Katerina is a bright young college student living with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. Officially diagnosed at 17 years old, her symptoms progressed rapidly, leaving her little time to adapt to a physical disability, unrelenting fatigue, chronic pain, leg braces, and a wheelchair/scooter.
Although her CMT symptoms pose many limitations, she’s a fighter and continues to go to college, dance, and play a big part in the CMTA’s new young adult community – Compass. She also is a talented writer, aiming to encourage and inspire others who live with chronic illness, pain, and fatigue.
Listen to her podcast, subscribe to her blog. She’s a gift to our community! xoxo
“He has what?” I asked when the neurologist mentioned something about sharks and a
tooth. Dr. Sum, the pediatric neurologist was using words like nerves, genes, muscle
atrophy, and progression. I wasn’t able to quite grasp what he was trying to convey, but it
did not sound good. Something was amiss with my 7-year-old son, Yohan, and now this
ailment had a name – CMT or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. When he told us this disease
was incurable and progressive, I completely lost it.
Before he left the room, he gave me a card, “Here is the website for the Charcot-Marie-
Tooth Association (CMTA). Call them for a packet of information. In the meantime,
continue with physical therapy, and occupational therapy. I’ll see Yohan in a year unless
something else crops up.” And that was that!
Neither my husband nor I tested positive for CMT, so why is it that my only child had a
heritable genetic mutation causing a life-changing neuromuscular disease? What did I do
wrong? How will we deal with this as individuals and as a family? What does the future
I would ask myself these and many other questions over and over again, trying to
understand, striving to make sense of why an innocent child, my only child, had to endure
such challenges so early on in life. Initially, I experienced grief in all its stages—denial,
anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—and just when I think acceptance
remained strong in my heart, I had setbacks, reverting to anger and sliding down the
ladder once more.
A World Shattered in a Million Pieces
My world shattered into millions of pieces that day, and I never thought we’d be able to
pick up all the scattered bits to rebuild our dreams, our hopes, and our wishes for Yohan.
I quickly learned this reassessment would not be a one-time project, but a repetitive task
taking time, effort, and a lot of soul searching.
Seeing a child struggling with pain, braces, physical limitations, and obvious differences
made me unspeakably sad. My maternal instincts told me to protect, shelter, cajole and
especially do something—anything—to make the world a friendlier, more secure place
for him. The more his self-esteem plummeted and self-confidence lessened, the more I
would try to make his life easier in any way possible.
Yet, kids are resilient and smart. On some level, Yohan felt my fears and reflected them
back by becoming more and more anxious, less focused, and simply put, a very unhappy
child. Something had to give.
What Else Could We Do?
Lightening his load did not seem to be the answer, and neither did catering to his every
need. In retrospect, I was allowing him to be more dependent on me for everything, and
his teachers in school commented on his lack of autonomy and self-motivation.
My husband and I thought long and hard about what was playing out before our eyes and
decided to get some help from a therapist who counsels families on raising children with
medical issues. Intuitively, we knew what measures needed to be taken, but implementing change is hard
and we desperately needed someone to guide us. Slowly but surely, we stopped treating him as different
and let him experience the world on his terms. For me, this was probably the hardest, but most essential
job I had as a parent of a child with special needs.
Tools for Independence
Working together, my husband and I learned how to provide Yohan with the tools needed
to be independent, self-sufficient, tenacious, and optimistic. After numerous
discussions and a lot of trial and error, we got on the same page and worked as a family
towards common goals. My husband started bringing Yohan on camping trips, desert
excursions, and kayaking adventures, treating him like every other kid on the trip.
I changed my mindset, letting him blow off steam on the way home from school, and
listened without judging by creating a safe space for him to open up and talk. Sure, I still
tended to stray at times, fretting over hypothetical possibilities, living much too far in the
future, and being obsessed with “what ifs”—but a shift was taking hold, and overall, life
became more manageable and much more fun.
When all is said and done, Yohan was not the top athlete in his class, so we had the
opportunity to do things a little differently, creating a life full of enriching and rewarding
experiences. Over the years, our motto has been, “Let’s Make it Happen.” We follow our
dreams, live in the moment, cultivate new experiences and live our best lives possible.
Yohan became an expert archer, was scuba-dive certified, visited the Galapagos Islands,
volunteered many hours to CMTA, and graduated from a first-class University and
Graduate school. He is now working in the field of HR for a local start-up company and
enjoying his success.
Encouragement For Parents
If your child/children have CMT, life can still be enjoyable and fulfilling. There is no one
road map to raising a child with CMT, but here are a couple of key concepts I often share:
-Accept (eventually) the CMT diagnosis – it’s the first step.
Talk about CMT with family and friends; don’t hide it.
Help your children describe what CMT is, in their own words, if asked.
Let your children know it will all be okay because it will.
Embrace challenges and praise your children for doing their best.
Create a safe space for your children to talk about frustrations and anger.
Let go and let them live their lives to the fullest, with autonomy and independence.
Laugh heartily and often. Laughter really is the best medicine.
Involve yourself with the CMTA. We have so many resources for parents and kids alike.
Camp Footprint, the CMTA’s sleep-away summer camp for kids with CMT changes lives. Our volunteers make us shine. Get involved and meet forever friends who understand. Neither your children nor you should deal with this alone. We are better together.
I could not be prouder of Yohan. He’s kind, empathic, funny, and engaging. He rarely complains about his CMT, and lives with the knowledge that every day is a blessing, He has a supportive extended family and friends who love him for his authentic self. If there is just one gift with which I wish to leave him, it is the knowledge that he can achieve his heart’s desire. He just has to believe!
– Elizabeth Ouellette
I’ve been volunteering for CMTA for the past 20 years. Here are a few of my most cherished achievements: I created a school-based program, Teaching Kids About CMT, built the national CMTA Branch network, initiated CMT Awareness week, co-founded the Cycle 4 CMT and co-launched the CMTA’s official podcast CMT 4 Me Podcast with my brother, Chris, who is also on the CMTA Board of Directors.
Comin’ at you! What do you get when you mix chaotic creativity with organized comedy? You get the #1 CMT Podcast available today: CMT 4 Me. Despite being polar opposites, this brother-sister team brings it all together in an exciting and informative series focused on all aspects of CMT. Meet Chris and LizO (Chris and Elizabeth Ouellette), dedicated siblings on a mission to magnify the voices of individuals with CMT, share their challenges and success stories, and raise awareness of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
As kids, they learned homelessness was not someone else’s problem.
Giving back is so much more than pizza and donuts for Halloween.
Chris: One, two, three. Hello, everyone. This is Chris and Liz O.
LizO: We’re a brother/sister team.
Chris: And, on behalf of the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association, AKA CMTA, we are coming at you.
LizO: Coming at you not from coast to coast, from the East Coast. We’re both in Vermont, and I’m here for a couple more days.
Chris: Nice. We’re at our camp in beautiful Colchester, Vermont on the beach of Lake Champlain.
LizO: Yeah, it’s nice.
Chris: So, Liz O, guess what?
Chris: This is another fantastic episode of our famous podcast named what?
LizO: CMT, the number four, me, CMT4Me.
Chris: That’s right. What is this podcast all about? It is a comprehensive podcast covering all aspects of CMT, the voice of individuals living with CMT, their challenges, and more importantly, their inspirational stories. We will also cover research updates, fundraising, and interviews with the CMTA community, such as board members, branch leaders, CMTA leaders, but overall, an opportunity to spread awareness through the eyes of those with CMT. So, Liz O, I’m pretty excited about today’s podcast. Totally different, right? This podcast is going to focus on what?
LizO: Me and you. Who are we? Why are we doing this? Why are we even doing the CMT4Me Podcast? What is our relationship? What are we all about?
Chris: That is right, folks.
LizO: Should we start?
Chris: Yeah, that is right. There is a lot there, and we’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. We really wanted our listeners to understand a little bit more about Liz O and I and our past, our history, why we’re engaged in the CMTA, as Liz O said, why we do this podcast. What I’m hoping is if you folks have questions, you’re able to send those in, and we can answer them on future podcasts. So, where do we start, Liz O?
LizO: Well, do you want to start by saying how I got involved in the CMTA?
Chris: No, I don’t want to start there at all.
LizO: Okay, well then why’d you just ask me?
Chris: Just because I love to ask you a question and then totally, we don’t do it. So, I was thinking … Let’s start a little bit, right? So, I’d like to go back to kind of our upbringing. We were both born here in Vermont.
LizO: Oh, way back.
Chris: We’re going to go way back to the beginning. Just so our listeners know, I am currently … Actually, I’m going to be 56.
LizO: Oh, now we’re talking about you. What the hell? I just started, me, and then you’re like, “Well, I’m going to be.” It’s not about you. It’s about us.
Chris: Right, so this is the Chris Podcast, and you won’t learn much about Liz O, but you’re going to learn a lot about me. So, it’s perfect. I’m right in my element, right in my spot.
LizO: I should have never agreed to this podcast.
Chris : I know, I know.
LizO: Okay, let’s get going. Come on.
Chris: All right, let’s do it. Go ahead.
LizO: No, go ahead. You have this great idea.
Chris: No, it just made me think, right? I’ll be 56 in July. We were born in beautiful Burlington, Vermont. In reflection, it really made me think, what’s the story? And, what’s the connection? One thing about our upbringing, and I think it really ties into the fact that we’re engaged with the CMTA. We’re engaged with the CMT community. And, we’ll touch base upon our fundraiser, Cycle4CMT, going into its ninth year. But, really there’s a pretty good background in terms of why we are engaged and I think why we give back and where that really came from, right? You see where I’m going with this, Liz O?
LizO: Yeah, I do. I do.
Chris: And, what are some of your thoughts on why I think we have this foundation in terms of giving back to the community in a number of different ways over the years? Where’d that come from?
LizO: Yeah, I think the spirit of volunteerism, it came from … I don’t even know if that’s a word, but-
Chris: I was just going to say, “Is that a word?”
LizO Cool. It’s volunteerism. Anyway, it is today. And, it goes back to our mom who has always been very generous, giving, and not just with her family, but with people she doesn’t even know. This is an example, and I know you have many, many more, but at Halloween, everybody loved our house at Halloween, because she just didn’t give a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or a quarter. She would order Domino’s pizza, and everybody would just come and chow down pizza, go out. It was just so much fun, and people remember that to this day.
Chris: I still have friends of mine that are in their 50s, that they go, “Oh, my gosh. How’s your mom doing? I remember those Halloween nights.” And, she also would take the popcorn machine from, at that time, the candy store that our folks owned down on Church Street and be giving out popcorn as well. But, people loved that. Then, I remember we used to have to go out and pick up all the Domino’s Pizza boxes all around the street, because we learned the entire Burlington area. But, it was pretty cool. But, that was her thought, right? Doing something different, right? And, what more could she do? Like you said, there’s so many stories. I think about if you and I ever went with our mom, Bev, to Church Street downtown, one thing is everybody would run up to her. Everybody knew her, right? And, she was always trying to help people, and I remember-
LizO: Not only people that we knew from school, but she knew a lot of the homeless. She knew a lot of the people that didn’t have a lot of money, because that was her focus. She wanted to help this community in Burlington, right?
Chris : Yeah.
LizO: She was always out there.
Chris: That was a full time job.
LizO: Yeah, and she has a degree in psychology, and she would talk to these people. But, for us growing up, I hated it at first. Looking back, I didn’t like it. I didn’t hate it, but it was just, where do we have to have Thanksgiving, at St. Jude’s? This is a rooming house she had with people that didn’t have tons of money. It was Section 8 or whatever. And, we had Thanksgiving, but we learned to accept people of all kinds. It doesn’t matter about their financial background, right?
Chris: Yeah, yeah, and I think it was also her way of telling us, A, be fortunate you have a family, right? And, back to that Thanksgiving is about giving back. So, as a family, we will together give back to the community. And, I do. I remember that. I was like, “Oh, my God.” I remember this Thanksgiving, and she decided that, and we’re around all these 80, 90 year old people. What fun, though? She was so humorous. She dumped all these apples in this big container filled with water, and the elderly folks were bobbing for apples. She looks at me, she’s like, “Your turn.” I’m like, “There is no way I’m sticking my mouth in that water.”
LizO: I remember that.
Chris: But, it was great. It was adding fun, and the people loved it.
LizO: Mom is a lot of fun.
Chris: So, I agree with you. She is a lot of fun, but I remember it was that reflection of leaving and being like, “Though I didn’t want to go, that was a good day.”
LizO: It was.
LizO: Right, I am too, and I think life, honestly, and I know this was instilled in us early on, but I think life is about giving back. It’s about giving back to the community, and I take a lot of pride in giving back. Just to volunteer and to help a group of people is a gift in itself. It just makes you feel good, and you know that you can make a difference, right?
Chris : Totally.
LizO: That’s where the CMTA comes in.
Chris: Yeah, and I think talking about that is the CMTA and just thinking about Yohan and his diagnosis and really how you personally have been involved with CMT and the CMTA for how many years now?
LizO So, it will be 20 years in December of 2022.
Chris: And, folks, keep that in mind. That is 20-plus years total volunteering. When I say volunteering with Liz O, this isn’t five hours a week. This is 40, 50 hours a week, weekends, never complains, totally engaged. And, this is what her life has become. I will speak on behalf of those with CMT and people in the CMTA, so fortunate to have someone like that driving to advance research, help find a cure, spread awareness. And, the stories go on and on of what she’s done, but that’s pretty in-cresible. In-cresible? You like that, I just made that word up, in-cresible.
LizO: Just go with it.
Chris: I love it. Hey, instead of incredible, that’s in-cresible. Sweet, okay, I got that down. But, anyways, very impressive. That’s giving back.
LizO: So, when Yohan was born, we had no idea. We don’t have CMT in our family, and so he started exhibiting signs early on just with light sensitivity and walking on his toes. At seven, he was diagnosed, and as parents, we didn’t know what Charcot-Marie-Tooth was. We had never heard of it, and there were very few, few, few resources at the time. They gave us the address of the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association. At that time, we had just moved from France to California, and I decided to go back and get a degree in psychology.
LizO: When I was done with that degree, we learned that Yohan has CMT. So, I’m like, “How can I use this degree?” It was sort of just meant to be. So, I just got involved, and there were two people working at the CMTA 20 years ago. We knew a little bit about 1A and other types, but nothing to the extent. We didn’t have the resources at all of what we have today. So, we started building the branch network that we have now and awareness month. It was so fun at that time, because we didn’t have much. With Jeana Sweeney, we just built out the whole organization to all these fantastic resources and met so many people. So, I do this for Yohan, but I just feel like the CMT community is my family.
Chris: Okay, that’s what it is. Yeah, no, it’s pretty impressive, pretty impressive when you think back. I come back to Yohan’s diagnosis and/or my first involvement with CMT, and I actually do recall. I think it was on a phone call where you said, “Hey, Yohan and CMT,” and my first comment was, “What do you mean? What’s CMT? What do you mean there’s no cure? You know where science is. There has to be a cure, and what does this mean for him?” And, it really took me, I think, quite a while to understand what CMT was and/or how that may affect Yohan. Obviously, you guys are in California, so I didn’t see you all the time. All I could hear are some stories about wearing braces and potential surgeries in the future.
Chris: Then, you guys would come to Vermont, and he was very young. You really couldn’t notice very many symptoms being expressed, but also knowing that there was this underlying kind of diagnosis that you guys were trying to navigate through and also trying to explain to the family. So, it was really … Then, the fact, I think for me was every summer coming to Vermont, and he would just … Every year, he’s older and older. Then, I could start over a period of time seeing some of these subtle or slight changes from one year to the next. That brings up the components of, at a young age, hey, let’s go for this walk. Hey, let’s go for this hike. Oh, my God. You’ve really got to come in the winter and try skiing or snowboarding. That’ll be cool.
Chris: And, he engaged in those items. Then, I could see over a period of time, it was like, well, I really don’t necessarily have an interest in doing that. Maybe that was his way to express some of the challenges, though I knew he would want to do it. I could just see that over a period of time, based on his symptoms, that got me a lot more closer to what CMT is and really grasping what this disorder is. I would think it’s probably challenging when you talk to someone who doesn’t know anyone with CMT or what that is. It might be hard for them to make that connection to really what it is.
LizO: It a little challenging, because I will say, “My son has this neuromuscular disorder,” and then they see him, and he looks fine. What are you talking about? You’re totally the making this up, but let’s just go through some of the symptoms that people with CMT have. Chronic pain, burning nerve pain, no feeling, because it affects the sensory nerve, so no feeling in your lower legs or your feet, in your hands. Your muscles start to atrophy, because the nerves don’t work anymore, so people get claw hands, claw toes. They have tremors. It can affect your back, scoliosis, kyphosis. Some people are affected with their vocal cords, their hearing. More people than I thought are affected by their breathing. People need surgeries and the feet don’t fit into the high …
LizO They either have really high arch feet or totally flat feet, and the toes curl. It’s a challenge, and the biggest challenge when Yohan was first diagnosed, they thought he had cerebral palsy. So, I’m like, “Okay, it’s very mild. It’s not progressive.” Then, they came back with a CMT diagnosis, and it’s a progressive disease. So, it’s not going to get better. It’s not getting better. There are treatments like exercise or physical therapy or occupational therapy or surgery, but it’s going to keep getting worse until we find a cure. So, that’s what I’m all about, trying to find research and spread awareness and increase the resources we have. We’re doing a great job in that, but I’m still frustrated that we don’t have anything to stop the progression. But, we’ll get there.
Chris: I think what also hit me really hard in terms of what CMT is, is this was years ago, I think probably in 2014 or so. I think that’s when I joined the board of the CMTA, and I went to a conference in Boston. That was my first conference. So, I’d been kind of exposed to what CMT is with Yohan, not really engaged with anyone else that had CMT and would read stories, positive and negative, et cetera. But, I’ll tell you, going to this conference in Boston, and you were there, and I can totally remember walking out of there that I now have a much better appreciation and understanding of CMT. A lot of things, if you’re not engaged with CMT, I remember the first thing I did. I meet someone over at a table getting coffee, and I go to forcefully do the American awesome-
Chris: Manly handshake, and I grabbed that individual’s wrist, and I’m serious, I felt like I broke their wrist. They just couldn’t really return that handshake that I was so accustomed to and brought up doing in terms of a standard greeting. Then, I looked around the room, and I could see mothers or daughters together in wheelchairs or people having difficulty walking, et cetera. It was really, really mind blowing. I think that was really the turning point for me, that not only through our family and Yohan, but really starting to think about what else can I do to give back to this community? And, that really prompted a lot of different actions, further involvement for me in the board, more engaged, I think, with Yohan, and as we’ll talk about is that leaning into which I’ll say, our ninth annual coming up in August Cycle4CMT fundraiser that I’m really proud of that’s raised over $1.7 million for research. That story in itself, which leads to a number of different topics, is between you and I, is how that fundraiser got started, right?
LizO Right, and before you go into that, I just want to say I’m looking at that picture in back of you, and I see you and Yohan. Yohan was here in Vermont, and I believe there’s always a silver lining in every situation, any situation that’s tough. The silver lining is that you and Yohan have forged such a strong relationship. He thinks the world of you, and I can’t thank you enough for getting involved, because we felt pretty alone in this disease. For you to come out and spend so much time and energy and get the word out and talk about it and understand it means the world to me. But, it also means the world to Yohan, and I can’t thank you enough. Really, he was here, and you guys went to breakfast. He goes, “I think I just want to be with Funcle Chris,” fun uncle. And, you guys just laughing in sync, it just means the world to me. So, thank you for being involved, and I wish more families would get involved in the lives of others with CMT.
Chris: I do. I love him. He’s so awesome. We have such a great relationship, a lot of respect for him. I can’t imagine not doing some of these things. I think too that that relationship with Yohan and the connection to CMT has also prompted my dedication to CMT, not only for him, but as I’m more engaged in the community, with the three plus million people worldwide, and really trying to think of how we can reach those individuals, how we can spread awareness, and what more we can do any way possible. And, the key is funding research, finding a cure for this disorder at some point in time. I do agree with you, Liz O. I think at some point, we will get there. And, you and I were talking about it this morning. The CMTA is a relatively small association. I think we’ve committed well over $20 million in research to date, but it takes so much money, right? It takes so much money just to get to clinical trials, and then the failure rate of clinical trials is very high. But-
LizO: I think the statistics were it takes between 400 million and one billion dollars to bring a drug to market. But, that doesn’t mean the CMTA has to put that much in. We have really attracted pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies. There are more people today working on CMT than ever before, and it will only keep increasing. So, there’s a lot of hope if we can get them to get more involved or we have something very promising. They can take that and bring it to market, because they have the big dollars, right?
Chris Exactly, and going back, Liz O, too, I do want to talk about the inception of the Cycle4CMT fundraising.
LizO: Oh, yeah, let’s talk about that Bahamas trip.
Chris: Bahamas trip, and folks, listeners, we’ll touch base a little bit upon Liz O and I in terms of our relationship, but what we would do as a family I thought is very important is to travel at least once or twice a year, which I don’t say that lightly, very fortunate that we were able to do that. And, I definitely do not take that for granted.
LiizO Can I say something?
LizO I just want to say that your kids had to follow a strict schedule for school, but we would just take Yohan out of school, because early on, we decided that seeing the world is educational, and we would do as many trips as we could. Because, honestly at the time, and we still don’t know what his capabilities will be in the future. And, I’m really, really glad we did that. And, we did take him out of school. Sometimes, he had homework and everything on vacation, but what he learned and the experiences he had, it’s just incredible, and we’ll never get those back. So, I’m so fortunate to be able to have done that with him, really.
Chris: Yeah, it’s cool. And, the fact is right when we would travel, Yohan, he’d do a lot of things. Then, as I stated earlier in this podcast, I would notice he would be able to do less items. He would still have a great time on vacation, but our focus turned a little bit to what was he capable of doing. And, it hit me, and it was 2014. We were in The Bahamas, me, you, Yohan, my wife, Mia, our son, Warren, and daughter, Lila. And, we are sitting there in a Starbucks having coffee, and I was just looking at Yohan, because his feet were all scraped as he was walking around the pool. His water shoes, he had-
LizO: Well, the day before, because I’m so scattered, I got there a day before you and left the day earlier, because I messed up the schedule and the days.
Chris: I forgot that.
LizO: So, that first day we got there, I’m like, “Let’s go in the pool.” And, we had these water shoes. Since he has pinky toes up in claw, we put holes in the pinky toe, and he was out there. He was in the pool and the lazy river, walking all around, and he got out. Since he has no feeling in his feet initially, he looked down. His toes were raw. He had scraped all the skin off his toes, and then the pain set in. That set us up for a limited, limiting vacation, and it was awful.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, no, I remember that. So, we’re sitting there having coffee, and I remember I had just started cycling at that point. I started chatting with you and with everyone there, I said, “What more?” It was going in my mind actually, before I expressed that. I was thinking, what can we be doing, right? I don’t want to just sit on the sidelines. There has to be something we could do. Thank God, you were very knowledgeable because you were engaged with the CMTA and talking about research. I started to think, hey, maybe we put on a cycling fundraiser. And, I have never done any fundraising. I think maybe you were engaged in some fundraising.
LizO: Oh, yeah, I did.
Chris: Maybe it was through branches and things like that, but I was totally new, new to biking. And, I remember saying, “Well.” You asked me what my thought is. I was like, “I don’t know. I just want to tell maybe 10 of my friends, and we’ll try to raise some money, and I’ll go down [inaudible 00:25:59] Vermont and sit on the beach afterwards, and we’ll cook some hamburgers and have a beer or so. Maybe we’ll raise a couple hundred dollars, and I can start there. Then, with the sister/brother team, with your energy, and I think that translated to my energy where, well, that’s not enough, right? What can we do? And, behold, we launched the first Cycle4CMT event in October. It was October that first year in 2014 in Vermont. It was cold.
LizO: It was cold.
Chris: But, it was cool, because we had probably 80 plus participants, and that event was more kind of family and friends oriented. I went out and I posted some cycling routes, and I had these little tiny signs on the side of the road that had arrows to go right or left. I didn’t realize, well, you’re probably at times going downhill, could be going 25, 30 miles an hour. Maybe you won’t. And, people didn’t even see the signs. Everybody went off course.
LizO: Remember, Kevin Thibodeau, he left, and we didn’t even know where he was. And, he came back miles later, not in shape or anything.
LizO: But, you know what’s great is everybody was laughing about it.
LizO: Everybody understood. That’s great. There were two people with CMT, and fast forward, if you go to the eighth annual, we have a lot of people with CMT attending, walking, cycling. It’s really become quite big, and we have an event this year in Wisconsin. Then, we have, well, not an event. We have a ride in Wisconsin, and we have a ride in San Francisco and people doing their own thing. So, it’s really expanding, and it’s really exciting.
Chris: They were.
Chris: Yeah, and it’s cool to reflect back, thinking, sitting in the coffee shop, talking about a fundraiser, and where we are today. As I reference, that has just grown. The attendance, we usually at the signature event in Vermont, which is now always the Sunday prior, the week prior to Labor Day, we usually have about 200 plus participants. There are new faces every year. There are more people coming that have CMT. People go out for a ride. We have a great breakfast. We have a full catered meal. We have live music. We enjoy some local craft beer and cider. We always try to bring in researchers, our leading scientists to talk about where we are in the research front. The cool thing is then we just have a great silent auction. That’s very powerful here in Vermont, right? The community is so engaged. Probably, we’ve had at times 100 silent auction items, ranging from people donating skis, to hiking shoes, to biking jerseys, to gift certificates, to hotels, and you name it. That’s a fun, but not an easy feat to obtain those silent auction items.
LizO: No, the Cycle4CMT is really a lot of work, and every year after the event, we’re just like, “Should we do this next year? It’s taking so much time.” And, what I remember is you have people like Paul Kang and Stephen Lee coming from Washington and Connecticut and talking about little Juliana who died at five years old from CMT. It’s very rare to die from CMT, but it happens. Stephen flew all the way here, and then we had the interns, Emily and Erin.
Chris: They’re awesome.
LizO: They both have CMT, and they’re so, so motivational and inspirational and just great young women. Then, when we go, “Oh, my gosh, we’re so tired.” You want to tell the story of Riley, Riley who came up to you?
Chris: Oh, boy, I’m serious, folks. I’m sure a number of you have done fundraising. It’s not an easy feat, and I’m not saying that to give Liz O and I credit at all. Like Liz O said, every year, we’re like, “Okay, that was the last event.”
LizO: That’s the last one.
Chris: “That was the last one. We’re totally exhausted.” I know when everyone leaves the event on Sunday, we’re laying on the grass, and now we still have to take everything down. No one can speak. We’re totally tired. But, to me, that’s part of it, right? You have to have some blood, sweat, and tears. These things shouldn’t be easy to begin with, but Riley, who’s so awesome, and-
LizO: He’s from Vermont, Essex.
Chris: He’s from Vermont, and how old is he now, Liz O?
LizO: I don’t know. He must be 13, 14.
Chris: Yeah, so Riley, and I don’t know how this got out there, but he at the time, maybe he was eight or nine. And, I’m talking to someone at the event, and Riley pulls on my shirt, and he says to me-
LizO: And, wait, wait, wait. So, Riley’s pretty affected by CMT.
Chris: He is.
LizO: He’s a CMT type four, so that’s two genes causing CMT.
Chris: Yeah, he’s in a wheelchair.
LizO: Now, he is is.
Chris: Or, now. He was wearing braces, I think at the time, needed assistance with walking, and made it over to me, and pulled on my shirt. And, I looked down at this little, little boy with his glasses and big eyes. He said, I think he called me Chris, which was great, “Chris, someone said that this might be the last year that you” … Sorry, folks. This is my emotional point. He said, “I heard you might not do this event anymore.” And, I looked at him in the eyes, and I could see his condition. I just was like, “Riley, this will not be our last event.” It just showed me how important that event was to him and to others. I think that has been not only with Yohan, but the CMT community and folks like Riley, that has driven that kind of tiredness and not wanting to do the event into passion and dedication to continue to move forward, and even though we don’t have a cure today, to stay positive.
Chris: When you can see someone with CMT really have the opportunity to enjoy that event, and as I always say to Liz O, that event, as I reference, is not feedback for Liz O and I in terms of what we do. That event is for people with CMT, and that is why we do it. It’s their environment. It’s their voice. It’s giving them updates on research and doing whatever we can to spread awareness and help raise the necessary money so we can continue on this research path. So, that was inspirational, and it’s very interesting. It’s been probably five years, and every time that story comes up, I just start crying.
LizO: Well, and then Riley spoke at one of the events, and hopefully, he’ll be at the event this year. He probably will. His mom [inaudible 00:33:04] is a good friend. The other thing is he attend attends Camp Footprint, and that’s been life changing for him, but I just remember talking about … He didn’t want to lose the ability to walk, and he has. And, that’s the progressive nature of CMT, and we need to stop CMT. We Need to stop the progression.
Chris: The other thing that hits me at these events as well is the positive energy.
LizO: So fun.
Chris: CMT can have a major impact, however I just find such a positive environment with those that do have CMT. It gives you encouragement and strength to continue to try to fundraise and find a cure, because it’s just such an awesome community. You don’t find people that are sitting there, looking for sympathy. They are talking about what they have accomplished and what they can do. Some folks say, “Hey, if I had a chance” … I don’t know if I would say … It’s hard, right? Some folks would be like, “I don’t know if I’d say. Obviously, I wouldn’t want CMT, but CMT has really made me into this incredible person.” And, that is very heartfelt, warming, and touching to me, to hear those stories.
Chris: So, it’s a great environment. And, folks, this is definitely a pitch for the Cycle4CMT event as well. If you have a chance to get to that signature Vermont event, you’ll be blown away by it. It is beautiful. It’s a great environment. It is a lot of fun. It’s a great cause. On top of that, as Liz O said, there are rides going on throughout the country. You can go to the Cycle4CMT.com website, learn all about the event. But, again that event is for you, and if you can get out there and help fundraise and spread awareness, that’s our goal, and we’d love to have you.
LizO: And, this comes back to what I was thinking. You said people are so positive, and we have such a great group of people who Cycle4CMT. But, I think part of that is talking about giving back, instead of sitting there and waiting for somebody else to do it. Get involved in any way you can, so you’re part of progress. You’re going to be part of our solution. You, your money, even if it’s just a little bit, if everybody just gave a little bit, we’d probably have a cure by now. So, honestly, I just think I can’t sit by and watch Yohan progress or my friends, Bethany, progress, or Jeana, or people I’ve come to love, and Kenny B. I can’t do that. I have to be involved, and all these people are involved, and it feels good to give back. And, it feels good to see progress when we do.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, totally. So, Liz O, you’re talking, and I’m just thinking about our relationship, right? We don’t see each other that frequently, maybe a couple weeks each year. Hopefully, that’ll continue to grow as we-
LizO: You’re too busy. You’re too busy. Every time I call, you’re like, “Yeah, okay.” And, I’m like, “Hey, so” … I’ve got to go. Bye. Got to go. Bye. Got to go. Bye.
Chris: But, you’re busy as well, and it’s interesting. It is a good team. You and I are really two totally different people, but there are a lot of common characteristics as well. I’m going to just give a little bit of feedback, folks, to get you the details of Liz O. And, I would say number one, lot of fun, right? Always laughing, very, very intelligent, very well spoken. We’ve already talked about how she gives back, but on the side, she’s totally scattered, totally scattered. I am always like, “She makes it through the day. She does. I don’t know how she does.
Chris: And, here’s a great example. What does she do yesterday? Comes down to camp. She’s like, “I am going swimming.” I’m like, “Perfect. Go swimming.” So, she puts her bathing suit on. I’m doing something on my iPad, and she comes back out of the lake, and she’s like, “I can’t see anything. I can’t see anything.” I’m like, “What?” She goes, “Did I just jump in the lake with my glasses on?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” So, I’m like, “Here we go.” So, I go out in the lake. I can see these footprints in the sand. I go way out there, and sure enough, there-
LizO: I’m trying to help, and I can’t see anything.
Chris: Yeah, she can’t see anything anyways.
LizO: I’m stirring up all the sand.
Chris: Yeah, so there are glasses on the bottom of the lake, which I recover for her and continue to move on. But, that is not a surprise. There are probably five to 10 of those items that go on through the day. Can’t find her car keys. Can’t find her phone.
ChrisO: She goes on a trip with Gilles, who is our chairman of the CMTA, and what does she do? She loses the car keys in the desert, and he’s out horseback riding. She’s going for a hike, and so thank God, she posted her walk on this app called Strava, and Gilles followed it on Strava and found the rental keys. But, my point is she makes it through in that type of environment, and she’s not scattered on other things. But, those type of things, which aren’t real important to her, you know what I mean? There’s other things, and she gets through it. And, I am a little bit different. I’m not saying I’m not scattered, but I’m a little bit different.
LizO: No, no, no. You’re very different. Listen to this. (singing). I can’t even remember the tune now. (singing).
LizO: No, maybe it is. But, I meant The Odd Couple. We’re sort of like-
Chris: Oh, that is The Odd Couple.
LizO: Oscar and Felix.
Chris: Good point.
LizO: I’m Oscar. You’re Felix.
LizO: So, you’re very organized. You’re very driven. And, you are very structured, and I am not. I am driven. That’s what we have in common, but you’ve always been like that, though. I just remember waking up in the morning, and you were nine. What nine year old looks outside of the window and goes, “Oh, my God, the grass needs to be mowed.” And, you get out there, maybe 10. You’re mowing the grass, and I’m like, “What grass? Who cares? Have it weeds.” It’s so interesting, and I remember I was kind of nervous about spending the night at camp here with you, because-
ChrisO: Well, I was nervous as well.
LizO: I know if I have any crumbs on the counter, he’s going to freak. I don’t know if I’m doing the dishes right. I’m just trying to respect your space. The other day, and I felt bad about this afterwards, but I don’t think of these things. I get a box. We’re over at your house. You have white furniture, which I think is stupid.
Chris: She gets the box out of the garage, folks, my garage that has been … It’s all dusty and things like that.
LizO: It’s not dirty.
Chris: What does she do? She’s like, “Can I have use this box to ship items?” I’m like, “Sure.” So, then what proceeds to happen?
LizO: Then, I take the box and put it on the white furniture and start packing the box. He goes, “Could you please take that box off the furniture?” I’m like, “Why?” I had no idea. It didn’t even dawn on me that the box was dirty or had dust on it. Then, a little aggressively, I kind of rubbed the box into the couch.
Chris: Yeah, that was very nice.
LizO: No, that wasn’t. It was just like it annoyed me, but I apologized later. I should just taken it off, but I don’t think of these things. We grew up just having a blast and jumping in mud puddles. What did you tell me earlier about the bathtub?
Chris: Oh, yeah. No, it was great. I think about growing up, right? And, this comes back to mom. Mom was very structured, very committed, high driving, tons of energy. Even today, the energy is off the charts compared to us. Education was really important to her, the whole aspect of giving back, realizing what you have, and just throwing that in there. Not to digress, but it just made me think, even at Christmas time, I remember as a little kid being in our station wagon, and mom would go buy a couple bikes or something and toys. And, we would drive through the old north end in Burlington, which was somewhat of a depressed area.
Chris: She would see a child or a family and stop, and we’d get out and give them these gifts. But, yeah, very, very structured, but also flexible. It made me think, she rarely got mad. I remember with our brother, Anthony, when you’re younger, you’re taking baths together, and him and I are just always creative. The bathtub is filled, and we’re pretending we’re on a ship, and we’re sliding down the bath, and water is overflowing out of the tub and going on the floor. Mom’s downstairs, and water’s coming through the ceiling and just, oh, okay, great. They’re having fun. Can you guys stop that?
LizO: They’re having a good time.
Chris: I grab blankets, and then I’d be sliding down the stairs and rip the carpet and whatever and smash into the wall. They’re just like, “Oh, the kids are having fun again.” So, that was pretty cool, right?
LizO: But, I think it was. It was, and we just had a lot of freedom. But, our personalities are very different and very alike. I think we’re very complementary. And, you make me laugh, too. You’re funny, so I like that.
Chris: Oh, well, same. Listen, I guess, folks, it’s a great relationship. Liz O, love you very much.
Liz Ouellette: Same back to you.
Chris: It’s cool, and it’s really cool to have the opportunity, these things, whether it’s the fundraiser, Yohan, the CMTA, has really, I think, also kept us connected.
Chris: And, at times I wonder, I think, boy, if we didn’t have that, will we still be connected? And, there’s part of me that says, “I know we would. I know we would.”
LizO: We would.
Chris: Because, there’s that sense of family and appreciation for one another and Yohan and Gilles. You love our kids, et cetera, so that family aspect is big.
LizO: It’s huge.
Chris : And, I think you said it well. I’m proud of that. I do think we have a good example of how a family can come together and strive to overcome a number of hurdles, specifically as related to CMT, right? And, there’s a lot more power with more-
LizO: That’s right, it’s not just me and you. Our parents, our siblings, our community, our family, everybody is involved.
Chris: Yeah, it’s cool.
LizO: They don’t even hesitate.
Chris: That’s good. I hope mom’s listening, because we need her to make a big donation this year.
LizO: Yeah, I know. This is the reason we’re mentioning her. No, I’m just kidding.
Chris: Get out your checkbook, mumsy,
Chris: So, Liz O, let’s talk a little bit about this podcast.
LizO: So this is an idea you had six years ago.
Chris: Years ago.
LizO: Yeah, and people were starting podcasts. We should do a podcast. At that time, I’m like, “How do you even do a podcast?”
Chris. I don’t know.
LizO: Now, everybody has a podcast, but you had this idea, and the board of directors actually supports us 100%, love the podcast. They love the podcast. And, thanks to Mark, it’s pretty easy. And, I love doing it with you. And, we have interviewed some people that are just amazing. Every single person, and so the CMT4Me podcast, and you came up with the name, which you’re very creative also.
Chris: And, CMT4Me. And, again, it’s another … And, keep in mind, don’t just push yourself aside on this one. This is collaborative. That’s what’s cool, and you’re just making me think, whether it’s back in Bahamas. I’m like, “I’d like to do a fundraiser,” but working with you continues that creative. And, where do we go? Because, you don’t want to do anything small, right?
LizO: No, I can’t.
Chris: You’re like, “Okay.”
LizO: It’s either 100% or zero.
LizO: That’s a problem, but that’s the way I am.
Chris: Exactly, so we work well together. That was really again thinking about, with my experience with CMT individuals is that, how do we give more individuals with CMT the platform and voice? As our intro says, it’s really their inspirational stories. How can we get more people with CMT connected to one another so they feel they have support? It goes to the same thing with the fundraiser. It’s a platform, and this podcast is a platform for individuals to express themselves, tell their stories.
Chris: It’s been cool, because there’s been some people that have listened to the podcast that then have reached out to another individual who we interviewed. Or, they’re new to CMT, and now they have resources. So, I feel really good about that. One thing I think we work hard on too, and someone made me think about this, was you don’t always want to just focus on the negative, right? Oh, here’s all the negative things going on. No, we’re realistic, and we talk about the facts, but there are so many great stories about overcoming challenges and sharing information. On top of that, the big goal is spread awareness, right?
LizO: That’s right.
Chris: And, we’ve got to spread awareness. That, I think, ties into how we can raise more money for research, if we have more and more people engaged.
LizO: So, I was just blown away yesterday, and I actually took a video of you soliciting merchandise or a gift certificate from a restaurant. You are such a natural. You just go in there, and I just watch you. Usually, this is our tactic. We walk in a store. I go shopping and buy something. Then, Chris starts talking to the owner about the cycle event, what CMT is, and tries to get a gift certificate while I’m checking out. Usually, the answer is yes, but you’re so talented at it. You just have no inhibition.
Chris: Wow, that’s cool. Thanks for that feedback. But, you participate as well, and it is a strategy. I’m like, “Liz O, you go buy something, because if you buy something, then how can they turn us down?” So, it’s great.
LizO: Then, if I don’t see anything, you’re like, “Well, I like this. I like that.
Chris: Right, so I usually walk away after her visit, multiple pairs of pants, shorts-
Chris Shirts, shoes, you name it. It’s awesome.
LizO: It works.
Chris But, it is, it’s fun, and it’s interesting. I always look at the faces of someone who we’re trying to solicit, and you go, “CMT,” and they’re like, “Okay.” And, then you keep going. This individual yesterday who finally came around, and you learn-
LizO I didn’t think he was going to.
Chris: I didn’t either, but then you learn-
LizO He was clearly like, “Whatever, whatever.”
Chris : You learn, things come up as you keep talking to people. What did he say? I said, “Do you bike?” And, he’s like, “Well, no, I have a motorcycle out there.” Then, that’s like, “Oh, well, I used to ride motorcycles. I had a Honda Shadow 500. Oh, that’s a great bike.”
LizO: So good at making those connections.
Chris: So, you make these connections. Then, you talk about, which I think is important, it’s that statistic of … I always forget. What is it, one in 2,500 or 2,800 have CMT? And, relate that back to say Burlington, Vermont or Vermont, population of 647,000, right? So, when you say, “Hey, we were born in Burlington. We’re native Vermonters, and by the way, you may not know it, but there’s over 200 people in our community that have this incurable disorder at this point.” They start to think, and I find a lot of times, after those discussions, it’s hard for them to say no. And, I don’t feel that they feel the obligation, but I think they understand. And, it’s that passion. And, Vermont is a really community-driven state that is always looking at ways to give back. That also makes it a little bit easier, but then people feel connected, right? You’ve got to bring them in terms of how they can help us towards our mission.
LizO: And, what’s really unique here is the community is important. The community feel, and community comes together when you’re in need. Vermont and the surrounding areas are just great for that. I just miss that. I miss it a lot.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s good. It’s good. We’re on a good path, folks. Liz O, are we coming to the close of this podcast? I think we kind of covered our topic.
LizO: Yeah, we’re probably just talking. I don’t even know how long we’ve been talking.
Chris: People are probably like, “Oh, my God, will these guys shut up?”
LizO: Oh, my God, are they going to stop talking?
Chris: Right. But, folks, listen. For those of you listening to this podcast, this is our opportunity. We’re not going to do our standard close, but to really thank you. Thank you for listening. Back to Liz O’s comment about doing your part as well, if you can tell folks about this podcast, if you can direct them to the Cycle4CMT fundraiser or to the CMTAUSA.org website, we need all hands on deck here.
LizO: Back to the ship in the bathtub reference.
Chris: I know, I know.
LizO: All hands on deck.
Chris: And, Liz O, maybe some of our listeners can help us if we spread this right. What’s one of our goals that we’d love to do someday, is kind of-
LizO: Oh, my gosh, we would love to be-
Chris: When you think of the news, and what would we love to do? It’d be sweet.
LizO: I’m so sick of hearing negative things. It’s all negative. So, I see this-
Chris: The news? You mean in the news?
LizO: Yeah. Yeah, everything is just negative and worrying and worrisome. Let’s get a feel good story like us helping the CMT community to find a cure for this disease and talk about all the people that do such incredible things, despite the limitations that CMT imposes. Wouldn’t it be great, Good Morning America? Or, there’s so many, so, so many programs that we would love to be on.
Chris: Right, CBS News. Maybe we could be interviewed by someone who has a podcast now.
LizO: That’s right.
Chris: That has a greater reach.
LizO: Guys, we want to go national here. We want to go international, actually. We’d like to go international.
Chris: That’d be cool.
LizO: Get the word out about CMT. We work with people internationally, so let’s get this on. Let’s get going.
Chris: Yeah, let’s do it.
LizO: Do it.
Chris: Yeah. Liz O, have you heard of those Sprinter vans?
Chris: No, okay. Well, they’re these cool vans you can put your bike in. People are buying these things now and throwing their skis in there and bikes and whatever. But, it made me think, wouldn’t it be kind of cool at some point where we could have as your background as the CMT4Me podcast logo on the side of this Sprinter van, and we tour the country and go to these areas and interview people with CMT. Wouldn’t that be sweet? That’d be fun.
LizO: Yeah, it would be fun, and we’d meet so many people. Now, that’s a story. Now, you’re cooking.
Chris: What’s it? Who’s the-
LizO: Alan Jackson?
Chris: No, no. Yeah, yeah, that’s Alan Jackson.
LizO: CMT came out, and I’m like, “Chris and Gilles, you guys have to bike there. You have to bike there, and we can make a story.” Chris was like, “I’m not biking there.”
Chris: No, it made me think of Al Roker, right? He goes on the road sometimes and travels in this van and does the weather in all these different areas of the country. We could do the podcasts in all these different areas of the country.
LizO: Yeah, let’s do it. You have to just stop working.
Chris: Yeah, okay, that sounds great. I hope people from-
LizO: Hey, talking about the podcast-
Chris: I hope people from where I work are not listening to this. No, just kidding.
LizO: So, about the podcast, if you want to leave a review, and we’d love to have your review, Apple Podcast has a place for that.
LizO: Yeah, so I just wanted to throw that out there, and it’s available on Spotify, Apple, all the major podcast outlets. You can hear this podcast, CMT4Me.
Chris: Awesome. All right, Liz O, time to go. That’s a wrap, sis.
LizO: All right, thanks, everyone for listening.
Chris: Yeah, thank you.
LizO: Cycle4CMT.com or CMTAUSA.org. If you have an interesting story, let us know, info@CMTAUSA.org, info@CMTAUSA.org. And, watch us on YouTube. We’re live.
We’re back! Yohan yelled, sliding the door to the garage open. I noticed he was walking funny, not CMT funny, but like he had a stiff leg, a heavy foot, an injured limb? My perplexed look begged the question… What now?
He brushed off my concern, acting if I were being overly paranoid and concerned (like usual). “We had a great ride and of course, on the last mile, I was tired and I took a spill. I just sprained my ankle… and…well my elbow is banged up. Oh…. and sharp stick pierced the palm of my hand when I hit the ground, but overall, I’m fine. It’ll be better in a couple of days, he said, limping down the hallway.”
After a hot shower and short rest, I took a look at the damage. “My ankle is hardly swollen,” he insisted. I pointed out that the last time I had looked at his ankle, I could see a prominent ankle bone. Now it looked puffy and bloated, as if a small jelly fish had snuck in there and took up residence. So, the crutches came out of the closet, along with the sickening memories of past orthopedic surgeries, months and months of plaster casts, pain, boots, stinky feet, scars, blood and sores.
Our bald kitties ran across the hardwood floor to greet him, but one look at the clanking crutch made them hit the brakes and off they went sliding uncontrollably, face planting into the wall. Thank God the cats make us laugh!
Recognizing the all too familiar clunk, thud, clunk, thud of Yohan’s footsteps as he made his way across the room, I too wanted to hit my head against the wall, cursing CMT to eternity and back.
Yohan’s had so many trips, falls, ankle sprains and surgeries, he knew the drill. No, not RICE. We changed that acronym to RICED. Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation. Drugs…can’t forget the Tylenol, Aleve, etc.
There wasn’t a lot of pain, but by Monday, Yohan intuitively knew he’d better get it checked out by his doctor. This was the foot on which he has had 2 reconstructive surgeries, with mediocre results.
When the films were placed on the viewing pane, there were a lot of aahs and oohs. His x-rays lit up the room like lights on Christmas tree. The techs were amazed at the hardware holding his foot together. But who was the jokester who took a pen and drew a fine line across the outer leg bone?
Diagnosis? A hairline fracture of the fibula requiring 2 months in a walking boot, 24/7, except to bathe. Ugh. Well, it could have been worse, but it still sucks.
Home we went, trying to wrap our heads around the news. The first order of business was to purchase an even-up foot riser to avoid throwing his opposing hip out of joint. He learned pretty quickly that the even-up foot risers are treacherous as they get caught on everything…..even air. The utmost caution is warranted. And if you don’t catch the edge of the foot riser on something, the cats will make sure you fall…..hard.
Walking on 2 CMT feet is tough. Put one of those in a boot and now balance on one very high-arched foot, whose toes curl in and up, and sprinkle in some ankle supination (outward turning ankle). Not for the faint of heart!
Next, he looked for additional boot liners. Seriously, they send you home with 1 boot with liner. The “hand wash only” liner smells like death after the foot is enclosed within its sweaty fabric for only 24 hours. Yohan ordered a second boot (the lux version of the same brand) so he could wash the liner every other day. Luckily, when a piece of the plastic from the first boot started digging into his heel, he had a cushy alternative.
The pain from the fracture was bearable, but he started to get a painful pressure sore on the bottom of his foot which thankfully abated when slipping his orthotic into the boot. The first several nights sleeping with the boot were tough, but gradually his body got used to the inconvenience.
This morning, he woke up with a smile!! He was celebrating his 2 weeks down, six weeks to go in a boot! He’s a glass half full kind of guy.
Taking a step back, here are my reflections:
Yohan’s new electric mountain bike offered a rainbow of opportunity, where, for the first time in quite a long while, Yohan could just be one with his friends, his dad, and his people. He did some pretty amazing rides, going places and seeing things not seen before. And these days are not gone, just suspended for a short period of time. Not the end of the world, but a bummer all the same.
I guess we all have ups and downs. Personally, I prefer the ups, but don’t we all? I believe the ups build experience and self-esteem and the downs build strength of character. And then there are all the in-betweens. Every emotional state –happiness, sadness, anxiety, fear, anger – is transient, so accepting the peaks and valleys with calm and acceptance makes each situation a little easier to handle.
Life’s highs and lows are an inevitable part of being alive, so I try to enjoy the highs, learn from the lows and experience everything else in between with an open heart. I know….easier said than done.
Yohan will get through this small setback. It will become a faint but unforgettable memory that will be part of his ongoing arsenal when dealing with upcoming challenges, setbacks and successes. He’ll get back on that bike…of this I’m sure. Why? Yohan is no stranger to adversity.
He’s not giving up or giving in. He’s found an activity he thoroughly enjoys, an activity which is exhilarating and fun, creating long-lasting memories of freedom and adventure. Also, he’s determined to cycle in the Cycle 4 CMT event with his Uncle Chris, his dad and maybe even me! The Cycle 4 CMT (in person or virtual) is so much more than a cycling event……It’s a celebration of strength, resilience and community.
Join us in the spirit of uniting with like-minded people, to fund research to put a stop to CMT. There is no cure for CMT… yet. But there will be because we, our CMT warriors, friends, family, loved ones, are going to make it happen. Grateful, so grateful for our community. Xo
On Saturday, March 18, the CMTA put on a Patient/ Family Conference in collaboration with the University of Miami. We had a wonderful turnout, with people from all over the world in attendance. Gilles Bouchard, the CMTA’s Board Chair, explained progress to date on CMTA-funded research. I wanted to share my notes with You!
In 2008, the CMTA’s Board of Directors launched STAR, or Strategy to Accelerate Research. It was based on two important ideas:
Idea #1: Causes Are Known
We know the causes of many types of CMT. The big breakthrough was in 1991 when the gene PMP22 for CMT1A was discovered. Today 90 different genes have been identified as causing CMT and more and more types of CMT are being discovered each year. This is the foundation of the STAR strategy because if we know the cause of the disease, we can duplicate it in the laboratory. It is often said that “a problem that is well stated is half resolved,” and this is the case for CMT, unlike most other diseases where causes are either unknown or very complex.
Idea #2: Manage Research According to Sound Business Principles.
STAR is based on 5 core business principles:
a) Strategy: based on knowing the cause of the disease and what to focus on.
b) Our team finds the best researchers in the world and asks them to implement the projects to support our strategy, unlike most foundations who fund the best projects which are presented to them.
c) Accountability is not the most prevalent value in the world of research. We hold our researchers to their goals. We take your money very seriously. Our researchers are not fully paid until they fully deliver.
d) Collaboration: researchers still tend to work in silos. They are experts in one domain and have one focus. To solve CMT, we bring people from different fields together so that they work collaboratively. We are now seeing more and more technologies and therapies emanating from many different fields of study.
e) Partnerships: developing a new drug is not inexpensive. It costs between 400 million to 1 billion dollars to bring a new drug to market. The CMTA does not have this kind of money. We have to work with those who have the money to develop the drugs – big, strong pharmaceutical companies. In the end, they will carry the ball over the line for us.
Our Strategy. There are 5 keys elements to our strategy:
1) Assays. Assays are tests. We recreate CMT in Petri dishes. And then with high throughput screening or HTS, we test hundreds of thousands of drugs. This gives us a way to see if the medications tested have any effect on CMT. We are looking for hits. What are hits? Hits are drugs that have a positive effect on CMT.
2) Animal Models. Once we have promising hits, we then test them on laboratory animals. From millions of potential compounds, we can narrow it down to a few of the most promising compounds or drugs.
3) Stem Cells: We take human skin samples and put them through a stem cell process to create Neurons (nerve cells) or Schwann cells (which make myelin). This way, we create assays that better represent human biology. We have good models for CMT1A and have been successful with CMT type 2.
4)Partners: For CMT1A, we’ve tested millions of compounds and with the help of a major pharmaceutical company; we have several promising compounds which need to be fine-tuned for humans. With the assays, animals, and tests, we’ve created a “toolbox” for anyone who has new therapies for CMT. They can come and work with us and test them, including new technologies that may be from other domains. We can get solutions from the entire medical field. For example, 4 different drug companies who work on many different diseases reached out to the CMTA in the past couple of months alone to discuss potential therapies.
5) Clinical Trials: We are working to get ready to conduct clinical trials and develop outcome measures – how do we measure whether a drug is effective for CMT or not? See further for more details
How do we work?
We created an advisory board with top-notch researchers. The Scientific Advisory Board has 14 world class scientists. The work of STAR is not only about science, but about turning science into therapies. Another way of saying turning science into therapies is translational research. So we created the Therapy Expert Board (TEB) – a group of experts that tell us how good the science is in terms of turning it into therapies for those with CMT.
More recently, we realized we had to get ready for clinical trials and a lot of partners were coming to us for advice on how to design clinical trials and outcome measures. So we created a 3rd board, the Clinical Expert Board (CEB), where we brought together a set of world-class experts, who are helping us help our partners think about how to design clinical trials.
We have come a long way since the inception of STAR in 2008. Over the last 2 years, the CMTA has financed 40 active projects and spent 3.5 million dollars on research. We are spending your dollars wisely and in a very focused manner. We are spending 10 times more on research than when we initially started. Success breeds success. Thanks to the support from all our donors, there is huge momentum and promise.
CMTA Research Update by Disease.
CMT1A Over the past 7-8 years, we’ve done animal studies, performed HTS, got hits and worked with a company called Genzyme. Today, we’ve narrowed it down to 2 families of compounds which are being fine-tuned in the lab. Genzyme uses a traditional, small molecule pharmaceutical approach. The entire biotech industry is based on an approach where you create biological living proteins and go directly after your target.
In parallel, another company came to us with a very different approach using RNA interference. RNA interference uses little pieces of DNA to get into your nerves and affect the way the cells creates the protein which overexpresses PMP22. We’ve seen promising results in rat testing. This technology is currently used in 2 approved drugs on the market.
CMT1X is the second most common type of CMT. Researchers have identified a relationship between CMT1X and inflammation. We’ve identified the source of this inflammation and we are going after therapies to target this source. The approach comes from cancer research! Another approach is gene therapy: In CMT, there is a problem with small pieces of DNA, so you can send the right DNA via a virus into the nerves, replacing the wrong DNA. We are also investigating gene therapy for CMT4.
We have good assays and mouse models. We’ve also had several hits and potential compounds. As in CMT1X, inflammation may play a role in CMT1B, so CMT 1X research might help CMT1B.
We’ve patented a rat model and have seen promising results using stem cells. We will also complete a small screening of FDA-approved drugs this year.
We have stem cell assays and good animal models. Testing will commence soon.
Clinical Trials-How You Can Help
Every person with CMT has a big role to play. There are currently 20 Center of Excellence in the US and abroad. You can help by joining our patient registry. Clinicians need as much data on as many patients as possible to help drug companies conduct successful trials. We are also developing “outcome measures” to be able to see the effect of a drug as soon as possible so that we are able to keep the trials short and inexpensive. The traditional CMT test scores require too much time to show if a drug is working or not, so we are looking at various “biomarkers” such as fat content in calf muscles or certain chemicals in the blood.
One day about 7-8 years ago, I get this random call from a young woman from Michigan. She wanted to volunteer with the CMTA. “Sure!”, I said enthusiastically. “We are always looking for volunteers-ALWAYS!” Now, compared to my loud, overly animated voice and my quick speaking conversational style, my new friend, Bethany, spoke slowly, methodically and in whispered tones. She actually takes a moment to think before she spoke – a new concept for me.
She wanted to volunteer for CMTA but she was about to have foot surgery, and she assured me that she’d get back to me during or after recovery. I had no expectations, but she did indeed get back. From this day forward, our friendship blossomed. I crept into her life like mold, and now, she’s never getting rid of me. We are stuck together like velcro. She moved to London last year, probably hoping the distance would give her some space-WRONG. We talk frequently, Facebook tons, and I’ll be seeing her next week in Miami.
Following her then boyfriend, Josh, to the Bay Area, California (a joke you’ll understand once you’ve read Bethany’s book), we got to know each other well. She really is not as quiet as you think when you first meet her. In fact, she’s quite chatty and holds her own in debates. From a shy, soft-spoken teen, to a master in digital communications, a successful fundraiser and a moving motivational speaker, Bethany has become a well known and loved figure in the world of CMT.
At 25, Bethany has published her first book, How Should a Body Be? which gives an intimate, honest and heartfelt portrayal of what it is like growing up with different abilities. She’s a wonderful writer and I am in awe of her strength and “determination” (I prefer the word stubbornness, but Bethany’s not thrilled with that word). Here are my thoughts on Bethany’s memoir:
Bethany Meloche’s thoughtful memoir—“How Should a Body Be?”— recounts the life story of a strong-willed young woman with a never-give-up, never-look-back stance to being alive in this world. In a culture that places so much emphasis on physical perfection, many are dissatisfied with their appearance and obsess over achieving unrealistic standards of beauty and fitness. Compound these everyday societal pressures with a progressive neuromuscular disease like Charcot-Marie-Tooth—which causes foot deformities, muscle weakness, tremor and breathing difficulties—and growing up with confidence and assurance becomes that much more arduous.
With wit and humor, Bethany relates the challenges of living in a world where people’s well-intentioned, but short-sighted commentary and feedback inadvertently amplify her feelings of self-doubt, uncertainty, and isolation.
Driven by a lust for knowledge and unquenchable curiosity, Bethany lives each day to the fullest, making her story both unique and inspirational. It would have been easy for Bethany to surrender, to lose hope, to fall into the depths of despair and depression, but by turning her anger outward she discovers strength, willpower, connection and success. “How Should a Body Be?” is a personal journey toward self-acceptance, healing and living life to its fullest, despite apparent limitations. Mature beyond her years, Bethany offers nuggets of wisdom to be shared, pondered and cherished. Honest, truthful and profoundly insightful, this book is for people with CMT, their families, their friends and anyone who struggles with self-image, confidence and the fear of being seen. This is the best book to date on growing up with physical differences, obvious or not.
I hear voices. Eavesdropping, as if I were an innocent bystander, I witness the back and forth volley of words, arguments, and reasoning. Often, I put a harsh stop to the banter, for fear of losing too many precious minutes to internal disputes and emotionally draining debates. Trying to reach my neutral, rational space often feels impossible, like I’m swimming against a strong current intent on overwhelming my frantic efforts. Yet, somehow, someway, I usually manage to quiet the noise, at least temporarily, and transition into a state of calm deliberation, frantic activity or self-imposed numbness.
Yohan had his first ever foot reconstruction surgery in June and 8 months later, he’s still not walking without using crutches or a knee scooter (see previous blog posts for the whole story). As soon as he starts to put full pressure on his foot, sores develop.
When that happens, staying off the foot until it heals is the remedy. To offset the pressure, he had his shoes modified, new orthotics made, which were adjusted again and again and again, only to have the sore reappear when weight-bearing. I know that all surgeries do not go as planned. You probably also know that surgeries are risky, in many, many ways. But I thought the surgeries that went awry happened to other people. But this time, Yohan is that other person.
The holidays came and went, and in January we found ourselves at a standstill, not knowing what direction to turn. The last pictures I sent to our surgeon showed how Yohan’s foot had healed, and it did not look right. For some reason, his heel looked misaligned, causing excessive pronation and weight distribution imbalance. Our surgeon, Dr. Pfeffer, was perplexed, but to his credit, he’s promised to make it right. Putting ego aside, Dr. Pfeffer is determined to make the next surgery the “last surgery” by asking for second and third opinions from well-respected colleagues. He wants to make 100% sure that no rock is left unturned before going back in to correct the lopsided foot and straighten Yohan’s toes. His humility, commitment, and compassion command our genuine respect.
Left Foot After Surgery
Nevertheless, I dread this second surgery. I just want Yohan to be able to walk with ease, even if it is only short distances. And in all honesty, I may have felt, if only for a microsecond, discouraged, angry and saddened by all the challenges Yohan’s already faced throughout his 23 years on this planet, due to the effects of CMT. He complains rarely and manages his day-to-day with laughter, humor, and hope. Yet it is difficult to witness his debilitating fatigue, chronic pain and now, successive surgeries. I wish it weren’t so, but it is so and that’s what is true.
In general, I tend to live in my head, not my heart. Why open up to intense emotion, when the risk is getting sucked up into a vacuum of never-ending despair and misery? When my thoughts become dark, the voices in my head try to cheer me up, scold me for being negative and/or neutralize the negative with positive thoughts. This process has become so automatic that I often no longer know what I feel inside. Many believe that raw emotions, in all their complexity, are an undeniable part of the human experience, serving as a profound source of inner guidance and direction.
Yeah, well my inner feeling mentor acts more like a sneaky stalker than a trusted ally, ready to pounce when I am least protected. I’d rather stay in the neutral zone and avoid the war-torn areas of my life. Yet I often wonder where those intense feelings go. Do they evaporate? Remain in the body unexpressed and ignored until the pressure builds so, they just explode? Do feelings have feelings? So many questions, so few answers.
The second surgery does not yet have a date, but it will be soon, in the near future. We’re all doing our best and trying to live in the moment. We’ll get through. Thanks for listening. And if you have a moment, let me know how you cope through difficult times. You never know, your advice and feedback may just be of help to others someone else.
Dedicated to all my friends who have a love/hate relationship with shoes.
“I love those shoes….OMG – they are sooooocute!” enthusiastically commented an unknown, young, attractive, athletically built woman. I looked around, certain that she was addressing someone behind me or outside my range of vision. Mouth hanging open, I stood stunned, realizing she was referring to my shoes, my size 12 purple and aqua blue Solomon running shoes. Managing to spit out a “Thanks!” her casual compliment rendered me speechless for all of about 5 minutes (which seemed like an eternity…..to me).
Above: The Complimented Shoes
The last time someone actually told me they liked my shoes was back in September of 1967. I was 5 and my mom had just bought me a pair of black, shiny patent leather shoes. The compliments I received! Overjoyed with my new shoes I ran, jumped, danced and then, never fail, I slipped on our hardwood floors, landing head first into the electric radiator, at the base of the wall. As blood gushed from the gash on my forehead, a cloth was applied to the wound where it stayed until we reached the ER. The stitches left a small scar above my left eyebrow, a foreboding symbol of future foot-related misery.
Above: Me, Age 5, Patent Leather Shoes
Nevertheless, I had not yet received the memo about imminent foot woes, so when my mom had to order new and very expensive shoes and winter boots from a shop in Montreal because my instep was so high, I thought that I was really something special. Although I hadn’t a clue as to what a high instep actually was, I didn’t care. I felt like a princess who needed the best of what money could buy, and from abroad, to boot (a 2-hour drive from my hometown of Burlington, VT). “I could get used to a life of royalty-Queen Elizabeth,” I imagined, my illusions of grandeur already a problem at such a young age. The thrill of ordering our butler around, “Andrew, Caviar, please! “or “I’ll wear the dazzling rubies this evening, Alfred! Snap, snap…I haven’t got all day!”
As I grew taller, my feet inevitably grew longer. By 8th grade, I was at least 5’7’ and my feet already demanded a size 10 shoe. Long-limbed and gawky, I looked like a baby flamingo and walked like a newborn giraffe learning to take its first steps. Between the giraffe and the flamingo, I must have looked a lot like a fliraffe.
Above: Baby Flamingo
Above: Baby Giraffe
Above: Fliraffe (a giraffe with baby flamingo feet)
If my parents had named me Grace, I would have been a laughing stock! It was bad enough with older brothers who had their own nicknames for me: clumsy, klutz, horse, big foot, clod, butterfingers, spazz, etc. I was always bumping into something and spent a lot of time on the ground, either cleaning up something I had spilled or nursing wounded knees.
If you have CMT, you may be able to relate to my story and have a few of your own. Does this sound familiar? I fall over air, get caught up in my own feet, trip up stairs, run into furniture and constantly drop things. Here are just a few concrete examples which come to mind: I dropped my cell in public toilets, twice, got my bike tire caught in the rails of a tram, and just simply fell over onto my side in the middle of a busy plaza, tripped on nothing and everything, sprained ankles, broken toes and sported many, many bruises. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as the list is way too long and the catastrophes, too many to count.
Many of my friends in high school and college wore high heeled shoes for events. Not me. At 5’9’’ I was already taller than the majority of other students, especially the guys. Secondly, a size 10 high heeled shoe was impossible to find and third, I would have broken my neck. And have you ever found a sample size 6 or 7 shoe at the store, and when they brought out the size 10 or 11, it looked nothing at all like the size 7 you had already fallen in love with?
Above: The shoes I wanted (floor model,size 7)
Above: The shoes they brought out (size 12)
When I lived in France, the saleswoman wore a look of shock and disgust when I gave her my shoe size. As if being forced to wait on the Hunchback of Notre Dame, she nervously whimpered, “Madame, s’il vous plaît, look in zee secshun for zee man,” and she pointed in the direction of the men’s shoe department. How humiliating.
By adding padded and ultra cushy orthotics, my shoe size increased by 1 or 2 sizes!! On my body, an 11 or 12 shoe is not feminine. It just isn’t. I walk more like Herman Munster than a tall woman with long legs and big feet.
Above: My body and feet
So when my new best friend complimented me on my “cute” shoes, I decided to take the compliment and wear it with pride. And, honestly, I am just grateful to be able to walk. Some are not so lucky. So, I say screw femininity. The older I get, the less I care about what people think, especially if it is negative. Now give me positive commentary, and that my friends, is a different ball of wax.
The pizza had just arrived. Before I could take my first bite, the subject of my husband’s company cocktail party surfaces. “Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want to go,” I say with steadfast determination. “I’ve already made sure that chairs will be available,” he counters, attempting to make the event seem easy, cozy, attractive even. Then, as he points at me with the tip of his piping hot slice of pepperoni pizza, he gets all serious and a little pouty. “Look, I run the company. It would mean a lot to me if you came. My staff and colleagues are looking forward to meeting you. ” On the inside, I roll my eyes, feeling a little irritated that some of the melted cheese from the pizza was still stuck to his face. If I’m not there, who will make sure he wipes off his chin, which was now dripping with grease and mozzarella?
Resigned, and feeling slightly manipulated, I agree to join in on the merriment.
Gilles’ mom once told me that sometimes you just have to do things you don’t want to do, like get a root canal, euthanize your pet lizard or unplug the toilet. And, going to this cocktail party was right up there in the category of things to avoid.
At cocktail parties, everyone usually stands around with a drink in hand, eating hors-d’oeuvres and chatting. I’m all good with the chatting and eating part. I also enjoy meeting new people. It’s the standing around that is the most difficult. When it hurts to stand for more than 5 minutes because of nerve pain in your feet, it is hard to feel relaxed at these events.
After no more than 5 minutes after our grand entrance, my anxiety rises and I desperately scan the room for a chair or something to lean on. Rocking back and forth, relieving pressure first on the right foot, then on the left, the right, the left, I wondering if the other guests are noticing my discomfort. So as to not look too silly, I even start bopping my head and swinging my hips to the beat of the music, as if I were lightly dancing and really into the melody. (This probably made me stand out that much more, but at the time, it seemed reasonable.)
10 minutes is my max tolerance before I excuse myself from whatever superficial conversation I am engaged in and plop down right into the arms of my new best friend- the chair. Thank God – the pressure is off of my aching soles. I wave to Gilles, just to show him where I’ve landed. Colleagues in tow, Gilles slowly makes his way toward me and over the noise, the music, the laughter, I overhear, “…… foot problems……can’t stand too long…..pain.” One of his cohorts, wearing a glittery cocktail dress and 10-inch heels chimes in, trying to relate to my situation, “Oh, my feet are killing me too! Ouch! I just have to slip these off….what women wouldn’t do to look their best! Staring down at my bulky size 10 (mens) hiking shoes, I could not take it anymore. “OMG, can we leave now?” I pleaded to deaf ears. “I just can’t relate to these people and they obviously can’t relate to me.” But, my protests were drowned by the noises of background laughter, glasses clinking and live, blasting music.
Loving the comfort of my chair, people politely stop by to say hi, but no one really wants to sit with me. Why? Because it is a COCKTAIL PARTY and people STAND at cocktail parties. As a seated attendee, engaging in casual or meaningful conversation with a standing guest just translates into craning of the neck in an upward position for an extended amount of time. The result? A trip to the chiropractor’s the following day. So, to bypass unnecessary appointments and self -afflicted neck pain, I set my gaze forward, looking straight in front of me. From this vantage point, the scenery is mostly just crotches and belt buckles. That’s exactly what I wrote – crotches and belt buckles!! Yep. Can you say, awkward? What’s worse, if the room is crowded, intimacy is quickly forgotten with up-close views of back pockets and butts. Feeling pretty helpless, I just end up praying that no one passes gas too close to my face. Escape would be difficult.
I usually get a few stragglers who spend some time talking about how mean Gilles is as a boss (just kidding), but mostly I pretend to be really busy on my phone, answering urgent messages, texting and making note of some vital, earth-shattering information.
I’m usually overjoyed when it is time to leave. Another holiday party over. Check! In all honesty, I think I would have rather unplugged the toilet.
There is no moral to this story, but here are a few thoughts:
If you want to see crotches and belt buckles up close and personal, attend a cocktail party. Make sure to sit for the entire duration of the party so you’ll be able to relate to my experiences.
Feign sickness and just don’t go to standing only events. Stay home, watch a movie and cuddle with your cat or dog. It’s much more relaxing and the therapeutic value is undeniable.
Ever had to use a wheelchair to get from here to there? Now, I’m not talking about temporarily using a hospital wheelchair to nurse a broken toe or to be wheeled out of the maternity ward after having a baby. I’m talking about relying on a wheelchair to get around for an indefinite amount of time because walking is too painful, extremely hard or simply not possible.
When I was pregnant with Yohan, I developed plantar fasciitis. It was 1993 and we were living in France at the time. My french PT chose to implement jackhammer “massage” therapy on the bare bottoms of both feet to loosen up the tightened fascia.
He turned on the pummeling device and went to work for what seemed forever on the right foot: GRRAKKA KKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKK AKKAKKAKKAKK AKKAKKAKK AKKA KKAKKA AKK (OW, OW, OW), and then the left: GRRRAKKA KKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKK AKKAKKAKKAKK AKKAKKAKK AKKA KKAKKA AKK (Double OW, OW, OW). It really hurt but I figured, “No Pain, No Gain” right?
Long story short, from that day forward, 24 years ago, nothing will ever be the same. My life had forever changed. My brain translated the pulsating vibrations as a threat, leaving the soles of my feet to ache, burn, freeze, stab, and just plain hurt. I no longer count the years, but the memory and the pain are forever etched in my feet and in my heart.
3 years later, Yohan, Gilles and I moved to California and my feet were still killing me. I tried everything, and I mean everything to alleviate the constant discomfort: acupuncture, medication, nerve blocks, psychotherapy, Tens, myofascial release, creams, gels, patches. Nothing worked, so after a lengthy and heated internal debate (the reality of using a wheelchair scared me), I purchased a custom-built wheelchair.
Here are just a few highlights from the first year or two:
“Oh dear,” laments an eighty-something-year-old in the grocery store. As I look up, she was peering down at me, pursing her lips and shaking her head slowly from side to side. “You are just too young to be in that chair.” Um. No duh, but I am, for now, and by the way, why am I even talking to you?
“Hey, this looks FUN!” yells a “friend” as he unexpectedly grabs the push handles in the back of the chair and starts to zoom me down the street, swiveling erratically to the right and to the left. He thought he was brightening my day, adding a little zest to my boring existence. Careening down the street, I was furious with my helplessness, vulnerability, and especially Monsieur Rémy. The guy who was pushing me around? We are no longer friends. He’s dead to me.
“Well, Heeellooooo Sunshine!” singsongs a salesperson at Macy’s. How are you doing today? she asks, enunciating every syllable with exaggerated grimaces which made me wonder if she thought I was deaf and had to read lips to communicate. Then she simply turned to my sister and asked if there was anything in particular “she” needed, referring to me. Oh, I get it, she assumed that I was mentally and physically disabled. You have got to be kidding me. Her strategy: avoid all eye contact with the sitter and go with the stander, the one “in control” and who looks the most normal. Normal must be in the eye of the beholder because on that particular day, my sister, Kathy, was dress as a blueberry…really. She was drumming up business for her summer business, Island Blueberries.
On another note, if you don’t get killed, some of the following situations could be translated as funny…..years after the fact.
This is the real Kathy.
Kathy, bless her heart, always volunteered to push me around downtown Burlington when I visited in the summer. Going into the mall, Kathy grunted several times in an effort to get the front wheels of the chair over the seemingly extra tall threshold (bottom of door frame). She pushed once (Hey, that was my back!…don’t use your knee!), she pushed twice and the third time….SCORE! The wheelchair unexpectedly jerked over the doorframe with such force that I fell forward, right out of the wheelchair and onto the cold, hard floor!
That very afternoon, I Googled: manual wheelchairs + seatbelts+ overly enthusiastic sister.
On a different day, we encountered yet another obstacle. The wheelchair ramp to the store in question was short and steep. It looked something like this:
Going forward was out of the question, so Kathy, with all her might, pulled me into the store backward. Gravity was pulling me forward (I had not yet received that damn seatbelt). It felt like I was going to tumble out of that chair, and roll into the street. She got me to the top of the ramp and wouldn’t you know it…the bottom of the doorframe was again, extra high (What is it about buildings in VT?) I pleaded with her to just leave…it was not worth the trouble, but my sister does not back down when facing a challenge. And she rarely listens to me, so I held on tightly, trying to shift my weight backward. Then I heard 2 employees scream, “WE’VE GOT HER!” and before I could say, “this is really embarrassing“, one woman helped my sister pull, when the other suddenly appeared in front of me, and started pushing the arm rests to get the chair into the building. With three people pushing and/or pulling, we made it into the store, but I had had it, I was done shopping for the day.
Today, we laugh when remembering those mortifying incidences, but to those who experience similar or worse situations daily, it’s really frustrating. Here are just a couple of tips when interacting with a person with a disability:
Respect Personal Space-many use mobility aids, so don’t touch, use, lean on or move the person’s wheelchair, walker, cane, etc
Good Friends are Hard to Find: CMT feet, Cheetah legs & Time travel
It was in the fall of 9th grade, and Yohan had just twisted his ankle, yet again. It was a bad sprain, nothing a couple weeks of icing and crutches wouldn’t cure. But, a bum ankle was just the tip of the iceberg. Chronic sprains, neuropathic pain, footwear woes were more the norm as his CMT progressed. His good friend Will, trying to make Yohan feel better, innocently came up with a solution to stop the madness. “Yohan, why don’t you just get below-the-knee amputations? I bet they could give you an awesome, high-tech pair of Cheetah Legs, and then you could run, play sports, hike….you could do it all!, ” he said as his thoughts drifted to Yohan’s first gold medal sprinting win at the Paralympics.
As crazy as this idea of artificial limbs sounded at the time, it didn’t seem so far-fetched today.
Here are the facts:
-Yohan had reconstructive foot surgery in June.
-As soon as he was given the go ahead to walk, he developed a pressure sore on the ball of his foot.
-Pressure sores are persistent and in his case, a sign that his foot mechanics are off.
-Orthotic modifications have not been helpful.
-One surgeon suggested surgically lifting the big toe bone, and straightening all the toes, while a second surgeon had a completely different perspective. They do agree on one detail: Both think another surgery is imperative to get him back on his feet. We were hesitant to get a second opinion- it often confuses the picture even more, and then the patient is left to figure out the “right” solution.
Lately, I find myself saying the “F” word ….a lot.
Why? I am angry, frustrated, scared, disappointed, and did I mention, scared? It feels as if we are rolling the dice or playing Russian roulette: One wrong move and BANG!! You are no longer walking. Maybe a classic case of negative thinking, but that’s the analogy which came to me, so I used it.
Today, I’ve had a bad case of the “shouldawouldacouldas,” otherwise known as regret or backward thinking. If only if we could just go back to May, to the joy and happiness of Yohan’s graduation day, with the knowledge we have today. Maybe the surgery would have gone differently. Maybe we would not even have had the surgery. Maybe he did not even need surgery. High? No, I am not high….a bit delusional perhaps, but not high.
Balderdash!! STOP. REWIND. The only way forward is to look ahead, not back.
If I invest in anything, it will be in Yohan’s future and the future of so many with CMT. At least in this realm, the CMTA is making tangible and reality- based progress. If you do not know about the STAR or Strategy to Accelerate Research initiative, click here: http://www.cmtausa.org/research/our-star-strategy/
We are not really ready for the cheetah leg prosthetics. Having chronic pain myself, I too fantasize about getting cool-looking prosthetic limbs. It’s tempting. I mean, who wouldn’t want to look and get around like actor, activist and athlete Aimee Mullins?:
But, both Yohan and I are kind of attached (literally and physically) to our own feet and calves, And then, of course, there is that problem of nerve pain, phantom limb pain, emotional turmoil, financial considerations, etc…..it’s a big decision, one we are seriously not considering. But Will was right, they sure are impressive. Love you Will!
6 months later, he is still crutching around the house. Every time Yohan attempts to walk on the surgically repaired foot, he develops open sores and blisters on the ball of his foot. We were hopeful that the custom-made orthotic would shift his weight to a better, more functional position. It does, but his fragile skin just plain cracks under pressure.
Infection is also an on-going concern. With little sensation on the bottom of his feet, the seepage from the sore was the only indication something was amiss. Now, to avert danger, he inspects his soles day and night with a telescoping mirror.
“You need another surgery on that same foot?” I repeated incredulously as if I had not heard him right the first time. Sounding deflated, he explained, “Yeah… Dr. Pfeffer wants to take the pressure off the ball my foot, by surgically lifting the bone. He also wants to straighten my toes, and I’m not too sure about that. I’m going to think about it. Anyway, all in all, it’s a 6-8 week recovery period.”
Remaining calm and collected on the outside, I steadily asked a few more questions, showed my support and told Yohan we would do whatever it takes to get him walking again. But inside, I’m all like, WTF? Another surgery? You gotta’ be kidding me. My friend, Bethany had her feet surgically repaired and now she is walking all over the place. In fact, she can walk further and longer than most people I know. And Jeana had surgeries…ONCE on each foot, and now her feet look great!She has funky pinky toes, but hey, she can dance, walk, and exercise.
As I thought about this new piece of information, I suddenly remembered all the community members on our Facebook group who had mentioned having multiple surgeries – 10, 15, 20 operations over the years. I had put these people in the category of anomalies. They must have had really bad surgeons or maybe the procedures were done a long time ago when surgeons did not know CMT and really hadn’t a clue as to what they were doing. Today, surely, with advanced technology and techniques, a second surgery on the same foot within a 6-month time frame is probably unheard of.
Many DO have multiple surgeries to correct CMT feet. It may not be news to you, but it just hit me that I must be completely delusional.
As I count, I realize that it is more common to require several procedures on each foot, and then some over the years, than to have one surgery and be done with it. In fact, just last week I ran into a woman at the local fruit stand who commented on the Shark-O-Marie-Tooth bumper sticker on my car. “Oh, I see you have that too,” she muttered as she whisked by me. “What do I have?” I asked a bit confused. While feeling the ripeness of a cantaloupe, she offered, “ That thing, you know- Charcot-Marie-Tooth. My husband has that too.” She moved on to the kiwi, popping bite-sized samples into her mouth. “He’s in his 70’s now and he’s had over 23 surgeries on his feet over the years.”
I almost choked on the chunk of apple that lodged itself in my throat. Funny how reality changes once you open yourself up to the world. Haven’t you ever heard a new word, idea or process, and then you hear about it again and again, wherever you look. This phenomenon actually has a name: The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Never heard of it? You will. Now that you are in the know, your unconscious will be scanning the environment looking for this word and you will be surprised at how often it will crop up from this day forth. This phenomenon even has its own Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheBaaderMeinhofPhenomenon
Where was I? Ah, yes…back to Yohan.
The second surgery on the same foot is not scheduled yet, but come January 3rd, a call to Dr. Pfeffer’s surgery nurse will be made. Welcome 2017…….it can only get better, right?
PS: It’s not all doom and gloom. Yohan is finally using the knee scooter we’ve had since day 1. He wheels himself around the house with ease, running into people, objects, walls. He’s become quite adept at steering and getting around. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Thanks to all who have asked for an update on Yohan. I’ve been all caught up and preoccupied with the best-selling book, “101 Practical Tips for Dealing with CMT”. If you have not ordered one, do so once you’ve finished reading this post. As a bonus, we are shipping all the books priority mail through December. So if you buy your copy by Dec 20, you will most likely get it in time for December 25. Here is the link:
Thanks to all who have asked for an update on Yohan. I’ve been all caught up and preoccupied with the best-selling book, “101 Practical Tips for Dealing with CMT”. If you have not ordered one, do so once you’ve finished reading this post. As a bonus, we are shipping all the books priority mail through December. So if you buy your copy by Dec 20, you will most likely get it in time for December 25. Here is the link: http://www.cmtausa.org/101tips
As for Yohan, he’s more or less become a permanent fixture in our dining room. Every once in a while I’ll stroll on by, dust him off, rearrange the furniture and water the plants. In front of his computer screen, he keeps himself busy with grad school applications, gaming, writing projects, gaming, reading, and did I mention gaming? He’d be perfect at that mannequin challenge which has gone viral over the past month or better yet, he might be able to break the Guinness World Record for competitive sitting (72 hours).
Looking for Yohan? Look no Further!
The only reason I know he’s still living and breathing is that nasty cough he’s had for the past 30+ days. It almost feels like a game of psychological warfare where he’s trying to make me crack, and all truth be told, he’s succeeded. I’m worn down, my will is broken and I’m more than ready to divulge any and all information I might harbor. Let the interrogation begin!
The last time I checked in, Yohan had been cleared to walk and start PT. His progress has been molasses slow since then. Why? Pressure sores. After a week or two, these sores heal, and as soon as he’s given the green light to resume walking, they break open again. It’s so frustrating!! After surgery and casting, all his hard-earned calluses dropped away, leaving fresh, pink, baby skin. Problem is – Yohan is 23 years old and he’s totally over the baby skin stage. Like, WAY over.
He’s had a shoe insert made to relieve the force on the pressure spots. And we’ve been back and forth to San Francisco 3 times in the last month to have the orthotic modified, but we are not there yet. Just this morning, that stupid sore reopened, which means one thing: Stay off the foot and get back on crutches. UGGGGGHHHHH.
Yohan will be seeing Dr. Pfeffer next week for a consultation and we’ll go from there. If we can’t take the pressure off that one spot, he may need another procedure on that foot. No way are we delving into the second foot surgery until he is 95% ambulatory with the reconstructed one. We do not know how long that will take and grad school applications have been submitted for a fall 2017 admission.
Yohan does not like surprises. He yearns for certainty and security. We all do. How do you plan your life when you can’t really plan your life? Message from the universe: Shit happens and you just have to go with the flow. You make the best of what you’re given and deal. It’s definitely not optimal, but what choice do you have? CMT sucks.
Question: Dealt with foot sores? Share how you managed them!