What is Spinal Muscular Atrophy?

We knew it was coming; we knew something was wrong. But we did not think it would be quite this devastating.


SMA

On June 10th, at 6 months old, our beautiful, happy, silly baby girl was diagnosed with a genetic neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. We had never heard of this disease before. After revealing the results of the blood test, the neurologist and social worker gave us an overwhelming amount of information about SMA. Dr M also told us that based on the age of onset and milestones reached, Khloë is a Type 1.

SMA is a motor neuron disease that affects the voluntary muscles that are used for sitting, crawling, walking, neck control, breathing, and swallowing. 1 in 6000 babies are born with this disease and 1 in 40 people unknowingly are carriers of the gene. SMA does not affect intellect or sensation. There are four types of the disease, with Type 1 being the most severe. Children with SMA are more susceptible to respiratory illnesses that can cause severe breathing problems. At some point, they require special equipment for breathing and a feeding tube to eat. SMA is the #1 genetic killer of children under 2 years old.

We sat there thinking, “Our daughter is now considered severely disabled. She may not live to see her second birthday.” As a parent, how is one to deal with those thoughts?

Khloë will never sit unassisted, crawl, or even walk. But she can smile, laugh at the silly antics of her parents, and with a bit of help she can play with her toys. She gives us an unimaginable amount of joy every day and we hope that we can give her the same amount back.

For a child to have SMA, both parents need to be carriers of the gene. Each pregnancy there is a 25% chance of the baby having SMA; a 50% chance of parenting a child that is a carrier of SMA; and a 25% chance of parenting a child that is not a carrier.

Why is this disease not a part of standard prenatal testing when it destroys so many children?

The following information is paraphrased from Families of SMA Canada about Type 1:

SMA Type 1 is also known as Werdnig-Hoffman disease and is usually diagnosed when the child is between 3-6 months old. Typically the child is never able to lift her head or accomplish the normal gross and fine motor skills expected in infancy. These children generally have poor head control and may not kick their legs as vigorously as they should. The child with Type 1 generally uses the diaphragm to breath, giving them the appearance they are breathing with their stomach. Due to this type of breathing, the lungs never fully develop and the child has a weak cough. Children with SMA who have difficulty swallowing are at risk for aspirating when eating.

In Khloë’s case, she currently doesn’t have any issues with swallowing and so she is able to exclusively breastfeed. Her doctor has told us not to give her any solid food in case she aspirates. On June 23rd, under supervision at CHEO, Khloë will have the opportunity to try solid food for the first time! If all goes well, we will be able to allow her eat purees in addition to breastmilk. When the time comes that she can no longer swallow, she will be fed a special formula by G-tube. Surgery for this feeding tube will take place this summer while she is still healthy.

We are thankful for every moment we have with our sweet baby!

For more information about Spinal Muscular Atrophy, check out these websites:
Families of SMA Canada
Muscular Dystrophy Canada (search “spinal muscular atrophy”)
Fight SMA

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