Menkes Disease: Finding Help & Hope -- a short documentary.

"Really moving" - Tomasz Silwinski, Oscar nominated director of "Our Curse"

"Heart Breaking - and Heart Warming" - Rare Disease Report

"I'm so honored to be a part of this project." - Mary McDonnel, Oscar nominated actress.
 

Best Documentary 2015
Academy Award nominee Mary McDonnell (Dances with Wolves, Battlestar Galactica) narrates this look at a rare fatal genetic disorder called Menkes Disease. It prevents boys from metabolizing copper. Boys who get treatment in the first ten days of life can have long and relatively normally lives. If the disease is not detected and treated that early their lives are much shorter and far from normal. This short documentary aims to explain some of the basics of the disease and treatment but also provide context with examples from three families across the globe showing that there is life after this terrible diagnosis. And that life is more joyful and hopeful than you might expect.

Academy Award nominee Mary McDonnell (Dances with Wolves, Battlestar Galactica) narrates this look at a rare fatal genetic disorder called Menkes Disease. It prevents boys from metabolizing copper. Boys who get treatment in the first ten days of life can have long and relatively normally lives. If the disease is not detected and treated that early their lives are much shorter and far from normal. This short documentary aims to explain some of the basics of the disease and treatment but also provide context with examples from three families across the globe showing that there is life after this terrible diagnosis. And that life is more joyful and hopeful than you might expect.

This film is currently touring film festivals.  Contact us if you'd like to screen it at your festival, medical conference or for any other public screenings.

If you are facing a diagnosis of Menkes in your family please check out the clinical trails at the NIH and visit our FaceBook support group. or TheMenkesFoundation.org

Some background on the making of this film is in this article.

In the run up to the premiere at the Ballston Spa Film Festival the Albany, NY NBC affiliate WNYT did this story.
And The Washington Post mentions the film in the last part of this article.

One month after the completion of the first draft of this film, Miles Murdoch passed away. His parents showed this film at his funeral service. He was weeks away from turning six years old. Below is an insight into our current life with Lucas now 6.5 yrs old, and five months after his interview scenes in the film were shot.  

One month after the completion of the first draft of this film, Miles Murdoch passed away. His parents showed this film at his funeral service. He was weeks away from turning six years old.

Below is an insight into our current life with Lucas now 6.5 yrs old, and five months after his interview scenes in the film were shot.

 

Don’t just do something, sit there – deciding not to treat our severe needs child.

In most of my life I prefer to regret something I have done rather than regret something I haven’t done. But when it comes to my son with Menkes Disease, this like so many issues doesn’t fit the norm. When you face a degenerative disorder in your child, a lot of measures get turned on their heads. The expectation can’t always be to make things better since we know the long term path is to get worse. Things are going to stop working as they should. So how do we decide which of those things are preventable, or forestall-able and which medical interventions are not worth the risks?

Recently my six year old Lucas’ hips and spine went from minor problems to severe. The hip that would chronically dislocate was now permanently dislocated and the previously normal hip was chronically popping out of place. His spine curvature had greatly increased and we began to fear his positioning due to a question-mark-shaped spine might compress his internal organs.

Two surgeries were recommended, one for the hip(s) and then later for the spine.

Most parents think they’d do anything to help their child. My wife and I think so too. But here we had a gut feeling that maybe the treatment would be worse than the problem it would fix.

We think Lucas has a diminished sense of pain; he rarely complains from any discomfort. Maybe his nerve receptors are under developed along with his brain, muscles and bones. (If so what a welcome silver lining to this horrible disorder.) So his hip, despite being visibly “wrong”, wasn’t uncomfortable to him. He doesn’t walk, or sit unassisted, so he doesn’t absolutely need the hip to function normally.

As for the spine issues, we checked in with his specialists and each told us that so far it wasn’t impacting the function of his organs. The curve happens low on his spine, so lungs, bladder, kidney: all so far so good.


If Lucas was constantly crying out in pain we might have rushed him into surgery. But the surgery recovery can be long for patients in normal health. Lucas tends to recover three times more slowly than normal. For a child expected to have a short life did we want him to have several months of it spent in hospitals?
Add in the risks of any surgery: maybe it goes badly, maybe an infection sets in... and we were not just afraid to move ahead but questioned the value of these interventions. We didn’t want to kid ourselves either. Were we those people that would stick their heads in the sand and hope for the best despite being told things would get worse? But we by now take it as given that some things will eventually get worse. Should we fight to stave off them all?
We did not decide this lightly. We switched our insurance so that we could visit other doctors at a different hospital for additional opinions. We drove hours and spent nights away from home to make those appointments. Some doctors said yes, some said no to surgery. Many more remained neutral reminding us it was our decision.
Lucas can’t talk to tell us his choice with words.
What haunted us (and still does): would we kick ourselves more if we did nothing and eventually saw things get worse, or if we did the surgeries and things got suddenly worse?

We have been extremely fortunate that for nearly two years Lucas has been in great spirits and good health (his version of good health). He’s had nothing worse than common colds and flus to contend with if you discount the hip issue. Hospitalizing him, with risks of aspiration or ending up with a tracheotomy, seemed so much harder a decision given how happy he’s been lately. I began to imagine an outcome where we’d trade a bad hip he didn’t really need for a bad wind pipe he really does need. If fixing the hip left him with a trach was that a good trade off? Was that progress toward a healthier boy? Never mind that the day will likely come that Lucas does need a tracheotomy, I just didn’t want to cause that day to be tomorrow.


We wrestled the pro and cons back and forth for several months, gathering more medical advice along the way. Eventually we both found some peace in the decision that doing less would help him more. Early on after his diagnosis my wife and I decided we wanted greater quality of life for Lucas not necessarily greater duration of life. We also told ourselves “no extreme measures”. The catch there is that those measures creep up incrementally and don’t often seem extreme in the moment. Sure enough doctors tell us this surgery is a risk but not an extreme measure, they do it all the time on kids more fragile than Lucas too. I believe that. But “extreme” is still subjective. A day may come when we face more pain for Lucas and regret not intervening earlier. Maybe by then it will be too late to attempt some of the options for treatment we have now.

Deciding not to “help” our son has tormented and terrified us. But watching him live each day pain free and happy, we can’t take the chance of changing that. Not today anyway. As always we’ll face tomorrow, tomorrow.