Mother is Combating to Fund a Remedy for Her Toddler’s Uncommon Illness – SheKnows


I scatter a pile of youngsters’s books in entrance of me. My two year-old, Riaan, seems over them, shortly grabs one, and palms it to me to learn to him. It’s titled, “I Love You, Daddy,” about an endearing relationship between a bear daddy and his cub, and it’s considered one of Riaan’s favorites. I learn it to him, typically in humorous accents, and Riaan claps his fists in glee. He helps me flip the pages. When the guide ends, he cries. He needs me to learn it once more.

I smile, my coronary heart overflowing with pleasure that I get to mom this lovely, inquisitive and decisive creature, who’s rising and progressing every day.

A creature, who because it seems, is dying of an ultra-rare genetic illness that’s identified in only some hundred kids all around the world.

I want my motherhood journey could possibly be nurtured in close to complete anonymity, banal to others however extraordinary to my household, and that we lived a merry but non-public lifetime of discovery, love, and wealthy reminiscences, carved from atypical moments like studying kids’s books. However that’s not our scenario. Our story — so as to give Riaan any probability at life — should be shared, as transparently and actually as we will. As a result of the assistance of individuals we all know — and particularly folks we have no idea — is our solely path to saving our child boy’s life.

“As a result of the assistance of individuals we all know — and particularly folks we have no idea — is our solely path to saving our child boy’s life.”

When Riaan was 15 months previous, he was identified with Cockayne Syndrome, a very merciless neurodegenerative genetic dysfunction that provides him a life expectancy of 5 years and causes vital developmental disabilities, listening to loss, imaginative and prescient impairments, microcephaly, hypotonia, and failure to thrive. I had by no means heard of it. Nobody has. I keep in mind frantically Googling the syndrome in the course of the telehealth go to with the geneticist, who relayed to us the outcomes of our complete exome genetic sequencing check. I keep in mind him saying, “We all know what’s happening with Riaan, and sadly it’s not good.” He mentioned there have been no remedies. He mentioned all we might do was handle the signs and love him. I keep in mind feeling like I used to be leaving my physique in that second, a whirlwind of horror, despair, and disappointment swooping in to take the place of the particular person, the mom that I as soon as was. Part of me, that innocence all of us have, it’s been gone since that second, misplaced to the sands of time.

I keep in mind making an attempt to elucidate to my Punjabi Sikh dad and mom — who we had been visiting on the time of the analysis — learn how to pronounce “Cockayne Syndrome,” our hearts shattering in unison at this evil, unusual factor getting into our lives.

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Pictures Courtesy of Jo Kaur

Nothing will ever be the identical once more, my expectations of our life, of motherhood, of getting to look at my firstborn and solely little one develop up, go climbing within the nationwide parks together with his dad and mom, graduate, fall in love, eat all the information humanity has to supply, and forge his personal path in our breathtaking world – all of this hope for my little one taken, stolen. This anguish, grief — anticipatory grief, they name it — is just too a lot for any human being to endure.

How did we get right here? My husband and I had undertaken all the genetic screening testing they provide throughout being pregnant. Our outcomes confirmed that we weren’t carriers of any of the identical illnesses. Riaan had been examined for chromosomal deficiencies, and every thing had come up unfavorable. It seems these checks don’t display for many illnesses. It seems that there are over 7,000 uncommon illnesses, most of them genetic, and clearing the screening check doesn’t imply your little one will probably be okay. We discovered this out the merciless method. I used to be naïve. I had no thought.

My husband and I each have a single mutation every in gene ERCC8 (CSA), which is chargeable for repairing broken DNA amongst different issues. This can be a critically vital perform for survival, and harm to this gene causes Cockayne Syndrome. Over time, because the broken DNA accumulates, it accelerates the signs of neurodegeneration. Most youngsters are likely to die from respiratory misery/sickness, kidney or liver failure. As carriers of just one mutation every, Riaan’s dad and I usually are not impacted. Nevertheless, we handed each copies of our mutated gene to Riaan, and in consequence, he was identified with Cockayne Syndrome. A baby’s probabilities of being born with Cockayne Syndrome are two in 1,000,000. What are the chances, they are saying?

We knew one thing was mistaken even earlier than Riaan’s analysis however we by no means suspected it will be something terminal. The primary signal that one thing was severely mistaken was when he was identified with bilateral cataracts at three months. I keep in mind being within the ophthalmologists workplace and instructed that my son had most likely by no means seen my face.

“I don’t understand how a lot time now we have however we’re not sitting right here, ready for loss of life to come back discover my little boy. We’re combating, and we imagine now we have a very good probability.”

As time went on, Riaan continued to fall off the expansion charts and missed developmental milestones. I keep in mind receiving emails from BabyCenter about all the issues Riaan ought to have been doing by a selected age. However wasn’t. We had a whole lot of genetic testing accomplished following Riaan’s cataracts analysis: a cataracts panel, a mitochondrial panel, a microarray evaluation. They had been all unfavorable. I Googled his signs all the time, weighed him incessantly and measured his head circumference, keen him to “catch up.” As soon as once more, I naively believed he was largely okay, because the checks got here again unfavorable, or if there have been points, we’d handle them. In any case, we had mastered the Olympian job of inserting contact lenses into his eyes following his cataract elimination surgical procedure! We had a routine with all of his early intervention therapies. We had been figuring this out.

It’s now been virtually a 12 months for the reason that analysis. Riaan is doing properly, comparatively steady, and as cute as a button. He’s underweight; he can not sit independently or feed himself (certainly, he’ll solely eat to Sesame Road and Cocomelon music movies and if a track comes on that he doesn’t like, he’ll hilariously clamp his mouth shut till we modify it). He can not discuss, stand, or stroll however he’s fairly shiny and alert, with probably the most fun-loving character you possibly can think about and has clear preferences for music, books, and toys. He learns issues so shortly — just like the features of toys or learn how to play primary video games — which has shocked me given the severity of neurodegeneration that he faces. I didn’t know what energy and resilience was till Riaan.

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Pictures Courtesy of Jo Kaur

I don’t understand how a lot time now we have however we’re not sitting right here, ready for loss of life to come back discover my little boy. We’re combating, and we imagine now we have a very good probability.

After a couple of weeks of tears following the analysis, we publicly shared our story, expressing our helplessness on the scenario. Instantly, one other uncommon illness dad messaged me, and I’ll always remember his phrases: “You’re not helpless, Jo. There’s issues you are able to do.” And certainly there are. Regardless of having no science or medical background — I’m a civil rights lawyer — I dove headfirst into the analysis.

“The trail forward is filled with challenges. However collectively, I do imagine we will save Riaan and youngsters like him, irrespective of how uncommon and extreme their illness.”

Three months after Riaan was identified, in June 2021, we based Riaan Analysis Initiative, the primary analysis advocacy group with a mission of funding and accelerating the event of remedies for Cockayne Syndrome.  I’ve shifted gears to specializing in this work full-time in addition to being Riaan’s major caregiver. We’ve raised over $1.4 million {dollars}, and launched a CSA gene substitute remedy program at UMass Chan Medical Faculty with a objective of making a gene remedy that may change the mutated gene in kids’s our bodies with a replica of the wholesome gene. We now have funded and are additionally pursuing drug repurposing screens: In different phrases, we’re trying to see if there are already FDA authorized medicine sitting round at a CVS or Walgreens which may be repurposed to halt the neurodegeneration we see in Cockayne Syndrome sufferers. That is all groundbreaking work for this illness.

Analysis is considerably costly, and on the subject of ultra-rare illnesses like Cockayne Syndrome, which lack profitability, the funding comes primarily from parent-founded teams like ours, as irritating that’s. On prime of caring for our medically complicated and fragile kids, we should additionally put within the work, day and evening, to serving to get remedies developed. There’s nobody ready within the shadows to avoid wasting us. We have to elevate $4 million {dollars} to see the work by means of, and we have to do it shortly. We now have $2.8 million {dollars} left to boost, and our objective is to hit that by the top of this 12 months.

The overwhelming majority of our donors are folks exterior of the tiny Cockayne Syndrome group, who’re motivated and need to assist. With their extremely beneficiant help, we’re properly on our option to creating miracles — however we have to proceed to broaden our group of care, love and sources to get to the end line. The trail forward is filled with challenges. However collectively, I do imagine we will save Riaan and youngsters like him, irrespective of how uncommon and extreme their illness.

Each life is value it, and each life issues. And whereas motherhood has not been what I anticipated, it has remodeled into one thing way more vital and sacred to me. For my Riaan, for the opposite lovely kids with Cockayne Syndrome I’ve come to know and love, we can not fail.

Jo Kaur is Riaan’s mom, Founder and Chair of Riaan Analysis Initiative, a 501(c)(3) non-profit group, and a civil rights lawyer based mostly in New York Metropolis. To donate to Riaan Analysis Initiative, please go to

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