Why do you do it? How can you work with NMO patients after you lost your son to this horrible disease? Those are questions I hear quite often as I work within the Guthy Jackson Charitable Foundation as well as from those in my personal life. There is a simple yet complicated answer. The simple answer is I do it because I care and because it is important to me. The complicated answer goes much deeper.
For those who don’t know our story, I will give you the short version. Our son, Collin, was barely 5 in 2007 when he first lost his vision. It took a few months before he was diagnosed with NMO. His course was very severe with constant flare ups of optic neuritis as well as transverse myelitis. After 4.5 years of suffering and fighting with everything he had within him, Collin passed away on March 29, 2012, at 9.5 years old (we must remember the .5 according to what he always told us). Yes, it is a very sad story if you stop there. Of course, we were and are still heartbroken and we still miss him tremendously. However, those who have followed this story and lived it with us know our story did not stop after his death.
A google search in early 2008, led me to very negative information about NMO. It also led me to an email group where I met some amazing people online. Those people became my family’s lifeline and helped me to learn everything I needed to know about NMO. I learned about the correct medications for NMO, the differences between medications for a flare-up versus medications for prevention of future flare-ups, what to look for to recognize a flare and other things NMO patients and families need to learn. The information I learned was great, however, well beyond the information I gleaned was the sense of support and family I received.
In 2009, I was able to attend the first ever NMO Patent Day in Los Angeles, CA. It was overwhelming as well as amazing. It was the first time our NMO community had been able to come together outside of the email support group. I met and interacted with doctors who took an interest in Collin and did their best to help us figure out the right combination of medications for him. I remember leaving LA filled with hope for the first time since Collin had been diagnosed. I vowed then to attend every Patient Day I could.
Throughout the years of Collin’s battle, I became close to many of the patients and families, as well as doctors in the NMO community. When Collin passed away, it was devastating to our family, however, it was also devastating to the extended “family” we had met through NMO. It was at then I knew I had to stay in contact with those incredible people, but I also knew it was time to change the role I was in with them. It was time I gave back to them a little of what they had given me and my family. Not long after Collin’s death, I had the opportunity to go to work with the Guthy Jackson Charitable Foundation as the Consulting Advocate.
I am honored to be able to serve the NMO community. I love working with the patients and families as they seek information and support. One of the best things about working with the families is empowering them with knowledge and helping them learn to advocate. Advocacy is very important when a rare disease is involved, whether it is advocating for a loved one or for one’s self. As we build knowledge, we can build awareness in the world and with awareness, a diagnosis may be quicker. Education is important so patients know when to call their doctors and fight for what is needed. We don’t need to have huge plans and goals to advocate, we only need to make our minds up to take any size action. To quote Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
It is incredible to make a difference in the lives of others. It amazes me how I am called upon to help educate doctors and medical staff about NMO, which in turn helps future patients. I am just a simple mom who wants to make a difference and wants to continue fighting a battle one little boy started. I, like Victoria Jackson, am just a mom on a mission! I have a heart for my NMO family and I have a passion for helping them. That doesn’t make me special, it just makes me willing. I am humbled to continue the work Collin led me to. I am not writing this to toot my own horn, but rather to share a beautiful story with you. Realize, this story is not about me, but about what can happen when a life is changed. If you want to know anything about Collin at all, know he was an incredibly compassionate child and I have no doubt at all he would want me to be helping those who are going through the disease which took his life. I am not stronger or better than anyone reading this and everyone is capable of doing what I do.
Another way Collin encouraged me to make a difference was through The Collin McDaniel Hope Foundation. My family and I started CMHF along with our Co-founder, Johnnie Sue Gilbert, whose son Nathan is living with NMO. It is our mission to make life just a touch easier for families who have children diagnosed with NMO. CMHF helps with medications, travel, wheelchair ramps and other things children diagnosed with NMO may need. While it is a small non-profit, we have been able to help many families in the last 3 years.
While my work is incredibly painful at times, it is also incredibly rewarding. Why do I choose to do it? All because God chose me to be the mom of one little red headed boy who changed my life and touched immeasurable others in his short life. To me, this is Collin’s legacy and that is the real answer to the question, “Why?”.