Thank you! Still time to Give HOPE through Research!

FundaCureHuge thank you to everyone who have already donated to the Cystinosis Research Foundation to help Give HOPE through Research!

It means so much to me! I realize that it was during a weekday and that not everyone who wanted to attend was able. Therefore, there is still time to donate! Go here to: DONATE

If you also were interested in hearing other cystinosis patient’s stories please watch the youtube video below of Tina’s story.

If you were quite interested in what I was going to say in my little speech you can check that out right bellow!

599457_111877858954314_119659440_nMy name is Mika Covington; I’m 23 years old and hope to live 23 years more. I was diagnosed with cystinosis around age 10 months old. Cystinosis is a rare “orphan” disease that causes that amino acid cystine to accumulate in the cells. As the cystine accumulates in the cells, it slowly damages organs including the kidneys, liver, thyroid, eyes, muscles and brain. An orphan disease is a disease that has not been “adopted” by the pharmaceutical industry because it provides little financial incentive for the private sector to make and market new medications to treat or prevent it. Almost 7,000 rare or “orphan” diseases in the United States collectively affect nearly 30 million people. In the case of cystinosis, only 2,000 in the world are affected.

Cystinosis has been a struggle. It has been a challenge for me and those who are about me. Yes, I maybe a so-called survivor; however I’m living with it every day. When I was a kid, I was always seen as different. Every day, I went to the nurse’s office to take medications. Many days, I had bad breath and body order from the Cystagon, and I felt sick to my stomach that usually ended in me vomiting. Elementary and middle school were especially difficult for me because of this. Not to forget all of the doctor appointments and hospitalizations I had to go to which caused me to frequently miss school. Growing up with cystinosis is difficult and quite the journey.

Cystinosis has been difficult on my family, too. I cannot even comprehend how heartbreaking it must have been for them to get the news that cystinosis is an incurable disease. Then, to see me go through all of the hospital visits, side effects from the medications, and just daily life with cystinosis. However, I am proud because I am one of the only cystinosis patients to make it to 19 years old before needing a kidney transplant.

In 2010, my senior year in high school, I turned 19 and lost my health insurance. This happened because in Nebraska, you are an adult at age 19 and you must re-apply for Medicaid. I did just that and I was denied. I was told that I was not eligible for coverage for having a pre-existing condition (the cystinosis). I tried applying four times with the same results each time. With no avenue to appeal their decision, I decided to focus on graduating high school and going to college until my scheduled trip to the National Institutes of Health that fall. I went most of that year without any of my medications. this resulted in me going into end stage renal or kidney failure and it probably cut a few years off my life. I went from needing a kidney transplant in 2-4 years to needing one in six months to one year. If I would have had health insurance, I might have been able to wait until after college to get a kidney transplant.

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia Rally
International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia Rally

When I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to contribute to society in any way possible and work to create the change I seek. However, because of having cystinosis and going on dialysis, it forced me to stop working. To stay busy, I volunteer on issue and political campaigns, such as fighting for Full LGBT Equality, voting rights, and health care for all. I am passionate about these because I look forward to a future where everyone has the right to vote, has full and equal human rights, and access to high quality health care. For me, these causes are important because I know first-hand how not having access to health care can cause a chronic disease to get worse like my disease did.

I was on dialysis for almost three years. I began dialysis in May of 2011, when I was a patient at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) being evaluated for kidney transplant. I first was on hemodialysis, a form of dialysis that is performed with a catheter placed in the chest that is used as an access to cycle large amounts of blood into a machine that cleans the blood and returns it to the body. Fortunately, I was only on this form of dialysis for nine months, until I switched to peritoneal dialysis.

I started peritoneal dialysis in March of 2012, because I was denied getting a kidney transplant at UNMC from my living donor and would need to be on dialysis much longer, in addition to hemodialysis not working out for me. I had many complications with hemodialysis and cystinosis. For example, cystinosis patients are not your typical kidney failure patients because we still need access to water and potassium. This is why our specialists recommend having the kidney transplant as soon as possible. Most health care professionals are not fully educated on cystinosis. Therefore, cystinosis patients like me must take it upon us to help educate our health care professionals.

 554643_454772334563780_354924217_aEven with the additional education sometimes, mistakes are made. While I was on hemodialysis, it caused me to continuously become dehydrated, have hypotension (low blood pressure) and tachycardia (fast heart rate). In addition, I had other complications like the catheter itself falling out of my chest and a couple of times where there were infections. By the end of the period of me being on hemodialysis, I had seven hemodialysis catheters placed in my upper right chest. I can show those afterwards. 

Peritoneal dialysis is performed using a catheter placed in your abdomen that cycles a dextrose mixture fluid into your peritoneal cavity that uses the wall of the cavity as a natural dialyzer that cleans your blood. Peritoneal dialysis was much better for me because I was able to better control how much fluid I take off my body and my health care was more in my own control. It also was done at home. This way I did not have to go to a dialysis center. It gave me more of my life back. I was on peritoneal dialysis until May 30, 2013, when I received the Gift of Life from my living donor. I had the kidney transplant at the wonderful University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), in Iowa City. At UIHC, I received excellent care and compassionate treatment. I personally feel they are the best in the Midwest. 

Today, I am living with a new kidney, which I named Serenity after the ship on FireFly a scifi show, and doing wonderfully in aspects of my kidney health. The transplant team at UIHC was impressed with how well my body accepted the kidney and recovered from surgery. My creatinine level, which determines how well the kidney is doing, is 0.9. This number is awesome! You don’t always see transplant patients do this well at this point post-surgery! Even my incisions are healed so well you can hardly see them. I can show those to you afterwards too! I am now down to only having blood draws once every other month to check my levels and only need to visit UIHC once a year. 

Currently, I am not employed because even though my kidney issue is resolved for the moment. I still have cystinosis; remember it affects my entire body. Because of cystinosis, I have Fanconi Syndrome, where I constantly must fight the loss of water, important minerals, salts, and nutrients. I have issues with my eyes being extremely sensitive to sunlight and light in general. I also have some issues with my heart and frequent headaches. This all leads to a lot of stress and still feeling sick. 

I must point out, I don’t only have cystinosis. I have nephropathic or infantile cystinosis. There are three forms of cystinosis: nephropathic (infantile), late-onset (intermediate), and ocular (adult). The most common and severe form is nephropathic cystinosis. Patients with nephropathic cystinosis appear normal at birth. However, before one year of age have excessive thirst and urination, and failure to thrive. They are smaller than others are their age and often tend to be in the lowest percentile or even off the pediatric growth chart. There may be delays with walking and bearing weight. With late-onset cystinosis, kidney symptoms typically become apparent during adolescent years. With ocular cystinosis, cystine crystals are present in the eyes but kidney function remains normal. 

Fortunately, we have the drug cysteamine to slow the progression of cystinosis by removing the cystine from the cells. There are two forms of cysteamine Cystagon and Procysbi. The FDA approved Cystagon for the treatment of cystinosis in 1994. Cystagon must be taken every six hours, every day. I was on Cystagon during the trial and had been taking it for nearly 21 years of my life. It caused me to feel sick almost every day. 

Last year, the FDA approved Procysbi, a delayed-release capsule for the treatment of only nephropathic cystinosis in adults and children 6 years and older. I was lucky enough to start Procysbi about four months ago and I have nearly no side effects from the new form. There is only one medication to treat the corneal cystine crystal accumulation in patients with cystinosis, Cystaran. Cystaran must be used every hour while awake in order to remove the cystine crystals from the cornea. Patients who begin cysteamine treatment early enough, and are compliant in taking cysteamine as prescribed, generally delay the need for kidney transplantation for several years. 

250px-NIH_Clinical_Research_Center_aerialWe must find a cure. Thus, I am participating in a long-term clinical research study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. In the study, I see Dr. William Gahl, one of the leading researchers in the world on cystinosis. Dr. Gahl’s study was one of the first studies of it’s kind on cystinosis. I currently see him for the specialized study of the progression of the disease in my body and to aid his research in the long-term effects of the disease, which I hope will assist in finding a cure. I began seeing Dr. Gahl when I was a baby, shortly after I was diagnosed with cystinosis. I spent several weeks at a time there. Basically, I grew up there from 1992 to 1996.

In addition, I have participated in several other studies, including at the University of California at San Diego Medical Center, where they studied the neurological and psychological effects of cystinosis. I was also a participant in the study at the NIH, which proved to the FDA that the eye drops work to reduce the cystine crystals on the corneas. 

Today, I am here raising funds to help find that cure for my terrible disease. The money raised here will go directly to the Cystinosis Research Foundation (CRF). CRF is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that was started by the amazing Stack family in 2003, after Natalie Stack their daughter, made a wish on the eve of her twelfth birthday, “to have my disease go away forever.” CRF today supports bench and clinical research that is focused on developing improved treatments and a cure for cystinosis. 

CRF has funded every bench and clinical research study that lead to Procysbi, allowing cystinosis patients like me to take the drug every 12 hours instead of every 6 hours, which greatly improves our quality of life. They established the CRF Cystinosis Gene Therapy Consortium, whose mission is to bring stem cell therapy to clinical trial. The CRF is currently funding investigators in eleven countries. Some of the areas of focus include stem cell and gene therapy, effects of cystinosis on neurological function and cognitive development, causes of muscle-wasting and potential therapies, etc. 

Finding a cure may save my life, as well as others with cystinosis including my sister Mary, or even persons with other diseases. Knowledge discovered by studying one “orphan” disease often leads to advancements in other diseases. 

Can I count on you to join me?

Go here to donate online: Fund a Cure 4 Cystinosis 

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Help Fund a Cure for Mika’s Disease

599457_111877858954314_119659440_nMy name is Mika Covington and I live with Cystinosis. I am 23 years old and hope to live 23 more.  I was born with Cystinosis and diagnosed around age 10 months. Cystinosis is a rare metabolic disease that causes cells to crystallize causing early cell death. This happens because the amino acid cysteine accumulates in the cells, but has no transporter out. Cystinosis slowly destroys the organs in the body including the kidneys, liver, eyes, muscles, and brain. Cystinosis is a progressive disease. As I age, the disease affects my body further, inflicting damage to multiple organ systems. The medications I take only slow the progression of the disease but there is no cure. I have already been through the kidney failure, next up is thyroid insufficiency, calcifications on my brain, muscle wasting, and swallowing difficulties.

Cystinosis has always been a struggle for me and my friends, and my family. It of course continues to be a struggle. It has caused a lot of trauma not only to me but also to those who care about me. I cannot even comprehend how difficult it was for my family to get the news of my disease and how it will eventually take my life if we do not find a cure.

Post-Op Kidney Transplant
Post-Op Kidney Transplant

A year ago, I had a living donor kidney transplant at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). At UIHC, I received excellent care and treatment. I personally feel they are the best in the Midwest. I was on dialysis for almost three years. I began dialysis in May of 2011, when I was a patient at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). I first, was on hemodialysis, a form of dialysis that is usually performed with a catheter placed in the chest used as an access to cycle large amounts of blood into a machine that cleans the blood and returns it to the body. If you are on hemodialysis for a long-term period, a surgeon will create a port in your arm or leg called a fistula. However, I was only on this form of dialysis for nine month, until I switched to peritoneal dialysis.

IV meds post-op transplant. Not many compared to most transplant patients.
IV meds post-op transplant. Not many compared to most transplant patients.

I started peritoneal dialysis in March of 2012, because I was denied a kidney transplant at UNMC. Peritoneal dialysis is performed using a catheter placed in your abdomen that cycles a dextrose fluid into your peritoneal cavity that uses the wall of the cavity as a natural dialyzer that cleans your blood. I was on peritoneal dialysis until May of 2013, when I received the kidney.

Today, I am living with a new kidney and doing wonderfully in aspects of my renal (kidney) health. The transplant team at the UIHC was impressed with how well my body accepted the kidney and recovered from surgery. My creatinine level, which determines how well the kidney is doing, is 0.9. This number is awesome. You do not always see transplant patients do that well after transplant. My incisions are completely healed. I am down to only having blood draws once a month and only needing to visit UIHC once a year.

Me in Pre-op with Diane and family
Me in Pre-op with Diane and family

In 2010, my senior year in High School, I turned 19 and lost my health insurance. This happened because in Nebraska, you are an adult at age 19 and you must re-apply for Medicaid. I did just that and was denied. I was told that I was not eligible for coverage for having a pre-existing condition. I tried applying four times with the same results each time. However, I was still in High School, therefore I stopped trying and instead focused on graduating High School. I went most of that year without any of my medications. It is a fact that because of this, it cut a couple of years off my life and made me go into renal failure more quickly. I went from needing a kidney transplant in 3 – 5 years to needing one in six months to a year. If I would have had health insurance, coverage I would have been able to wait until after college to get a kidney transplant.

Healthcare event in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Healthcare event in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Since I graduated from High School, I have wished to contribute to society in any way possible and work to create the change I seek. However, because of having Cystinosis and going on dialysis forced me to stop working. To stay busy I volunteered on issue and political campaigns such as fighting for Full LGBT Equality, voting rights, and health care for all. I am passionate about these because I look forward to a future where everyone has the right to vote, has full and equal human rights, and access to high quality health care. For me, these causes are important because I know first-hand how not having access to health care can cause chronic diseases to get worse like my disease did.

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia Rally
International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia Rally

I am currently not employed because even though my kidney issue is resolved for the moment. I still have Cystinosis. Remember it affects my entire body. Because of Cystinosis, I have Fanconi Syndrome, where molecules that should be reabsorbed into the blood stream are instead eliminated in the urine. This leads to the loss of important minerals, salts, fluids, and many nutrients. I also have issues with my eyes being extremely sensitive to sunlight and light in general. I have some issues with my heart and starting to have some neurological issues and frequent headaches. This all leads to a lot of stress and feeling sick. Not to forget, during my time on dialysis, I gained a lot of weight, which in of itself is causing problems.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)
National Institutes of Health (NIH)

I am participating in long-term clinical research study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. I see Dr. William Gahl, one of the leading researchers in the world on Cystinosis. Dr. Gahl’s study was one of the first studies of its kind on Cystinosis. I currently see him for specialized study of the progression of Cystinosis in my body and to aid his research into the long-term effects of the disease. I first saw Dr. Gahl in 1992 shortly after I was diagnosed with Cystinosis. Since then I have participated in several studies elsewhere including at the University of California at San Diego Medical Center (UCSDMC) where they studied the psychological and neurological effects of Cystinosis.

There has been a lot of progress in treatment and management of Cystinosis. For instance, I take Procysbi instead of Cystagon. When I took Cystagon, I had to take 13 capsules four times a day and the medication made me sick. With Procysbi, I only take five capsules two times a day with nearly no side effects. There has also been progress made in studies using stem cells, which could cure Cystinosis. Therefore, there really is hope.

I am raising funds to help find that cure for my terrible disease. I hope you all will join me in this effort. Finding a cure not only will save my life but will save my little sister’s life and many more. Can I count on you all to join me?

You can donate by visiting www.gofundme.com/9ibcmo or click here: Fund a Cure

*Funds will go directly to the Cystinosis Research Foundation (501(c)3 non-profit) that has no paid staff and sending all funds to cystinosis research. 

Mika’s Cystinosis

SAMSUNGAt age ten months, I became very ill and was rushed into the emergency room (ER). The doctors diagnosed me with dehydration and failure to thrive. In the following months, I went through many tests including bone marrow taken from my hip. The doctors concluded from these tests that I had Nephropathic Cystinosis. This was a very scary moment for my family, they had no idea what Cystinosis was.

Dr. Gahl at NIH
Dr. Gahl at NIH

I owe my life to Dr. William Gahl from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I began seeing him in 1992. Dr. Gahl shortly before meeting me he discovered that Cystagon and some other medications are successful in treating Cystinosis. I started the Cystagon treatment in 1992, during my first visit to the NIH. It is because of his research and those medication that I am still living. The first group of doctors, I saw at the University of Nebraska Medical Center were useless, they told my parents that they did not believe I would live to be six years old because they didn’t wish to go out of their way to really figure out what was wrong with me. Nevertheless, they were right, if I would not have started the Cystagon I would have died.

Cystinosis has become part of my life. Cystinosis had done many great things for me. I look at Cystinosis as some sort of tool. I have been able to educate myself on many things that most people do not understand because of this illness. I understand most if not all of what many of my medications do and how they work. I understand what Cystinosis does and what Cystinosis is; I know the many different functions of the body especially the kidneys and what levels should be. I am able to travel to many different places. For instance, I go to the NIH once every other year, which is located in Bethesda, Maryland just outside of Washington, D.C. It has given me the opportunity to travel to California where I took part in a psychology study in San Diego. Cystinosis has also made me become more mature then many people my age and thus, I look at the world much differently.

250px-NIH_Clinical_Research_Center_aerialNonetheless, there are many negative aspects of living with Cystinosis, such as I have been to so many hospitals that I have lost count of them. The hands of so many medical professionals have touched me, which has led to me trying to tell them what to do, when they draw blood and start IVs. I have had so many different scans and X-rays that now, I have been exposed to more radiation then an average Iowan. I also take many different medication, which have many different side effects. Some of those side effects including vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and bad breathe. Thus, the medications are another negative aspect of Cystinosis. But, I guess the most negative aspect of living with Cystinosis is that it will eventually kill me. 

Today, living with Cystinosis is much easier because I finally after 3 years of waiting and the first transplant center refusing to do the transplant after scheduling it twice in the same year, I got my kidney transplant. I am doing much better and continue to improve. I owe that to the University of  Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and Dr. Reed who did my kidney transplant. Oh and I guess Jon the donor. But, he didn’t have a huge roll in it, he only had to lay on a table and give up his kidney. Thanks Jon!

The following are graphs of my blood levels post kidney transplant. 

Creatininelevels

Potassiumlevels

Hemoglobinlevels

BUNlevels

WBClevels

PlateletCountlevels

 

Omaha Queer Goes to California!!

Okay, everyone!! So I have not talked about this on facebook yet or in my blog but I have a confession. I lied when I said I was going to take a two-week break from the Obama camp to work on transplant stuff. LOL I never went to my grandma’s during those two weeks. Instead, I went to California for two weeks with my friend Amber because she was wrongfully fired from her job as a field organizer for the Obama camp.

Anyways so we drove in her little pre pre all the way to Los Angeles, California. Which I have to tell you all a little bit about that drive!

Okay, so I have anxiety issues. Well there were some mountains that we had to drive through, down, and up and shit! Okay and well I guess Amber decided I could handle it or something so I drove the rest of the way to Grand Junction, Colorado. Well you know what that means!!? I have to drive through and down some fucking mountains! Therefore, I’m driving down these mountains and I am holding on to that wheel for dear life as I am having an anxiety attack and about screaming every time we start going down and turning and like there are fucking cars flying by and signs warning us about all this shit we are to look out for. OMG I was so freaked the fuck out and Amber is just sitting there laughing her fucking ass off at me! That bitch!! LOL But you know what we made it to Grand Junction.

After Grand Junction, we decide to stop in Las Vegas for a minute to just look around because I have never been there before. Of course, we stop in Cesar’s Palace and play a little bit and have one drink or at least one drink for me. LOL of course I win some money and Amber doesn’t. It just has to be her attitude at the game or something. LOL Well during this time he dog Modandash is in the car just dying of heat stroke! LOL

Anyways we get to Los Angeles and the fun starts, oh wait maybe tomorrow. LOL So the fun starts tomorrow.

So we go to West Hollywood and we Queer it up a bunch! We visited like a bunch of Queer bars and the atmosphere was soo wonderful!! There were so many queers there!! In the middle of the block, there was a rainbow flag flying high and proud and some of the crossings were painted rainbow! OMG it was just amazing!! Oh and many of the people there weren’t stuck up like all those stuck up queer bitches in Omaha!  Then about 11:34pm, Amber decides we should go to San Francisco to go to Pride! LOL And with Amber drunk and me with a couple drinks down start to walk back to the car while Amber talks to her friend Alex to organize this last minute trip up to San Fran to go to Pride in the morning! LOL

We go back to the car and drive back to the house so I can do dialysis and get ready to go and then we drive almost two hours out of our way to pick up Alex from San Bernardino. LOL So guess who gets to drive there! Oh my gosh I do!! I am the one who is not drunk! LOL Amber was almost wasted. LOL So I drive through LA to San Bernardino to pick up Alex but by the time we got there I was too sleepy to drive any further so we go into Alex’s room and take a nap for like three hours before we start our journey up the five hour drive to San Fran! (FYI we are not stupid we just are queers) Amber and I would take turns sleeping in the back of her pre pre with my kidney juices. LOL

Pride was so awesome there!! OMG I could not believe it! They really go all out for Pride. Moral of this blog is that I went to California and had a amazing time instead of going to Sanders County Nebraska to stay with my grandma on the farm. LOL Which would you have wanted to do!!??