This is the story of my daughter, who is my hero.
My daughter, Jade Catherine Harmer, is 12 years old. One weekend in October of 2006, we were going to an Army PT test as a family, to test ourselves at jumping jacks, sit ups, push-ups and a two mile run. Jade beat us all home, which made her very happy, of course.
The next day, she wasn’t feeling well, but we went shopping, had lunch, then headed home for dinner. While we were making homemade pizzas, I noticed she kept biting her lip. I told her to stop, but she kept saying, “I’m not doing anything Mom.”
On Sunday, Jade didn’t want to get out of bed saying she still didn’t feel well. I was getting ready for church, and luckily, my husband got home from work and said he would take care of her and for me to go on to church. While I was gone, Jade fell out of her bed and fell to the ground. Her daddy came running in, asking what was wrong. Jade explained that she just fell out of her bed and had fallen when she was heading to the bathroom. At that point, my husband knew something was wrong and called me at church saying I needed to come home right away.
I immediately took Jade to the Mary Washington Hospital near our house and asked my husband to stay home, promising to call if something was wrong. As soon as the doctors saw Jade, they requested her to be transferred to another hospital in Richmond, Virginia, because they thought Jade had suffered from a stroke. I called my husband to meet us at the hospital.
By the time she arrived in the helicopter at the new hospital, the whole left side of her body was paralyzed. While we were there, they performed a CAT scan, MRI, spinal tap and a lot of blood work. At the end of it all, Jade was very tired and sick, and the doctors weren’t sure what had caused her episode.
Jade remained in the intensive care unit for weeks, even celebrating her tenth birthday there. We couldn’t believe it. How could our seemingly healthy daughter still be here?
Doctors again performed an MRI, and concluded that Jade had something called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or ADEM, which is a neurological disorder characterized by inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. They treated her with steroids, and placed her in Kluge Children’s Rehab Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, for one month to learn to walk again and to use the left side of her body. Even with all the physical therapy, she came home in a wheelchair. Doctors hoped they had treated the ADEM, and didn’t think it would come back.
Six months later on April 26, 2007, Jade was getting ready for school when her father announced that something was telling him to keep her home. Instead of going to school, he took Jade to work with him at the Pentagon. He and Jade took friends from out of town on a tour, and then out to lunch at Subway – Jade’s favorite. When they got there, Jade couldn’t even talk to order and my husband knew something was wrong and was afraid her ADEM was coming back.
This time she couldn’t talk or eat, and her right side was paralyzed. We were again taken by helicopter to Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia, where they performed two different kinds of MRIs and found a lesion on the left side of the brain. When they performed a spinal tap, the doctors said that five of the oligoclonal bands didn’t match up in her blood. We didn’t know what that meant. They explained that this usually is an indicator of multiple sclerosis, but that Jade was very young to have MS.
She was placed back at Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center for three weeks to learn to eat and drink and write all over again. Two weeks after she came home on May 25, the doctor called and said their prediction was correct, our daughter had MS. We were told she needed to start treatment right away. I can honestly say that I’ll never forget that day.
We started the treatment on July 14. At first, Jade was given a full adult dose, but she wasn’t responding well, so we took her down to a 3/4 dose. At first I couldn’t give her the shots. My best friend Heather had to. Then one week, I had no choice. No one was around but me and Jade. She told me it will be okay, but I couldn’t stop sobbing while I was giving it to her. When it was over, she patted me on the back and said, “Mommy you did a great job, I didn’t even feel it.” This is what I mean when I say my daughter is my hero.
Later that year, Jade wanted to become active in the MS community, so she participated in her first MS walk. Jade also spoke at Capitol Hill in May 2007 with Congressman Rob Wittman about her health issues. While we were there, he signed the Congressional MS Caucus bill that reintroduced legislation to create a national MS registry to pool information about people living with MS. The bill’s registry would help with planning for services and health care needs, detect/monitor health practices, promote advocacy and support research for MS.
Then, in November of 2007, she spoke at the Dinner of Champions for the local MS Society. Later on that same month, we went to Baird MS Center at the Jacobs Neurological Institute in Buffalo, New York, which is one of the six centers for children with MS. We met with Dr. Ann Yeh and her staff there. Dr. Yeh said to keep an open mind because we don’t know where this will take us, but that we had a strong daughter who is a fighter.
All I can say is that MS will not keep our daughter down. She is a warrior. She knows that God only gives us what we can handle, and God has given her MS for a reason. She loves to listen to music, and got to meet one of her favorite singers, Carrie Underwood, while in Nashville, Tennessee. Not too long ago, Jade received a package from Band Against MS and Clay Walker. In that package was a copy of Clay’s CD Fall. She always listens to it when she is having a hard day because the music really helps her.
My husband John and I are very proud of our daughter and her outlook on her disease, which is why she is our hero.