Pace toddler wasn’t supposed to survive. Thanks to wonder drug, parents say he’s thriving – Pensacola News Journal

Posted: September 8, 2020 at 2:56 pm

Seeing a child debilitated by illness is never easy.

When doctors tell youthere is nothing they nor you can do to help ease yourbaby's suffering, well, parents who know that type of helplessness often find it hard to describe.

We were told to take my son home and love him, becausehe probably wouldnt live past his second birthday, said Pace father Todd Hamrick. But, were way past that birthday now.

Hamricks son, Alek, was diagnosed at six months old with spinal muscular atrophy and not expected to live long enough to toddle. ButAlek, now 3, has beaten the odds and outlived that initial, bleak prognosis.

His parents attribute much of his success to his doctor, Richard Finkel, who entered Alek into a clinical trial for what they believe has been a wonder drug for their little boy, Evrysdi, which was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Whats hard to even get around is that people even bothered to research it, Todd Hamrick said. Its just a small amount of the population that has SMA. Its not like researching a blood pressure medication.

Spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA,is a genetic disorder caused by a loss of nerve cells that effect human motor function.

Essentially, those afflicted by SMA are made weak. Their muscleswaste away. In many cases, eventually, a person loses their ability to walk, to eat andevento breathe, and they die.

Aleks mother, Iwona Hamrick, is a nurse at a local hospital and wellremembers the moment she heardher sons diagnosis.

It was unimaginable. His pregnancy was normal, she said. We did genetic testing and it was negative. Unfortunately, at that time, they were not screening for his disease. So, from a healthy baby to a dying baby, you know?

The parents felt they had to travel, in more ways than one, to find the places and help that they could for their Alek.

Todd Hamrick said that he and wife decided to move from Gulf Breeze to Pace after Aleks diagnosis after feeling ostracized by many of their former acquaintances. The parents felt like some people who they used to know were made uncomfortable by their son's illness.

The area is very in-the-dark when it comes to children with issues, Todd Hamrick said. If your kids are healthy and you'rehealthy, its a great area. But, it doesnt attract the greatest talent or best and biggest facilities or endowments.

So, Alek traveled with his family to meet his future doctor, Finkel, at the Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando.

Alekwas first treated with a gene therapy drug, and he made some response with that, Finkel told the News Journal. But more recently, he started on a second drug, which seems to be having an enhanced effect, I must say.

Finkel, an expert in the field of pediatric neurologic disorders, left Florida in March for a position leading the new Center for Experimental Neurotherapeutics at St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Buthe has continued to monitor Aleks progress via video.

Both of the drugs he has received, the gene therapy and this new drug, Evrysdi, are designed to increase a certain protein in Aleks body that is deficient because of his genetic disorder, he explained. But they do it in different ways. The potential advantage of his new drug, Evrysdi because its an oral drug; you take it by mouth it goes into the stomach and into the bloodstream, and from there, it goes to all the tissues of the body.

And, we think that there is an enhanced effect, becauseit gets into the muscle tissue, Finkel continued. "These are very, very, early daysin trying to make assessments, soI dont want to say that we can come to any kind of conclusions yet."

However the cutting-edge drug works doesnt matter to a mother, whos just glad that it isworking.

It gave us hope. Thats for sure, Iwona Hamrick said. Becausewe felt helpless.

Since Alek started his new treatment last November, his strength has increased tremendously.

His muscle tone got better, Iwona Hamrick said. He is much stronger in the upper body, so much so, he is pushing his little wheelchair.

Alek can now cruise around his Pace home in an extraordinarily lite-weight wheelchair designed by a Swedish inventor who alsohas a child with SMA.

Alek had a lot of trouble before starting this medication even pushing it, Iwona Hamrick said. Sonowhe is just rolling around the house. Also, he is barring more weight on his legs.

Recently, Alek has started to be able to walk in a pool a huge milestone for the toddler.

But some worries remain the same.

Every day, Alek must use a type of breathing machine.

Its a cough assist machine, Todd Hamrick explained. We use it two times a day, when hes healthy. Becausewhere we can just clear our throats when we cough, he doesnt have that strength no lung strength.

Alek attends physical therapy, aqua-therapy,hippotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy sessions every week to try and ensure he remains healthy and continues to properly develop.

My worries have changed a lot, Todd Hamrick said. I used to worry my child was going to die. Now, Im worrying about if other kids will bully him at school.

"But that'sa great worry to have," he continued. "Compared to how it use to be, getting picked on is a great thing to worry about.

Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at colinwarrenhicks@pnj.com or 850-435-8680.

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Pace toddler wasn't supposed to survive. Thanks to wonder drug, parents say he's thriving - Pensacola News Journal

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