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!
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.
My Son Bradley was born in 1998 with Down Syndrome. He was and still is everyone's special boy. He has made amazing strides in life and continues to amaze us today. He verbal skills are very limited so he could never tell me when he was sick. It was very difficult figure him out sometimes.
Sudden Onset OCD and TICS
Back In 2007, when he was nine years old, things changed suddenly. He developed behavioral issues, OCD and Tic disorder. Because of his disability, the psychiatrist would blame his Down Syndrome instead of looking further to find the root cause. As a parent you are desperate to help your child with these issues. We decided to try anti-psychotic medications. However, things got worse over time so in 2011 we decided to change doctors because I was tired of all the horrible medications and side effects. We started seeing a pediatric neurologist when he was 13 years old. He was still going to school but we were noticing more sporadic meltdowns and aggression, more panic and tics, The Neurologist diagnosed him with ADHD, OCD, ODD, IED, with possible Tourette Syndrome, GAD, and Panic Disorder. One thing we pointed out to the Neurologist was he had been treated with numerous antibiotics for different surgeries and infections mainly in his sinuses and ears and after those rounds of antibiotics he had wonderful behavior so much so it was like he was a different child. She looked at me like I had two heads and I was the crazy one.
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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