This past weekend, Blair, Hunter and myself flew a non-stop flight from New Orleans to Boston for the 6th Annual Usher Syndrome Coalition's Family Conference on Saturday. We thought it would be Hunter's first flight back when we booked it, before knowing about our PA trip, so we thought a non-stop flight would be best. But keeping a toddler entertained and sitting in the same seat for 3 hours was exhausting. Our high hopes of having him nap failed until 10 minutes before we landed in New Orleans on our way home, at which point we kept him up so that he could sleep in the car rather than getting a little power nap before our 2 hour drive home from the airport!
As a member of the coalition's board of directors and governmental relations committee, I was asked to give the welcome speech to start off the day. They wanted me to touch upon the work we have been doing in DC to try and obtain funding from the NIH and to announce the location of the family conference for 2015 since I organized booking it in NOLA for 2015. I even got a few cheers after announcing the location, so I hope a lot of people can make it! The first half of the day included talks by a few different professionals just touching upon genetic testing, the psychological effects of living with US and what some of their patients have experienced, while after lunch there was a family panel that included 4 people with US and one mom of a 4 year old girl with US. The family panel is always the best part of the day. It's real people speaking from the heart about their own experiences with Usher Syndrome. Their experiences were raw. And everyone loves hearing something "real".
One of the members of the panel was a 32 year old dad with Usher Syndrome. What an amazing journey he is on, living with a wife and two kids, while losing his eyesight rapidly. He didn't find out he had US until after he was married with a child at the age of 27. When asked what the most difficult part of living a life with Usher Syndrome was, he began to tell a story of when he and his family were in Las Vegas. Walking the crowded strip was not an easy task for him, so his 6 year old son came up with a system of different hand squeezes for when he needed to go right, left, stop, slow down. You can't help but tear up when a this tall, athletic and quite normal looking guy who is going through everything Blair and I are at this point in our lives, has to deal with vision loss on top of raising two kids and taking care of his family. His 6 year old was ultimately taking care of him. His 6 year old is dealing with his dad's vision loss, and quite well from what I understand.
Another member of the family panel that struck me pretty hard was a mom of a 4 year old girl. She is from Great Britain and came introduce herself to me during one of the breaks since she knew from my speech that I had a 3 year old with US. I have to say, she is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. Besides the fact that I was obsessed with her accent.
And Chloe Joyner, she is a beautiful person inside and out. Her 4 year old daughter is the luckiest little girl on earth to have Chloe as her mother. Her words brought me to tears, there was no fighting them back. Thank you, Chloe, for being a member of the family panel and for sharing experiences with us. Your positive attitude and outlook on life as a parent of a child with US is so very admirable.
I can't even begin to explain how meeting so many new people at the conference this year touched my life. When Blair and I attended our first conference in St. Louis 2 years ago, I walked in, saw what seemed like a million white canes and seeing eye dogs, and I walked right back out because I couldn't keep my composure. But the community that is coming together, the parents who are starting foundations, planning fundraisers, and merely walking up to me saying thank you for your speech, I have a child with US too. Those are the people that I secretly consider my best friend when I start to think about Hunter's future and how no one in my immediate support system will ever come close to imagining the worry that Blair and I have for Hunter. But my secret best friends, they have that pit in their stomach just like me, and that knot in their throat when things get all too real at doctor's appointments that "normal" children never have to go through. But they also have a drive to redefine Usher Syndrome, and that's my favorite thing that we all have in common. I can't wait to see them all again next year.
And here are a few pictures from Boston, as well as a video of Hunter in the hotel room. He is catching on to more and more these days, I just love to sit there and listen to him talk. It's still so surreal to me ;)