I wonder, do you remember her?
Her name is Justine. She has PANDAS
Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Strep.
Justine, a now 6-year-old girl, had a very normal life before all of this. She did have 8 cases of strep the year prior so I scheduled an appointment to get her tonsils and adenoids out in April 2016. No one was pushing it, I just thought enough was enough; I scheduled and pushed for it. Much to our surprise at the ENT visit 20 days prior to her surgery, she tested positive for strep. We were given the normal 10-day course of antibiotics and thought nothing of it. She was pretty healthy, had a very high tolerance for pain and did great for the surgery and recovery. Life went on...until 7 months later.
It came on suddenly in November 2016; it changed our daughter, it changed our lives. She was 5 at the time of her onset. We had just returned from a family vacation cruise and a trip to Disney. This is part of her story.
Justine started gradually having frequent urination and some anxiety. I brought her to be tested for an UTI, which was negative. She then changed overnight on November 22, 2016 in Kindergarten. It all started with very OCD and frequent urination with the need to go to the bathroom every few minutes at school. She went 54 times by noon. We had her tested for UTI's a few times in a matter of days. We were told it was behavioral, nothing medical, maybe vaginitis due to a lot of swimming on vacation.
They were wrong. We knew this day we lost our daughter. This was no tantrum; she had a fit of anger, this was a major event-out of character for our daughter at school.
Our daughter changed, you could see it in her eyes, hear it in her voice and actions. She was gone from us. Justine showed signs of separation anxiety and had asked to be driven to school for 2-3 days leading up to this. She had a very difficult time separating from me. Absolutely terrifying. As parents we were not buying that our daughter was starting to act out behaviorally for no reason at age 5. She was a fully functioning happy, energetic, polite, great listener and smart girl. What in the world was going on? Who took her? What took her? What did we do for this to happen? There has to be something medically wrong!
I want to share my family’s story with PANS to help give hope to any other family that might be going through the same thing. My husband and I have a three-year-old son, Grayson. He came down with the flu on February 27. He was pretty sick most of the week, but on Friday, March 3, he was back to his normal self. We woke up to a living hell on Saturday, March 4. Our sweet boy had literally changed overnight. At first, we just thought that the “threes” that everyone had warned us about had set in. We were doing everything from taking away toys to timeout. We noticed that as the weekend went on, we could not get Grayson to eat or drink pretty much anything. Grayson has always been a pretty picky and light eater, but there have always been things that he would want. He would touch none of those preferred foods. My mother’s instinct told me that something was just not right, even though so many were saying that it was normal for a three year old to have tantrums. These were beyond anything we had ever seen our child do.
I took Grayson to his pediatrician Monday, March 6. Thankfully, we have an amazing pediatrician that takes no chances. She was extremely concerned; she said that any sudden or drastic change in behavior was a cause for concern, especially following an illness. That particular day, our pediatrician had a medical student following her around. The first thing that the medical student said was PANS and PANDAS. I had never heard of either term. We were sent for some lab work, and so ensued the worst week of our lives. Our pediatrician did not want to treat anything until she had the labs back. It was an awful feeling, as a parent, when I looked up what those terms meant. Inflammation on my child’s brain was not what I wanted to see. We watched our child act in ways that are so hard to even think back to. He would get so fixated on particular sounds or things from the OCD onset and all hell would break loose. We have never had a problem putting Grayson in his car seat, but, all of a sudden, the child was terrified of the car seat. It almost took two people to strap him into the seat while he was screaming and kicking and hitting.
If you are on Social Media at all, then you have seen the multitudes of posts about PANS PANDAS Awareness Day today. Some posts have just the facts. Some posts are personal. NEPANS is made up of both professionals working and those who are parents to with children with PANS and so we try to cover both points of view. I myself am a Mom who wants to support families and help provide resources to professionals so little kids like my own are helped quickly and thoroughly. Below is a short view into what it was like when our son first had PANS symptoms. It is not the full story. But a glimpse into our life with PANS. After you are done, please share at least one of the resources on this website. Awareness really does spread one person at a time. It was one person that told me to look into PANDAS. You never know who you can help by sharing what you know. And last but not least, tomorrow might not officially be PANS Awareness Day but the sharing should not stop. Thank you for help. Thank you for reading.
Gabriella True, NEPANS Board President
My Story - PANS Project
The month of August has always been a month of celebrations, trips, parties, and friends. August 2009 was no different – A trip to Camden Yards, a visit with the Orioles in their clubhouse, a meet and greet on the field with Red Sox, a game of wiffle ball with Orioles mascot on field in front of fans, a camping trip with friends, a deep sea fishing trip, an amazing party with friends, family, and new neighbors. I always had friends laughing and hanging without any anxiety. I was excited for school, alert, outgoing, and absolutely no behavior issues or anxiety.
September 2009 - I missed the first week of school because I had strep throat and an ear infection.
October 2009 – I had H1N1 and was quarantined – it was very scary.
November 2009 – I was required to get the H1N1 vaccine to return to school.
December 2009 – Symptoms started to appear. Gazed look, large pupils, blank stare, no expression, pale coloring, puffiness, sleepiness, anxiety.
February 2010 – After my first Grand Mal Seizure - The beginning of tests. EEG, CAT Scans, MRI, Spinal Tap.
During the summer of 2009, after divorcing my husband, my son and I moved into our new home. Shortly thereafter we experienced many losses, including his 19-year-old babysitter and “big brother” to a car accident and his 21-year-old cousin to cancer. My son was already in therapy to help get thru the divorce and move. According to his therapist he was engaged and accepted the losses.
The Day it all Started
Suddenly in February 2010, during school vacation, life significantly changed. TJ was attending zoo camp as he had several times previously. When I picked him up on Thursday, the counselor who had known TJ since he was two, pulled me aside and said he acted very strangely in camp today. He was withdrawn, hid under the table, wouldn’t eat, and wasn’t his usual happy go lucky kid; she was very concerned. I explained that he was going through a lot and maybe it finally caught up with him. His grandmother watched him that night while I worked. At 8:00, she called me very concerned and asked me to come home right away, “Something was wrong with TJ”. TJ had cornered himself in a fetal position, soiled himself and was violently jerking. It was very scary. Friday, my good friend agreed to watch TJ while I had some appointments. He told me that he thought TJ maybe having seizures; he jerked all morning and wouldn’t eat or get off the couch.
After many years of Gracie being too embarrassed to have her story told, she has agreed that if her story helps one child not suffer what she has endured, it is worth it. So...here is her PANDAS story...
As I tell her story, I will place in when she had an infection, but note that I only discovered the connection many years later by placing her medical records on a time line with photos and other memorabilia.
Started with a Stutter
Gracie was the perfect baby and toddler. I mean perfect! She never cried, always smiled, and took in everything around her with joy. She talked at 6 months, walked right on time, learned her letters by 1 years old, spoke 10 word sentences by 1 years old, and seemed to learn anything that came her way easily. She was an independent kid who never hesitated to go into new situations without me by her side. At 18 months old, she got a strep throat. She soon began to stutter, repeating sounds, words, and parts of sentences over and over. It was exhausting to try and wait for her to get a thought out. She began speech therapy. It did little to help, but her stuttering would just disappear almost over night. We would joke and call it her 'bumpies'. We later realized that Gracie's bumpies correlated with her getting sick. Her bumpies would start, and I would say, "Ut'O, your bumpies are back. You will be sick within 2 days." And sure enough...she was. This went on for years.
Sudden Separation Anxiety
At 3 1/2 years old, she all of a sudden did not want me to leave her at preschool or gymnastics. She clung to me where she was once her happiest and most excited to go. I chalked it up to normal toddler stuff. It did not last that long, but would come and go after a period of sickness. Life was pretty normal for a few years with small bouts of red-flag issues.
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