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Preventing a uncommon childhood illness with hope

(RNS) — Gurjot “Jo” Kaur is a fiery civil rights lawyer whose intense dedication comes from witnessing her working-class dad and mom labor to offer for his or her household, watching her deaf sister face limitations in a society not designed for individuals with disabilities, seeing the racism her father endured as a turban-wearing Sikh immigrant.

Jo and I had lengthy been associates. We’ve lengthy shared experiences of being excluded as Sikhs rising up (I in Texas, she in Florida) and, as adults, our devotion to equal rights. We had been shut sufficient that she invited me to supply a prayer at her wedding ceremony. Late one night time a number of months in the past, she referred to as to inform me her new child son, Riaan, had been identified with a uncommon illness referred to as Cockayne Syndrome and the prognosis was not good.

Jo’s ardour for advocating for civil rights was turned to advocating for these with uncommon ailments, absorbing an encyclopedia’s value of details about inequities in drug improvement and our well being care system. She taught me that it’s dad and mom like her who’re compelled to fund and push for scientific analysis to develop new therapies. I’ve watched a mom, my good friend, struggle desperately for her youngster’s life, leveraging each obtainable ability and useful resource she has to save lots of her son.

I talked with Jo about her experiences, with hopes that others might be touched by her story. The interview has been edited for readability and size.

You’ve gone from a civil rights lawyer to a mother to a rare-disease advocate. What has this transformation been like for you?

Gurjot “Jo” Kaur along with her son Riaan. Courtesy picture

It’s been the hardest and loneliest of my life, as a result of it was born from necessity, not pleasure or pleasure. I selected to be a civil rights lawyer. I selected to be a mother. I didn’t select to be a rare-disease advocate, not less than not in the identical means.

My dad and mom needed me to turn out to be a physician. I resisted and went to legislation college as an alternative as a result of I all the time hated all issues associated to medication or well being. I used to be a fan of phrases and logic, not blood and biology. But as quickly as we obtained the information that Riaan had this deadly illness, with no accredited therapies, I discovered consolation within the science, in researching hungrily to grasp this illness I had by no means heard of, for a solution to save lots of my child’s life. The Friday night time we obtained the analysis, I used to be up all night time studying medical journals and emailing scientists.

To my shock, some responded, and one factor led to a different, and three months later, we based Riaan Analysis Initiative — the primary analysis advocacy 501(c)(3) nonprofit group to speed up the event of therapies for Cockayne Syndrome.

How have you ever leaned into your Sikh religion for assist and steerage?

As an lawyer who has spent a lot of her profession preventing for Sikh rights, I usually leaned into, relied upon and relayed the wealthy tales of resilience and braveness from Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s life, or the revolutionary egalitarian imaginative and prescient and compassion of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. After Riaan’s analysis, I discovered myself trying into the lifetime of Guru Har Krishan Ji, a baby himself, who destigmatized illness, who spent his days serving to those that suffered from smallpox.

Riaan is almost 2 years old. Courtesy photo

Riaan is sort of 2 years previous. Courtesy picture

There are such a lot of different examples in Sikh historical past of seva (selfless service) to alleviate mass struggling, to humanize individuals with disabilities and/or sickness that gave me gas to march ahead, to raise my head off the pillow.

My life’s journey — due to my stunning child boy — has shifted. I discovered in regards to the inequities and challenges within the rare-disease and drug improvement house, how the problem just isn’t essentially about “discovering” a treatment, however elevating sufficient cash to fund a treatment. When a illness is so uncommon, it isn’t seen as worthwhile and sometimes ignored by biotech or pharmaceutical firms, and even academia. It’s usually as much as motivated dad and mom to drive the analysis, to develop a treatment.

Nobody had completed it for Riaan’s illness, and we turned dedicated to doing what we are able to to growing a therapy, in his title, and in allegiance to the Sikh precept of sarbat da bhalla — for the betterment of all. We’ve to save lots of these stunning children as a result of if we don’t, who else will?

What have you ever discovered that you simply want individuals knew?

I by no means thought it might be me both. This wasn’t going to be our life story. I simply needed a boring, loving household life with my child boy and husband. I used to be going to be a lawyer till I retired. I didn’t even take into consideration genetic illness. I nervous about having a miscarriage or stillbirth, or that my gestational diabetes would hurt Riaan ultimately. By no means in 1,000,000 years did I believe Riaan would inherit a illness that solely impacts two in 1,000,000 youngsters!

I had the prenatal genetic screening completed whereas pregnant with Riaan, and my husband and I didn’t come up as a match for any illness they examined. Little did we all know that there are greater than 7,000 uncommon ailments and they don’t take a look at for a lot of of them on these panels. Although uncommon on their very own, collectively they influence lots of people world wide and should not truly uncommon. One in 10 individuals worldwide have a uncommon illness. Any individual you understand in all probability has a uncommon illness.

Richard “Richie” DiGeorge with his son Riaan. Courtesy photo

Richard “Richie” DiGeorge along with his son Riaan. Courtesy picture

I’ve met many dad and mom of kids with genetic ailments, and so many people are preventing exhausting, and doing all the pieces we are able to to discover a treatment for our youngsters. Many have left their careers. They’re fundraising for the primary time, spending days and nights working nonprofit organizations whereas taking good care of their sick youngsters and making an attempt to create miracles. I’m in awe — I’ve by no means seen such resilience and braveness. And sometimes nobody is aware of our tales, or simply glosses over them.

Simply final month, I wrote a blog post referred to as “Let’s Discuss About Mice.” It makes me snort at occasions however I take into consideration mice lots — so do different rare-disease dad and mom. If the remedy works on mice, it might work on our youngsters. I by no means imagined that I’d perceive or discuss science and experiments, genetic illness and gene therapies in the way in which that I do now!

How is Riaan doing proper now? And what are your hopes for him?

Riaan is probably the most stunning, brightest and brave little boy! He’s 21 months previous, and he’s as pretty and humorous as may very well be. He’s all the time in chardi kala (a Punjabi time period that means stuffed with pleasure), and he’s progressing. His severest delays are in his gross motor abilities — he struggles with sitting independently, and can’t stand or stroll on his personal. He additionally can’t discuss, and solely eats purees.

Riaan exercises. Courtesy photo

Riaan workout routines. Courtesy picture

Nevertheless, he understands all the pieces, he’s interactive, he has his favourite “Sesame Avenue” songs — if a music comes on the telephone that he doesn’t like, he’ll swipe the display. He’s nice at selecting books he desires to learn. Currently, he’s been having fun with a sport referred to as Tower Protection along with his dad, the place his dad builds an allegedly indomitable tower, and Riaan — the beast — finds a method to knock it down. Riaan is all the time profitable, and his victory giggles are priceless. 

The tragic information is that Riaan has been given a mean life expectancy of 5 years. We’re praying and dealing very exhausting to get a gene alternative remedy developed in time for him and different youngsters along with his mutation, in addition to exploring whether or not there are already accredited medication that may be repurposed for his illness to alleviate some signs or delay illness development.

We’re grateful to our companions on the College of Massachusetts Chan Medical Faculty and the Horae Gene Remedy Heart — particularly the labs of Dr. Miguel Sena Esteves and Dr. Rita Batista — who’re working on pre-clinical studies to develop a gene remedy for Cockayne Syndrome as we communicate. Riaan Analysis Initiative is honored to have helped launch and fund this program at UMass, and are intensifying our efforts to fundraise — we’d like about $4 million — to see this venture via to a medical trial.

Typically all of it feels insurmountable, however then I do not forget that now we have already achieved the inconceivable in the previous few months. Our Riaan is an ideal, particular boy, a blessing from the universe, and science is advancing quickly. I’m an individual of religion, and a believer in science. There’s motive to hope.

Writer’s observe: Jo Kaur has based Riaan Analysis Initiative to assist fund a treatment for her son Riaan’s illness. To donate to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit group, please go to

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