Stories about: tuberous sclerosis complex

Code talker: A Q&A with genetic counselor Kira Dies

Kira Dies, a genetic counselor, won the Code Talker Award.

Your child has just been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder. Your pediatrician has never heard of the condition and the internet doesn’t offer much information. Where do you turn?

Kira Dies, a genetic counselor in the Department of Neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital, helps parents with these hard questions every day. One of about only 4,000 genetic counselors in the country, Dies has been trained in handling both the scientific and emotional sides of genetic disorders.

Dies was also the recent winner of the Code Talker Award, presented by Genome Magazine and the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC). Two other genetics counselors from Boston Children’s were also nominated, Casie Genetti and Beth Sheidley.

Although Kira works in neurology, primarily with patients who are diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), the nomination that won her the Code Talker award was from Kasey Edwards, mom of Robbie, who was diagnosed with a rare type of hereditary spastic paraplegia, SPG 47. At the time Robbie was diagnosed, only one other child in the United States was known to have the same diagnosis.

We sat down with Kira to learn more about her role at Boston Children’s.

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Tuberous sclerosis: Clinical trial may be what halted Charlotte’s seizures

Seizures tuberous sclerosis
Charlotte with Jurriaan Peters, MD, in the Clinical and Translational Study Unit.

When Charlotte D’Amario was about 4½ months old, she began making odd, forward-lurching movements. At first, her pediatrician thought it was reflux—that she was trying to spit up. “It was getting worse and worse, and no one had a clue as to what it was,” says Allyson, her mother.

Her parents started to videotape her while she made these odd motions. They occurred in clusters of as many as 50 at a time, several times a day. Seeing videos of Charlotte at 8½ months, her pediatrician sent her to a neurologist. An electroencephalogram (EEG) revealed seizure activity, and an MRI scan showed tuber-shaped growths in Charlotte’s brain.

Charlotte was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), a rare genetic condition in which benign tumors grow in the brain and other organs such as the skin, heart, eyes, kidneys and lungs. In about 90 percent of children, it causes epilepsy that can result in developmental delays.

Charlotte’s parents were worried. “She wasn’t crawling or rolling, wasn’t hitting those baby milestones,” says Allyson.

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