCA CRB1 but has also started the curing retinal blindness foundation for CRB1, wrote a book called Thriving Blind, and has a TED talk about her story which really resonated with me.  Connecting with these amazing families who have all been where I am now has meant more to me than I can put into words.

Writing this blog and sharing our story and continuing to share our journey has been so therapeutic for me. I have made so many connections and not only with other LCA parents but parents whose children are blind or visually impaired from other conditions. I have also gained so much support from family, friends, and even complete strangers.  I hope that through this blog one day I can help a family who is just starting their journey into LCA and that I can be an advocate for not only my son but the blind and visually impaired community. 

Timothy a blonde haired blue eyed 8 month old. He is smiling. His blue shirt says best brother in the world.
My Happy Boy.

Thank you so much for everyone who takes the time to read my posts. I can’t wait to continue on this journey together to show the world that Happiness is Blind.

Timothy’s Story

When we found out we were expecting our third and likely final baby I had a lot of feelings. The first feeling was surprise, we had only started trying and I had not expected it to happen that fast. Then there was a tinge of sadness about this being my last time experiencing pregnancy, newborn snuggles, and all of the firsts (I plan to write a deeper post on those feelings later). And of course there was the feeling of JOY because we were about to welcome another little life to our family!

Having had two girls before and collectively having SIX nieces we were super anxious to find out if we would be the ones to add the first boy. After much discussion we had decided we weren’t going to find out the gender and keep it a surprise. Although knowing myself I am not sure why I ever thought I could do that, how could I plan everything without knowing the gender? So I decided to find out the gender on my own at a private ultrasound. As soon as I found out I was expecting a boy I couldn’t contain my shock and called my sister instantly. There was a couple hours that afternoon I toyed with the idea of not telling my husband and letting it be a surprise for him but I thought yeah right and told him as soon as he was home. I think it took a couple days for him to believe me since he had no idea I was even getting the ultrasound. Soon enough we were planning the batman theme room.

The rest of my pregnancy went fairly smooth, especially in comparison to my high risk pregnancy with Charlotte. That is until 33 weeks and 6 days when I started having really painful contractions and ended up in preterm labor. But luckily we were able to receive some steroid shots for his lungs and a medication to help stop the contractions. We made it another week and a half longer before he couldn’t wait any longer to make his grand entrance at 35 weeks and 3 days.

Sleeping newborn baby wrapped in a blanket wearing a blue and white hat that says "Timothy".
Brand New

Timothy Edward was born March 31 2019 at 2:43am. He weighed a whopping 6 lbs 10 oz even as a 35 weeker. We chose his names after my brothers Tim and Ed who have passed away.

Ever since day one Timothy was such a special presence in our lives and the perfect puzzle piece to complete our family. He instantly gained the love affection of his two big sisters and everyone else who met him.

Life for our family was hectic with three kids and two under 2 but we were managing and loving all the memories we were making.

When Timothy was about 6 weeks old we were at my parents’ house for dinner and my mom mentioned to me that the way he was moving his eyes seemed off. I brushed it off as a weird baby thing but it got me thinking. The next few days I went into panic mode at home when I would see him do odd eye movements. I spent hours upon hours staring at him trying to get him to stare back and he never would. A fleeting thought of “what if he is blind?” crossed my mind but after some googling and talking to my husband we concluded that at 6 weeks old it’s too soon to say whether or not a baby should be focusing on you so we left it.

About a month later I took him to the doctor for a general check up and that is when everything changed. The doctor instantly noticed his eye movements and asked me if I wanted him to call me an ambulance. I was confused, scared, and alone at the doctor’s office with all three kids. I asked him if there was something serious going on and he just said that he will write me a note to take into the Children’s Hospital that day once I had a chance to arrange childcare.

I took him in and we were taken to the back almost immediately. They told me they were concerned about seizures and we would need to see a neurologist in the next 48 hours. After a slightly abnormal EEG we were put on seizure medication and referred to an ophthalmologist because they were also concerned about his lack of focus at now 3 months old.

Baby boy 3 months old wearing a yellow and white striped outfit. He is sucking on a blue soother. There are wires taped to his head with white bandage wrapped around them.
Timothy getting his EEG

The days between appointments felt like weeks and the weeks waiting for more tests felt like months. Finally after a second EEG and an MRI we were told they no longer believed it was seizure activity and that his eye movements were likely solely related to his eyesight. We were taken off the seizure medication and now we just had to wait to find out what was going on.

When we finally (a couple weeks later) saw the ophthalmologist it only took him 10 seconds of looking into Timothy’s eyes to tell us there was definitely a retinal issue and that we would need to go for further testing with a specialist 3 hours away. He told me Timothy wasn’t focusing on anything, tracking, or reacting to light as he should. He also said he couldn’t diagnose for sure but Timothy likely had something called Leber Congential Amaurosis or LCA.

We waited three months to see the specialist and receive the testing that confirmed the diagnosis of LCA but I had known it was true from the first mention of it. We won’t know for sure what Timothy has for vision until he can tell us but due to his lack of response it is expected that he has no usable vision and little to no light perception.

Right now we are still awaiting the results of the genetic testing to tell us which gene is affecting Timothy and get any information we can from that. But overall we know that there is not much available for treatment of genetic retinal conditions and currently there is no available treatments for LCA in Canada.

7 month old baby boy smiling with his hand in his mouth.
So sweet.

In these few months of knowing Timothy is blind our world has shifted and changed completely. We decided to dive right into learning everything we can in order to help Timothy grow up safe, strong, supported, and independent. Timothy is the sweetest baby with the biggest smile and the loudest giggles. He has brightened up our entire life with his presence and shown us a love deeper than we knew before. His story may have some twists and turns in it but we wouldn’t have it any other way.