I am writing this on the plane ride home from D.C. since I won’t get in till late tonight. We are bouncing through the skies above Virginia trying to get above some bad weather apparently. Boy, I hate turbulence… as if anyone actually likes it, hahaha.
Well, mission accomplished...
... But before I go on about today, none of this would be possible without Ang and her mom holding down the fort back home so that I could be not only physically present but focused and mentally present as well. Thank you, ladies!
Today, Dr. Tolar presented the results of the 17 patients that have enrolled in the EB Bone Marrow Transplant Clinical Trial at the University of Minnesota, and I gave the beginning and ending remarks to the panel discussion on regenerative medicine and cell-based therapies.
As Dr. Tolar described it, “It was a 1-2 punch.”
He hit them in he head and I hit them in the heart.
Here is my opening statement. Unfortunately, my awesome camera person thought my camera died when it auto-shut off, so the closing statement wasn’t recorded. It was my fault for not telling her about that feature!
Here is the transcript of my closing statement…
For those of you that regulate the doctors, help me understand, who regulates you? You claim to stand for protecting the vulnerable, but how do you rectify all those that die waiting in line?
Parents of children with rare diseases LIVE their children’s disease. They ARE, in many cases – as was stated – THE experts. Why? Because no one is more responsible for your child than you. To the Academics, Government, and Industry: you get to go home at the end of your day. Parents don’t punch a clock. Don’t dismiss parental consent.
If the reward of all this is progress, the path to progress is unfortunately sometimes through failure, and always involves some level of risk. No risk, no reward. No risk = No progress.
Lastly, this has been a stimulating day and a half conversation, but will disappear into history without action items. So, what one thing can you do this week to address the legitimate challenges unearthed here? Ideas are king, but nothing without implementation. Your presence here indicates your passion and your commitment. What will you bring home with you? What difference will you, yes, the person in YOUR seat, what difference will you make?
Go make it.
Turns out some of them got the message. After the workshop ended, I had 3 FDA regulators and a bioethicist come up to me and not only tell me how much my statements moved them, but two of them got into a very spirited brainstorm with myself and Dr. Tolar as to how to take the clinical trial to the next phase of approval based on our combined testimony today, including how to apply for more funding immediately through one particular channel. My heart delighted as I watched them exchange business cards and talk about next steps.
In addition, the head of the entire event, who works for the NIH, came up to me afterwards to thank me for coming and speaking. I told her that I was accountable to the entire EB community for what comes out of this meeting, so how could I follow up with her to make sure there is outside accountability in the processes that were identified at this event, and she gave me her email address and invited me to reach out to her personally when the first draft of the white paper from this event comes out (which will be in a month according to Dr. Wagner) and she will keep me involved.
I have to tell you how intimidated I was to give the audience both barrels, because there is a large part of me that wants to be liked by everyone and is also non-confrontational. However, Drs. Wagner and Tolar were counting on me, and I know I’ve written about this before (a while ago), but what is magical about the transformation that occurred when I set foot behind the podium was the same thing that gave me strength with all the docs along the way… it was all for Bella.
Being Bella’s daddy and essentially (still) fighting for her has given me a level of purpose and - not confidence - but courage that I simply don’t possess when it comes to fighting for me. Who knows, maybe it is rubbing off a little. I talk a good game, but inside, I’m still just a kid who got beat up for talking back as kid on the playground, and watched my 5 best friends murdered for fighting back with their landlord as a young adult. There is a deep vein inside of me that says standing up for yourself and fighting back can get you hurt or killed, and I have to overcome that totally irrational feeling. Doing it for Bella seems to make it much easier.
I have to say that I felt so privileged to speak with the caliber of researchers that attended this workshop. The best researchers across the country in gene therapy and cell therapy came and presented the amazing groundbreaking research they are doing, coupled with the obstacles and barriers they face along the way. Holy cow; what a devoted, and really, really smart group of people! So many great people are working so hard to help kids of so many different rare diseases. It was very heartwarming.
Dr. Wagner did an awesome job taking notes over the two days and put together an initial white paper of all the topics, challenges, and opportunities covered which will go out to all of us participants this week for review, revision, or addition in case he missed something. I’m really privileged to support him. He has a huge heart and endless passion as well as leadership. He and Dr. Tolar just continue to inspire me to do what I can on my end to realize this collective vision of EB becoming treatable.
One thing we uncovered today which is REALLY EXCITING is that a treatment moves from “experimental” (read: almost no insurance reimbursement) to “standard of care” (read: insurance reimbursement!) after a certain number of hoops have been jumped through. Well, that guy from the FDA that was talking to Dr. Tolar and me felt very strongly that Dr. Tolar has demonstrated sufficient data to move the treatment at the U of M to that standard of care level. This is really exciting, because it means the FDA will give its stamp of approval, which will mean the U will be able to bill insurance companies to cover the treatment! Now… of course he was careful not to promise anything in stone, much less a timeline for this, much less that insurance companies will actually reimburse, but they won’t be able to hide behind the “experimental” defense and say no to coverage! Progress, progress, progress.
Now onto the follow up. That is the key to all of this. Too bad I am not an implementation specialist… I am an idea guy and a connector… front end stuff. Good thing my amazing wife is the queen of implementation! Honey? Will you follow up on me following up? LOL. Hey, play to your strengths, right?
After the workshop, I had 5 hours to kill before my flight, so me and my bags hopped on the metro (D.C. subway), went to the capitol district, hopped on one of those double decker buses, and spent 90 minutes in awe of our beautiful capitol. Then, I hopped off the bus, used my smart phone to find the nearest subway station, and hopped over to the airport on the subway with oodles of time to spare. Man, public transportation… it’s amazing! Enjoy my tourist pics!
The White House.
Lastly, I am excited to be on my way home to my family. I can’t wait to see each one of them. I love being a family man. Earlier in my life, that statement would never have come out of my mouth, and even through the tragedy we have endured, the sublime joy of loving four other people as much as I do has totally been worth all the pain of loss along the way. I’d do it again EVERY TIME.