At 11:43 AM on April 8th, 2010, Claire Marie Reilly first introduced herself to the world. At 6 pounds, 14 ounces and stretching 19 1/4 inches long, she was perfect – and ready to make her mark. We’ll never forget the first time we saw her: porcelain skin, pursed lips, and a tiny hand resting against her little cheek.
Claire was a happy baby; she loved being around her big brothers. Her constant smile lit up the room. She said “Mama” at 5 months, and “Dada” and “Baba” shortly thereafter. She loved music and enjoyed nearly any type of toy that she could find.
Claire had a few minor medical items that required attention during her first year, but all were correctible – nothing too serious. She needed physical therapy to strengthen muscles in her neck, and later, a cranial helmet to correct subtle flattening of her head caused by her positioning in utero. Her eyes crossed slightly and her doctor thought she might be a bit far sighted, but both were easily corrected with a cute pair of pink glasses which complimented her bright blue eyes and curly blonde hair perfectly.
We were blessed to be able to take a family trip to Florida around the time Claire was 11 months old. We stopped along the way to West Palm Beach to visit great friends in Raleigh, NC and Daytona Beach, FL. We had a blast – lots of swimming, parks, and napping on the beach (yes, the kids slept under a cabana)! It was heaven.
When we returned from Florida, we started noticing a significant difference in Claire. She was no longer interested in interacting with anyone and stopped making eye contact with others. She wasn’t using her words anymore, and her beautiful and contagious smile was replaced by a blank stare. Claire showed no emotion. Her hand movements were changing; they were starting to shake more and ‘ring’ in a circular motion. She was also losing the ability to grasp and hold onto objects. She would army crawl, however, her right arm would get stuck underneath her body. Generally, she wasn’t hitting the same milestones that her brothers did at this point. Even though we understood that all children grew at different paces, we knew in our hearts something was going on with Claire – and something was definitely wrong.
At Claire’s 12 month check up, we raised all concerns to her pediatrician. Claire was referred to a pediatric neurologist, who confirmed that Claire’s behaviors were out of the ordinary. The next couple of months felt like years as Claire underwent a battery of tests in an effort to understand what was happening. When EEGs and MRIs came back normal, Claire was diagnosed with high functioning Autism. Until Claire could officially be evaluated at the Cleveland Clinic Autism Center, her neurologist recommended genetic testing to rule out other possibilities. Oddly enough, one of the other “possibilities” was Rett Syndrome, which, at the time, was described as a worst case scenario and something we didn’t need to worry about. Outside of jotting it down and doing a quick Google search, we put this in the back of our minds.
Over the course of the three weeks it took to get the results of the genetic blood tests, I researched everything there was on children with Autism. One day, Claire’s grandma offered to come over and play with the kids to give me time get my thoughts organized. I’ll never forget that beautiful sunny day – June 22, 2011. I was creating a large binder of information on Autism and local resources when the phone rang. The Caller ID read Cleveland Clinic. It was Claire’s neurologist. Like results from the EEG and MRI earlier, I was waiting to hear that the genetic testing results were also “negative” and continue on with my task of creating Claire’s binder.
“Mrs. Reilly, genetic tests detected a pathogenic mutation in the MECP2 gene that is consistent with a diagnosis of a MECP2 related disorder. Specifically, the mutation discovered is R168X.”
“Wait, what?” I asked.
She repeated herself.
To this point, Claire had been tested for just about everything, and everything was starting to sound the same. “So…what does that mean?” I asked.
“This is very difficult for me to tell you… I’m so very sorry, but Claire has Rett Syndrome.”
You can never be prepared for a moment like that. Ever. I ran outside to tell my mother-n-law, and she took care of everything. She called Sean at work to tell him; she handled the kids. She talked to my sister and mother when they came over. The rest of the day was a blur. I remember Sean and I being in a daze when we took the boys to swimming lessons. Later that night, after the kids were asleep, Sean and I sat in our bedroom searching for anything and everything Rett Syndome. To say that it was overwhelming would be an understatement.
Although all cases are different, we learned that Claire will never talk again, she most likely will never walk, nor will she be able to control her arms or hands. Several complications are possible – even sudden death. Imagine the symptoms of Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s, Epilepsy and a variety of anxiety disorders all wrapped up in one little girl – this is Rett Syndrome. Imagine tying your arms behind your back, tying your feet together and taping your mouth shut – this is Rett Syndrome. She’ll need 24/7 care for as long as she lives.
In the 9 months since that phone call, we’ve worked tirelessly to build a team of doctors and specialists with a single goal in mind: help Claire conquer Rett Syndrome. Claire travels to the Bronx, New York at least every six months. Her primary physician is a leader in her field and coordinates Claire’s care from NY with her team of doctors here at home. Currently, Claire sees several physical therapists, an occupational therapist, and a speech language pathologist each 3-5 times per week in addition to routine visits with pediatric developmental specialists in neurology, cardiology, GI, ENT, optometry, etc. We’re in the process of evaluating assistive communication devices working to position Claire to be able to communicate. She is also participating in a mobility clinic where specialists will determine the appropriate assistive equipment needed for her to be able to move independently. As if her schedule isn’t full enough, Claire is also scheduled to visit the Pediatric Center for Airway, Voice and Swallowing.
Claire’s smile has returned and so has her contagious personality. Despite her challenges, she definitely knows how to work a room. With something like Rett Syndrome that has no cure and no real treatments, our goal is to enhance her quality of life as much as we can.
In terms of our life in general, we continue to try and define our “new normal”. Every day is draining and filled with new challenges. Challenges from those that can be expected for parents attempting to raise three small children and then the unexpected involving the care of a special needs child, the medical system and the various government agencies we’re forced to deal with on our daughter’s behalf.
We look at life a little differently these days, no longer taking the smallest things for granted. We understand that there will be rainy days and there will be sunny days. Through periodic updates in this blog, we’ll take you along on our journey – rain or shine.
Anything we can do to help! Love, Molly and family
Okay, so you guys put together such a beautiful dedication to Claire! You asked awhile ago about doing periodic articles about communication and Rett Syndrome… Well I’m on board!
This is a beautiful story….our prayers continue….with love. Looking forward to your updates.
I love you Col and Sean. My prayers are always with you on this blessed journey.
You guys are truly an inspiration. Although we don’t see each other often enough with this HUGE family we are blessed to be a part of, love, thoughts and prayers are being sent to you daily. Love you all bunches.
You are always in our hearts and prayers. Your faith, hope and love are evident in your daily actions that inspire so many of us. Our God is definitely using you for His greater good! We are so proud of all of you! Thank you for sharing Claire’s Story and your journey. We wish you continue strength and blessings. We love you! Aunt Marie & Uncle Jerry
Wow Colleen! This story really strikes a cord with me for multiple reasons. One being the fact that we just had a beautiful baby girl, so I can relate, as a new momma myself, how hard this must be for you. I also have a handicapped sister, and my little angle has made me who I am today. My sister has provided me with the inspiration to become a physical therapist and to help others like her and your daughter have the best quality of life possible. I thank God every day for giving me my sis and my occupation to make such a difference in people’s lives. Your story gives me chills and is such an inspiration to me. You and your family are amazing people! You will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers
You are all amazing! This is an incredible site and so important to all tese Angels !!! Xoxo
Col, It’s Bri (St. Michael’s)….I want you to know my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. You have such a warm, welcoming, and loving family that are your earth angels on your crusade with you. I also want you to know that I am a speech-langauge pathologist and work for North Royalton City Schools and I am in the area. Please let me know if I can help with ANYTHING. Email me, call me, text me, whatever. I am here…
Colleen, what a wonderful site you’ve created. God gives these special, beautiful little gifts to parents who are nothing less than angels on Earth. If there is anything we can do, please do not hesitate to ask. In the mean time, we continue to pray for God’s healing, His strength, and His constant embrace of your entire family.
Hi Col and Sean!!
I want to help and support this cause as much as I can, and am working with Alissa to plan a wonderful fundraiser after the marathon with as much money as possible going to the foundation. There is a reason little Claire’s soul chose you and Sean as her mother and father, and I believe this is one of the reasons. You are an amazing and strong woman!! Lots of love and light!!!
Casey- I can’t wait to see you:)
You are in all in our thoughts and prayers always with love. May God bless little Claire and your whole family.
Wow..hi Colleen..my name is Kim .. You and I share the same story. My daughter Peyton was diagnosed in 2007. She is now 6 1/2. I would really LOVE to talk to you . We see all our specialists here at rainbow in cleveland. Please feel free to contact me anytime! Kimgiesey@yahoo.com. I think we could definitely be of help to each other:)
Sooooooooooo sad I know what you r going Throug My daughter had cancer
My daughters and I met Claire at The Music Class and she is truly a special little girl with a beautiful spirit! We loved seeing Claire enjoy herself every week in class!
Colleen – after seeing the boys’ t-shirts today, I found your website. Your smile each week and warm spirit are truly inspiring, considering all you have been through and will continue to. I wish you and your family the best and perhaps we will see you in class again in the fall :).
Hello Colleen , like claire my daughter gianna was also diagnosed with rett and we have faced the same very difficult challeges as your family. clair is beautiful and your site is an insperation for others ! my daughter receives all the therapies under the sun since 1 yr of age and continues to this day. we are currently scheduled to drive up to bostons childrens hospital for clinical studies of hormone therapy called IGF1 , which im sure you might have heard of alraedy. would love to hear more how clair is doing and what love to share more info . All my best 🙂 – John
When your Dad told me about Claire’s situation last year I probably didn’t pay much attention. This year he asked many of us to help support his granddaughter again and when I pressed him for more details he became emotional. You could see how much he loves your little girl. After reading what your family has endured I’m touched by the love and support given. Hopefully the strength and courage you and your wife has shown will be inspiration for others who have to accept similar difficulties.
God Bless you and your family,
Mark and Mary Mekota
We also have daughter with Rett syndrome and live in the Cleveland area. We love what you have done and are doing. A friend heard an advertisement on 1400am and I immediately checked you out.