Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Follow Up

March 4, 2014

Last week Ann and I traveled back to Chicago for the first of 6 follow up visits. CIDP patient who participate in this clinical trial will return to Chicago at 6 months, 1 year, and then annually for the next five years in order to have their progress monitored. I was so excited to show off my progress to Dr. Burt and his team.

After we got checked into our hotel and met up with another CIDP patient, it was off to my appointment with Dr. Burt. There I sat in the examination room chair anxiously awaiting my turn. I listened attentively to the voices in the hallway in anticipation of Dr. Burt's arrival. Then all at once the door burst open and Dr. Burt came bounding through it. We abruptly exchanged some pleasantries and then it was down to business.

Dr. Burt, armed with paper and pen, quickly asserted himself at the desk where he would begin firing questions at me. "How old are you?" "When was your transplant?" "Have you had any hospitalizations?" Finally, Dr. Burt asked the most important question, "What can you do now that you could not do before?"

As I explained how I gone from a wheelchair to walking, climbing stairs, driving, and how my stamina has begin steadily increasing. I further explained to him how I felt that I am slowly getting my life back. I could see Dr. Burt begin to beam with delight at my answers. It was not a self full-filling delight; he was genuinely delighted at MY progress.

Once Dr. Burt was finished with my examination he asked a favor of me. Two actually. The first was to share my transplant story with a neurologist who has been shadowing Dr. Burt. Which I quickly accepted. As Dr. Burt asked the second favor, he took my hand and looked me in the eyes and asked me to share my story with the world. It was quite a touching moment between him and I.

The second day brought about pain. It was time to have my nerves tested to see how they are responding after the treatment. I have had quite a few nerve conduction tests over the past 20 years and this was without a doubt the most painful one I have ever experienced. I took this as a good sign and my nerves were finally beginning to work properly. Dr. Allen, the neurologist who conducts these torture tests, was evasive when I prodded him for the results. He assured me we would go over the results at my appointment the next day.

On the final day of my visit I would get a total neurological examination from Dr. Allen and also get the results of my nerve conduction tests. One of the main tests administered is the sit, stand, walk, and sit test. For this test, I started out sitting in a chair. Then I have to rise from the seat and walk to a designated point, turn around, walk back to the chair and sit down. Last year it took me about 40 seconds to do this test using the assistance of a walker. This year I completed this task in 7 seconds and I did not use any assistance (no walker or cane). How's that for improvement? Remember I am on no medicines for CIDP. No IVIG. No Steroids. Nothing. For the first time in over 20 years I am not taking anything to treat my CIDP and my health is improving.

Now, it was the moment I had secretly been waiting for. The results of my nerve conduction test. The verdict was in and Dr. Allen informed me that my numbers had improved since June. However, he did caution me to not put too much stock in my nerve conduction test. He said that I will probably never have a "normal" reading. For me, I realized that I do not care if I ever have a "normal" result as long as my health is stable and I no longer need CIDP medications.

From my trip to Chicago I have once again been humbled. During this visit Ann and I got to meet several families who were in town to visit Dr. Burt. The people we met were at various stages of the process. Some were there for the initial evaluation. One gentleman had just been accepted. Others were waiting to be admitted into the hospital to begin. One had already received the transplant and was just waiting for blood counts to rise. Meanwhile, several were beginning their chemotherapy.

Having the opportunity to meet with these people filled my heart. It makes me realize I need to do more. I keep replaying that moment where Dr. Burt grabbed my hand, looked me in the eyes, and asked me to share my story with the world. I have flirted with the idea of becoming a motivational speaker, but have been afraid to step out of my comfort zone.  I think this is something that I need to explore further. Be prepared......I will probably be posting videos of my story soon.