Dear Aicardi Syndrome,

When I found out that you were part of our lives via our beautiful baby girl, I read everything I could find about you. It was not uplifting information.

The medical literature said that with you in our lives, we could not expect our daughter to live beyond early childhood. It did not say that 22 years later, I would sit with her across from a neurologist who is beaming because my daughter is still alive.

It said there would be significant developmental delays, but not that she would thrive in spite of them.

It said that there would be uncontrollable lifelong seizures, but didn’t mention that these seizures would cause us to bond with parents from all over the world. In fact, we would find some of our best friends through parent groups, and they would remind us how to laugh.

The reports said that she would have visual deficits, but there was no mention of how, despite being legally blind in one eye and having less than perfect vision in the other, she would love looking out the window as we drove. There was no description of how intently she would look at us when we read her a story, or the way she would gaze into our eyes with trust and love.

The information I read was old. It mentioned some with Aicardi were sent to live in institutions and that she would likely not be able to walk. It didn’t say that we would find ways to care for her at home and give her mobility with a wheelchair.

That terrifying information I read about you never said our daughter would share many of the same life experiences as her older sister, and would join the Scouts, win gold medals in bowling, join clubs and be in Christmas pageants and concerts. It didn’t tell us how she’d love going to parties and dances, or enjoy Sponge Bob, funny videos, being outside, riding the school bus and going to the mall.

It didn’t mention that she would light up when she hears her father’s voice, lean against me when she isn’t feeling well or tease her sister. I didn’t read anything about how she would touch the lives of all who meet her and be popular among her peers. It didn’t hint that without the ability to speak she would still find a way to effectively communicate her feelings.

There was nothing about how we would accept you as part of her, and go days without even thinking your name. In short, Aicardi Syndrome, the literature about you didn’t tell the whole story. Because even with all the challenges you brought here, life for and with our daughter is as full and joyful as anybody’s could be.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.


She was vomiting and sleepy. The neurosurgeon suspected hydrocephalus and scheduled emergency surgery for the following day. My daughter, Reese, was 3 months old and had recently recovered from her first brain surgery shortly after birth. Another emergency surgery — my heart could barely stand it.

I remember being terrified that morning. The surgeon walked in with his convenience store breakfast in hand. I couldn’t help but think, “You mean you haven’t already been awake for hours eating blueberries and flax seeds, looking over her scans and preparing yourself for this surgery?” My fear increased.

Although the doctor said the surgery went perfectly, they allowed us back into the recovery room too soon. Reese’s eyes looked crazy, darting all over the room. She could not hold them in one spot for even a second. I frantically asked the nurse what was wrong. She assured me this was a normal part of the recovery process and that her eyes would normalize within hours.

Terrifying moments. Terrifying days. Every parent of a child with serious medical issues knows what I am talking about. The beginning is the hardest — so many unknowns. Every medical term is new. The smell of the hospital is new. The wondering what our lives will be like from this point forward — terrifying and new.

Reese had survived her second brain surgery in just three months. My husband, Mario, and I were still reeling. It was so much to digest in such a short time. In the middle of those three months, we had also received Reese’s diagnosis: Aicardi Syndrome, a rare genetic brain disorder. When I Googled it for the first time, all I remember seeing was “In Loving Memory” and “7 to 14 years.”

We settled into the Pediatric ICU for recovery. The attending physician came in to meet Reese and make his initial assessment. We chatted for a moment and realized that we had a friend in common. He closed the door for privacy and as a respite from the noise of beeping machines and alarms. I remember him saying something like this:

This child will change your life. She will change her siblings’ lives. They will grow up to be special people because they will learn early on that they are not the center of the universe. I see incredible siblings develop alongside children like Reese. She is a gift.

I lost it right there. Tears of the blubbering kind. His words were like a salve to my burdened soul. He was kind. His words were loving. His words were meaningful. It was unexpected. He didn’t have to do that.

Few moments in my life fall into this specific category. My perspective was changed. Because of this doctor’s words, my thinking shifted from how we could help our other children survive Reese’s illness to how Reese’s illness would actually shape them into the best versions of themselves. Because, after all — unselfish, authentic people are my favorite people.

girls on swing

Kind words. Encouragement. Taking time out of a busy schedule. These were all gifts this ICU doctor gave us that day. His kindness changed my perspective. It changed my life.

One of the greatest blessings of our journey with our medically fragile child has been experiencing the kindness of extraordinary people. I’ve become inspired to be more like them. Loving people just for the sake of loving — without receiving anything in return, without a sense of duty, just for the sake of loving — has the power to transform lives. It has transformed mine.

mother kissing daughters cheek

The Mighty is asking the following: Can you describe the moment someone changed the way you think about a disability or disease? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected]. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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When my now-22-year-old daughter, Hillary, who is diagnosed with Aicardi syndrome, turned 3 and left early intervention services, we chose a self-contained special education school with a therapy-based program to begin her school career.

I struggled to see, even after nearly three years with early intervention therapies, how she would ever fit in anywhere, as she was usually the most challenged of her peers in the program. To put this into perspective a little, I had stopped hoping she’d be able to feed herself and chew. I was content that she could hold her head up while being fed pureed food and thickened liquids.

At the time she entered the public school system, I was not working outside the home, so I was free to visit the school whenever I pleased. The staff was always welcoming and happy to have parents and siblings visit, and I took my older daughter with me when she didn’t have school. I felt it would help her to see that her sister was safe and had peers just as she did.

While I saw all that, too, I still had a tough time seeing her as doing anything “normal” enough to fit in outside the walls of the school… until one day when visiting and I sat in on her art class. In that room, I saw the most amazing thing.

Hillary was engaged in an art project, with the help of an assistant and the art teacher. She and the other five students in her class sat in their Rifton chairs around a half-circle table with the art teacher sitting in the middle. He was interacting with each one by turn, talking about what they were doing, and using hand over hand to help accomplish the task. It was overwhelmingly such a “normal” thing for preschoolers to be doing that it struck me that my daughter would be able to participate in activities with regularly abled peers with a little extra help.

She would, regardless of her challenges, be able to do all the things her sister did. It really changed the way I looked at what Hillary could do and how her life could be.

After that, I enrolled her in the Sunday school class for her age group at our church. I was amazed at how much she liked it and how interested she was in what her peers were doing.

As she grew older, she was able to join a Girl Scout troop in town, and when we decided that she should leave the self-contained school and be in our town’s schools, she was able to participate in chorus (even though she is non-verbal), wood shop, keyboard lab, and art classes with her peers.

As she grew she was able to have most of the “normal” experiences of childhood that her sister did. There were even times when she and her sister were on stage together for chorus, in parades together with Girl Scouts, and participating in the church’s Christmas pageant together.

Seeing Hillary in that art class helped me to see beyond what she wouldn’t be able to do, and realize all that she could achieve and experience in her life.

The Mighty is asking the following: Can you describe the moment someone changed the way you think about a disability or disease? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected]. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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At the age of 4 months my beautiful baby girl was diagnosed with agenesis of the corpus callosum, retinal lesions, infantile spasms and developmental delays, which all together is Aicardi syndrome.

Life became more challenging in an instant.


Over the past 22-plus years, as I grumbled my way through crowds at the mall and cried inside at amusement parks, there has usually been someone who extended an unexpected kindness, reminding me others see my daughter’s value and recognize our family’s challenges.  Sometimes it’s as simple as stopping to say hello to Hillary, unfazed by her nonverbal answer, or opening a door as we approach pushing her wheelchair.

For her last birthday we took her to a local street fair where she was showered with balloons and trinkets from vendors and community organizations there.  One time we were traveling and a woman stopped at our restaurant table to tell me what a good mother I was. It was a gesture so simple, yet so powerful and needed at the time. I still tear up when I think of it.

When Hillary was 7 we were at the mall shopping in the Disney store and unbeknownst to us we were being watched. We exited the store and began walking through the mall when we heard a man calling to us. We stopped and turned around as he approached, holding out a small snow globe with Cinderella’s glass slipper inside.  He said he had been watching us in the store and Hillary had touched his heart.  The snow globe sits on her dresser where every morning and night I am reminded of how kind some strangers can be.

It was around the same time that we went on a Girl Scout family trip to an amusement park.  As we were sitting on a bench with Hillary next to us while her older sister and her friends went on rides we were approached by a small group of giggling teenagers.  One of them held out a red stuffed dragon toy to Hillary and asked us if it was OK to give it to her.  It also is in her room where I see it every day.

Such incidences of random kindness are kept in my memory like treasures in a box.  I examine them on those days when I need an extra reminder that there is so much good in the world.

For all of February, The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

Want to celebrate the human spirit? Like us on Facebook.

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Cathy and Adin McCann were driving from their home in Des Plaines, Ill., to Pittsburgh, Penn., to spend Thanksgiving with Adin’s family when they decided that instead of letting grief consume them, they’d fight it with as much joy as they could muster.

A week earlier, their 3-year-old daughter, Sadie, had passed away from complications from Aicardi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which typically includes brain malformations, vision issues, severe developmental and physical disabilities and daily difficult-to-control seizures.

Sadie Vert

While they drove, the McCanns reflected on Sadie’s life and came to a conclusion: They were going to continue to celebrate their brave little girl.

“It was important to us that she not be forgotten,” Cathy McCann told The Mighty. “We wanted to do something that would let her spirit live on.”

Because Sadie had always reminded them to be kind, her parents created a list of random acts of kindness that could be done in her honor. McCann wrote about her pay-it-forward idea on her blog, “Sadie’s Journey.”  Soon after, people from all over the U.S. began sending emails saying they’d like to participate remotely. Some plan to follow the McCanns’ list of kindness ideas. Others are putting their own twist on tasks.

One friend in Los Angeles, for example, will spend an afternoon cheering people up with “random acts of culture,” performing theater and musical numbers in the streets.

Pictures of peoples’ acts of kindness are posted to a Facebook page called, “Friends of Sadie McCann.”

On May 3 — the Saturday after Sadie’s birthday — those who live close to the McCanns will gather in St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Des Plaines to honor that brave little girl’s life.

“There will be sadness, of course,” Cathy McCann told The Mighty. “But I hope it will be a celebration.”

She hopes the kindness challenge and her choice to be positive will inspire others to make small efforts to be kind every day.

“Doing something little — opening the door for someone or helping someone reach the cereal — that can mean so much to a person going through something,” McCann said. “I’d like to see people be kinder to everyone around them.

Donations in Sadie’s memory can be made to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland.

When Cory Gould’s mother told director Tim O’Donnell she was bringing her son to the National Dog Show Presented by Purina, O’Donnell had one response.


A convention center full of people and dogs seemed like an odd place to bring an 11-year-old boy with Asperger syndrome, O’Donnell thought. So much noise and chaos may make for an uncomfortable setting.

But for Cory this isn’t the case – he has a passion for dogs, and he can tell you pretty much anything you need to know about them. In fact, when Cory is talking about canines, he has less trouble in social situations.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 3.55.21 PM

When Cory’s parents, Heather and Jonathan, realized their son’s fascination and talent, they called O’Donnell and asked if he’d be interested in making a film about Cory. He was.

“For the Love of Dogs,” which screened in April 2014 at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, centers around Cory’s trip to the dog show, but really, O’Donnell says, the 25-minute documentary is about much more. [Update: The full film can now be purchased for viewing here.]

“Autism isn’t easy. It’s hard,” O’Donnell, 30, told The Mighty. “[Cory] and his family work hard every day.”

The director hopes “For the Love of Dogs” will show people the highs and lows of autism, how difficult it can be and how beautiful it can be, too. Maybe, he says, it will raise awareness about the realities of the developmental disorder.

“If you see a kid throwing a tantrum in, say, a grocery store, maybe hold off your judgment,” O’Donnell told The Mighty. “That kid’s been working hard all day and maybe this is just the moment it got to be too much.”

Take a look at the trailer for “For the Love of Dogs” below.

h/t The Boston Herald

Real People. Real Stories.

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