Two weeks ago I had an Appointment with Dr. Michael Levy at John Hopkins. Since Eric and I were traveling all the way from Colorado we decided to Make a long weekend trip and see some of the Monuments in Washington D.C. It was my first time to the east coast and it has been over 10 years since Eric was there. We decided it would be best to leave the kids at home and enjoy a couple’s getaway.
Our flight left late Wednesday night and we flew into Dulles we arrived at 11:30 p.m. Time we got the rental car and drove to the hotel which was in Old town Alexandria in Virginia. It was 1:00 a.m. so we were exhausted. Thursday morning we slept in little and woke up and explored Old town for a while and had breakfast before heading into D.C. We decided to take the metro train into D.C so we didn’t have to worry about parking and traffic. We got off the train at the National Archives and walked through the National Mall heading to the Washington Monument. I couldn’t believe all the museums at the National Mall. You could spend weeks going through all the Smithsonian Malls and other museums. As we approached the Washington Memorial it was just incredible how tall it was and all the different people from around the world was just staring up to the top of it.
Next we walked down to the World War II monument that was very beautiful to see and peaceful. As we headed to the Lincoln memorial we walked right along the reflecting pool. Which is way bigger in person then what you see on TV. When we were at the bottom of the Lincoln memorial I was thinking how am I going to climb all these steps since my NMO Symptoms are starting to hurt from walking so much? I have been walking a ton and I didn’t want to burn myself out since we still want to go see the Vietnam Wall and the White House. When I slowly climbed the stairs to the Lincoln monument and reached the top it was just gorgeous to see! It was remarkable to see how big it is and seeing it on T.V is just not the same. The Lincoln memorial was my favorite memorial to see by far. Once we were done looking at it and reading all the stuff from Lincoln we sat on top of the steps and people watched. I just could not get over how many foreigners where there looking at our American History. The sad part that there were not very many Americans there looking at our history. I had to rest for little bit before we started to walk down all the steps.
The next memorial we looked at was the Vietnam wall that was very humbling to see. Just seeing all the names and all the flowers and gifts people leave there at the wall. After that we caught a cab to head over to the White house since I was getting worn down. It was kind of crazy getting out of the cab and having to walk to get close to the White House. Since you can longer drive on the street in front of the white house and the back of the white house. The have barricades up so you can’t even get close to the fence that surrounds the house. The secret Service guys are very on point and can be a little rude and kind of jumpy with people. We simply just walked all around the White house then I had to take a rest on the Southside of the lawn. So we could walk even more to get back to the train station and head back to Old Town. When we arrived back to Old Town we ate at a great Oyster bar called Hank’s Oyster’s I highly recommend checking it out if you are ever in that area. By time dinner was over we were wiped out and ready for bed since we had a 45-minute drive to Johns Hopkins in the morning and I needed to be there at 9:30 a.m.
Friday morning bright and early with a Starbucks in my hand we headed off to Baltimore to John Hopkins to see Dr. Levy. Eric was worried that traffic would be very bad and would take awhile to get there. We made good timing arriving at 9:00a.m. I have always enjoyed Dr.Levy I have seen and listen to him speak at Guthy Jackson Patient Day for seven years. I have always wanted to fly out and go see him and I was thrilled I got that opportunity, Dr. Levy and I spent a over an hour going through my NMO history and what issues I would like to address. He would like to switch some medications around and do some blood tests and follow up in a few weeks. Since I have been diagnosed for 8 years there was a lot of information that needs to be talked about. Plus he wants to look at my MRI’s when I was first diagnosed to my latest MRI’S to see how my lesions are doing.
After leaving the Hospital we drove around Baltimore a little bit then we went to a crab place that had really good reviews for crab. Eric wanted crabs right out of the bucket. Like when he lived in Virginia Beach. So that was a nice lunch. We decided to take a scenic route back to D.C I wanted to check out Georgetown. LOL it seemed like a good idea but it kind of a pain but we made it to Georgetown the next tricky part was finding parking. It took us awhile but Eric got it done. I wanted to go shopping and stop at my favorite cupcake store Sprinkles! If anyone really knows me I am very addictive to these cupcakes. If I am visiting a city and they have Sprinkle store I will be most defiantly will be stopping by and buying cupcakes. After shopping for a while we headed back to the hotel and rested for a bit and went to a late dinner at a fabulous Southern food restaurant called Hen’s Quarters. It was the best-fried chicken I have had in a long time. We took a nice stroll down King Street after dinner and headed back to hotel cause we were pretty beat.
Saturday was a very special day we decided to spend the day at Arlington Cemetery. I wanted to see the tomb of the unknown solider and the changing of the guard. But also were the Kennedy’s are buried. Also I wanted to spend our last day at a place that was not going to be too crowded with people and was going to be not so noisy and just spend a quite day getting ready to go back to reality. I loved watching the changing of the guard and over all seeing the cemetery and seeing where JFK is buried. We spent about 4 hours walking around the cemetery. We headed back to hotel around 3 and went to a local bar and had a few drinks and went shopping a little bit then off to Hank Oyster Bar again because they had the best crab cake we found during our vacation. We enjoyed our last romantic dinner. Since we had an early flight on Sunday Morning.
Now that I am back home I am still waiting to hear back about the blood tests and on Friday I have an Appointment with my neurologist about what Dr.Levy said and the new medications I Need to try. So I will keep you all posted!
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?”.
June 23rd marks my 8th year being diagnosed with NMO. It’s a bitter sweet day to reflect on as I remember how much my life changed within a week. I remember so clearly; I was working at my family’s hotel in Frisco and I was riding the elevator down to the lobby when all of a sudden I couldn’t control my left arm. I walked into my husband’s office since he was the general manager. He looked at me and asked what the heck is wrong with me and to stop waving my arm around. I said something is not right and I need to get to the hospital. Within hours I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, which they thought would likely be my only attack. They suggested that I should be fine after my 5 days of steroids in the hospital.
Almost 1 month later I had another attack where this time my whole body started shaking uncontrollably and I started to go paralyzed on my left side. This time we drove down to Denver and I was admitted to the hospital for 5 days again for IV steroids. They did another MRI and they changed my diagnoses to relapsing remitting MS. I didn’t know what to think when they told me I had MS but I focused on finding a neurologist to start MS medication right away. What a whirl wind experience I had to find a doctor and to start educating myself about MS and all the different medications I had to take. At one point I was taking 15 different pills, which did not include my MS medication that I had to inject into myself everyday.
In August again 1 month after my second attack I started to go blind in my left eye and the doctors did not understand why I was having such horrible attacks since I was on MS medication. My neurologist was second guessing I had MS so I was admitted again to the hospital for 5 days of IV steroids. My doctor recommended I go to the Mayo Clinic and get a second opinion as he thought I had Neuromyelitis Optica. When my doctor told me that I might have NMO he looked at Eric and I and said I would have a better chance winning of the powerball then being diagnosed with NMO. Well within a month I went to the Mayo Clinic and the doctor there agreed I had NMO. Now my life was going to change even more they originally told me. I needed to start taking Rituxan right away and the doctors could not guarantee I would get my vision back in my left eye.
Looking back all I went through and how much my life changed after being diagnosed with NMO it’s been bitter sweet. At one point through my journey I thought I would never be able to have kids and I would never see out of my left eye and I would never recover being paralyzed on my left side. I beat all those things; I have two adorable children, my left eye I can see out of, and for my left side it’s just more weaker then my right. I am very thankful I have seen some wonderful doctors that helped my dream of having kids come true. I have also met some incredible people because of having NMO and I wouldn’t have met them if it wasn’t for NMO.
Allen just celebrated his 4th birthday and I can’t be how blessed I am. When I was first diagnosed with NMO in 2009. It was a huge question if I would be able to have kids. After having three bad attacks it was hard to see having child. After meeting with two NMO doctors we got the green light to have Kids. When we started the IVF process in 2011 I knew it was going to be a journey to have a baby. When Allen was born in 2012 I couldn’t believe I did it! Despite having a very terrifying disease and all I went through I got to a very healthy baby boy.
Allen was such a good baby always happy and just had the most adorable grin. When he turned one year old I could believe how fast it went by. As a first time mom it’s hard sometimes to enjoy every moment, because you don’t really understand how fast it goes by. Allen loved cars since he was a baby but when turned one it was different game. He wanted to drive them, wash them and park them. When he turned two my mom got him a Mickey car he could sit on and push with his feet. To this day he still plays with that car. That’s his favorite car to play within side the house. He loves to go outside and drive his power wheels around the back of the house. He recently gave Alana a ride in his mustang and she was smiling ear to ear. Alana just adores her big brother Allen teacher her about cars and how to drag race. He is in heaven right now drag racing has started and he love to watch John Force. He can’t wait till the drag strip opens up for the summer. Luckily it’s 10 mins from our house. We spend a lot of time up there in the summer. I am pretty sure Allen would sleep up all summer if I let him. He is super excited cause only one more year then he is allowed to do Jr. Dragster. I am hoping I will do ok letting him race. Thankfully I am into cars and love the drag strip too.
Allen had his 4th birthday party at Jumpstreet and had a ball! That’s were he wanted to have it and he wanted the theme to be Jurassic park. He helped me pick out all the decorations to how he wanted his cake. This was the first year he made the decision where he wanted it and what the theme would be. For a week before his birthday he was telling everyone it was his birthday! Like every kid he was sad his birthday came to an end.
As we approach Christmas Day I am bombarded with the usual holiday insanity of planning, parties, gift wrapping, and festivities. So right before the busy holiday season I booked a road trip for us to the beautiful state of Vermont. There’s nothing more I live for than the quality time I spend with my family together and I wanted to make sure the 3 of us got that in before our attention wandered. We stayed at Smuggler’s Notch Resort, a ski property hailed as the #1 family resort on the east coast and unfortunately (or fortunately depending if you’re not a fan of the cold weather) there wasn’t any snow except for on the top runs of one of the mountains and on the beginner hill.
After 7 years of trying to learn how to snowboard, last year things just clicked so I was really looking forward to seeing how well I’d do this season. This was also the year I decided I’d let Sophie try skiing.
Sophie is 3.5 years old now. I started her in dance when she had just turned 2. At the time I knew she loved music and after a year of weekly classes, Sophie surprised everyone with her confidence on stage. But watching your child go barrelling down a ski hill, even the bunny hill, is something I wasn’t sure I would ever be ready for. Maybe it’s because I’m actually not the greatest on the mountain, my fear of heights or that no parent wants to see their child get hurt but I secretly hoped she’d refuse to strap on the gear and quit. Then we’d try again next year.
But apparently I’m raising one tough kid.
After a few runs with her coach Sophie figured out the magic carpet, balance and how to go down the beginner hill. In fact, she announced that she wanted to do it herself and from that moment no one could help her. By noon on her first day she was focused, confident and having a ton of fun. And she taught me an important lesson.
Sometimes I think I’m up against a challenge or an uncomfortable situation, like having to stand by helplessly and watch my child figure out a dangerous sport. But in reality, it wasn’t tough at all. In fact, had I not left Sophie to her very capable coach I might have projected my fears onto her. That day Sophie taught me that things aren’t always as they seem. Tough situations might actually be challenges where we learn something about ourselves, and our kids.
As we all can agree with from Thanksgiving all the way to New Years is just chaos for a lot of people. I just survived my first year hosting for twenty people at my house. While trying to manage my NMO, having a terrible cold and two sick kids. For people who have never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner may not realize what a production it takes. It takes me a couple of weeks to organize and make a menu. Then a few days to go shopping and pick up everything then a few days of cooking. Then a few days after Thanksgiving to clean it all up and put everything back. While trying to get all this done I try to rest whenever I can even if that means sitting on a tall bar stool to cook. Try to nap when the kids are napping and breaking up my shopping trips into a few days rather go all day running around to all the stores. This year I had two very helpful helpers my mother and Mother in law. They helped me cook, clean or watch the kids. That was so very helpful.
Next during the busy holiday season is my birthday, which is not so stressful on me I get to enjoy being with my family and spending time with them. Eric treated me to a hotel in downtown Denver to watch the parade of lights. It was so nice and enjoyable for all of us especially the kids I didn’t have to worry about if they were getting cold. Now that Christmas is going to be here before I know it. I am buying a lot of my gifts online this year so I don’t have to load and unload kids and bags from the car. Plus how can you argue with buying most of your gifts online while sitting on the sofa with your pajamas on. I just can’t deal with crowds like I use to before NMO and shopping all day. I simply can’t do it. It wears me down so fast then I am in too much pain to deal with Christmas stuff. I want to enjoy Christmas especially with Allen getting older he has been so much fun this year with Christmas. This will be Alana’s first Christmas and that’s always a fun one too. We also decided not to run around to a bunch of houses this year during Christmas. We all can agree its hard living life with NMO then you add all the holiday things that need to get done this time of the year. It can be very hard and can wear you out very quickly. I just try to pace myself the best I can and do a little bit every day so I am not pushing my self too much.
The Miller Family
Our NMO family is grieving today,as we lost another family member Candace Coffee. I remember when I was first diagnosed Candace and Collin were the first videos I watched of other people having NMO. Sure was very active in spreading awareness for NMO and loved her twin boys so very much! Below is a video about Candace also a link to her Gofundme account that they have setup for a college fund. Please if you can please donate! RIP Candace.
Last month was my 5-year anniversary of my 1st attack. I have to say I am truly blessed what I have overcome from that one day or actually that whole year. From being paralyzed on my left side and losing my vision in my left eye and going from doctor to doctor trying to figure out why I kept having attack after attack. Now looking back what I have all accomplished is making me realize I really am a strong and determined woman. Of coarse being diagnosed with a chronic illness forever changes your life and it takes awhile to understand why you? Some days are better then others and some days you are just tired of being sick and jumping through hurdles just to get through the day. I do have to remind myself some times I am truly blessed what I have over came.
Eric and I were so thrilled when we found out I was pregnant in 2011 with Allen. It was such an experience going through invitro and having NMO. A lot of people think it couldn’t be done or didn’t know how I would handle it? But I did it! It was the best I felt in years! After having Allen in 2012 was hard for me I was going through the change of being a new mom and my NMO was having fits and I had 3 flares within a few months I also gained a ton of weight due to all the steroids. In 2014 I said I couldn’t live being this heavy so I took charge of my health and started to become healthy again. Now since I lost over 66 pounds I feel so much better.
It is also hard for me to really sit down and think about truly all I went through from the beginning. I think the reason why is I don’t want to relive that awful year of being diagnosed it was so depressing. But sometimes you have to do it. Since that is what makes me the person I am today. I try to look at it from the prospective of now look what I have all accomplished! I still have to tell myself once in awhile NMO doesn’t define me I define what is NMO.
John and I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day. Tonight, while couples flock to romantic restaurants across the nation, the hubster and I will be at the gym, making fun of each other for crying while lifting weights. In fact, sometimes I think he knew I was the one only after I’d said V-Day was a marketing ploy for American consumerism. But I digress…I will still try to keep this post on topic.
So, in an attempt to somewhat give nod to V-Day by reflecting on our relationship, I asked John a few questions.
Christine Ha: Who are you?
John Suh: I am a Korean-American, born and raised in Houston, Texas. Lover of technology and an entrepreneur enthusiast.
CH: What made you pursue the relationship with me despite knowing I had NMO and vision problems?
JS: The first time I met you, you had this charisma. I knew you were intelligent, very cute, and had great humor. I knew pursuing you, I would also be facing challenges that I’ve never had to deal with. I’ve never met anyone with vision impairment, so I never knew how to guide someone walking, eating, etc. But the more I got to know you, I knew that you were someone special. Even early on before all the Masterchef celebrity status, I told you that I knew there were big plans for you, that you were going to be something big!
CH: What does it mean to be married to someone with NMO? To be his/her caretaker?
JS: It means you need patience.
CH: What were some of the most difficult times you’ve had in the relationship when it came to NMO and vision impairment?
JS: Anytime you had an attack, I felt powerless. As a partner, you want to do whatever you can to help your significant other when they’re in trouble. When you had your NMO attacks, I felt lost. I admit that I questioned myself. Can I really be with someone that has health issues for the rest of my life?
CH: What do you enjoy about our marriage? Are there any silver linings to being married to someone with NMO and vision loss?
JS: No. only gold nuggets. I enjoy that we both love food.
CH: What do you wish you could change about your life with me?
JS: My one wish would be for us to have more time to travel and experience the world together.
CH: What are you most thankful for in your life with me?
JS: I am most thankful for having someone that’s so compatible with someone like me. People say that you’re like a puzzle piece looking for your counter part that fits you. And I imagine my puzzle piece to look jagged and rough but yet I’ve found my counter piece. I’m also thankful that we’re always learning from each other. Your always there to correct my grammar, and I’m always around to point out the metaphors in movies.
CH: Do you have any advice for people who know or love someone with NMO and/or vision loss?
JS: Just do it. Life is too short to miss out on the amazing journey you could be having. There will be ups and downs, but in between it all it’s all gravy. And I love gravy.
CH: What have the last 2 years been like with my leaving to tape “MasterChef” and then all that followed? What is it like to have a celebrity as a wife?
JS: Nothing has really changed for me personally. We definitely travel and get to experience things like taping shows, chef tastings, etc. Being with a celebrity has its perks.
CH: Any last words?
JS: Leave you with my favorite quote: “Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” —George Bernard Shaw
Whether it be a spouse, partner, parent, child, sister, brother, friend, or pet, we hope you find your missing puzzle piece.