Dear Timmo, Tiny, Teeny, Timotee, or one of the many silly nicknames you get called:
I can’t believe your first birthday has come and gone already. When I think about your first year it feels so long and stretched out and like it went by so quickly all at the same time.
Timothy, you entering our family changed everything for us in so many ways. You are the first boy in our little family but also the first grandson on both sides of the family so there was a lot of excitement to have a little man join us after so many (adorable) little ladies. You are also what we plan to be (never say never) our final baby and the completing piece of our family. And then of course there is the fact that you were born blind.
I was so excited to be having a baby boy but also very nervous. I have 2 younger sisters, I have 6 nieces, and I have your 2 sisters. Girls are kind of what I’m used to. I wasn’t sure if our bond would be different than the one I had with your sisters, and quite quickly after you were born I learned that it definitely was different but not in the way I expected. There is something about being a mom to a little boy that is a whole new kind of magic.
Your presence had a sweetness to it from the very beginning and it is what I love the most about you. You are the best at cuddling, always getting so close and curled up against me or dad (or some of your other favorite snuggle buddies) and letting us soak in all the baby love you have to offer. You never want to be too far from us and I love watching your little hands reaching out to find us and pulling yourself closer.
A very close second to your sweetness is your pure joy. Your smile lights up the room and your laughter is contagious (even more so than COVID-19). I would do just about anything to make you laugh your deep belly laugh and see that bright smile on your face. When there were tough days during the months we were awaiting a diagnosis I remember that every time you would smile I knew that no matter what you are the perfect little boy for our family and that you will be just fine.
Watching you grow this past year has been the greatest privilege and blessing. You have changed everything in our family and made us stronger, kinder, and more determined people than we were before. Most importantly you have taught us about love in ways we never could have imagined without having you in our lives.
The way you trust us to catch you whenever you decide to be a little braver than you’re ready for shows me that we are doing a good job because we are your safe place. And I hope as you continue to grow and learn and get even braver, you will know that you can always trust us to catch you. We will forever be your safe place, your biggest fans, your greatest supporters, and your loudest advocates. We love you so much buddy, just the way you are.
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.
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.
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.
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.