When Paul and Liliana Rojas talk about their life, they describe it in one of two ways — the way it was before their sons, 10-year-old Brandon and 7-year-old Brian, were diagnosed with ALD, and the way it is after. Their story is one of heartbreak — but also hope, in the form of a new clinical trial.
ALD is short for adrenoleukodystrophy, a debilitating brain disease that simply goes by its initials.
“Life before ALD was pure happiness without worries,” Paul says. “It was anything a parent could wish for — two boys with no medical issues, active, athletic, the healthiest boys ever.”
The two were inseparable. They played sports together in their hometown of Dover Plains, New York; idolized superheroes; danced like crazy; and dreamed of someday inventing video games. Brian was Brandon’s shadow. …
Nine-year-old Ariana Dufane is happiest when she’s tumbling, whether she’s launching herself off the ground for a cartwheel or practicing how to perform the perfect split. In that moment, the fourth-grader focuses on nothing but strength and balance, a skill she has refined, not just in gymnastics but in life.
Born with intestinal pseudo-obstruction — a disorder of abnormal intestinal motility function that may cause the body to go into intestinal failure — Ariana’s first few months were spent in and out of emergency rooms. Her symptoms began with a distended belly and an inability to have a bowel movement.
“I could tell she was in horrible pain and I didn’t know why,” says Ariana’s mom, Lisandy Jimenez. “She would cry and break out in a sweat.”
Lisandy tried everything — removing milk from Ariana’s diet, a special formula, antibiotics and other medications. When the options ran out, she took Ariana to a gastrointestinal specialist near their home in Stamford, Connecticut. And, when he ran out of options, she traveled to a major medical center in Philadelphia.
“That’s when we got the diagnosis that it was pseudo-obstruction,” Lisandy says. …
When Lucas St. Onge blew out the five candles on his birthday cake, he made just one wish. He didn’t ask for ninja turtles, a T-ball set or an Xbox — the only thing he wished was to be just like any other kid.
“It was a gift I couldn’t give,” says his mom, Heather.
On that same day, last May, he got his wish.
“He got a liver, stomach, pancreas, intestine and spleen — the five organs he needed to help him become healthy and happy,” Heather says.
Heather was 18 weeks pregnant when she and her husband, Anthony, learned they were about to face a myriad of medical challenges with their unborn child. To what extent remained unclear, until the day Lucas was born. …
Everywhere Melissa Villaseñor goes her little sister, Isabella, follows.
The 6- and 2-year-old share just about everything. They share big personalities. They share a love of being lively and loud. And, they also share something else — they were both born with biliary atresia.
“I am not going to lie,” says Andrea Torre, the girls’ mom. “I sometimes break down and cry and ask myself, ‘Why me?’”
Biliary atresia is a chronic, progressive liver condition that is fatal if left untreated. For most parents, having just one child with this rare, life-threatening disease is overwhelming.
“My husband keeps me grounded,” she says. “He reminds me, ‘See how much they fight for their health? We have to fight twice as hard.’” …