Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Couple Brought Together by Rare Genetic Disorders

Loyola doctor treats husband and wife for debilitating bone conditions

MAYWOOD, Ill. -- Husband and wife Thomas and Laureen Lash were born with rare genetic disorders that have prevented them from growing taller than 3 feet. Thomas’ condition has caused him to suffer more than 100 broken bones while Laureen has experienced frequent joint discomfort, dislocations and instability in her neck.

Despite the pain they have endured, their medical issues are what brought them together. The two met through an association for people with these rare disorders 15 years ago. They will celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary later this year.

Laureen, who is a longtime member of the organization Little People of America, was born with Spondyloepimetaphyseal dysplasia, Strudwick type. This disorder affects bone growth and causes skeletal abnormalities and vision problems.

Thomas, who is the chapter president of the organization, joined the association because he suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta. This condition, also known as brittle bone disease, affects the body’s ability to produce collagen, making the bones fragile and more susceptible to breaks.

“I have suffered countless fractures since I was an infant,” Thomas said. “However, thanks to my wife, I am diligent about going to the doctor and taking my vitamin D to protect my bones."

Five years ago, Thomas and Laureen turned to experts at Loyola University Health System (LUHS) for help. Doctors began monitoring their bone density, calcium and vitamin D levels because they are both at greater risk for developing osteoporosis.

“Awareness about our conditions is low, so it was important for us to find a center where physicians have seen these disorders and are better equipped to care for them,” Laureen said.

The couple attends all of their doctors’ appointments together. Doctors at Loyola’s Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Disease Center carefully monitor them and provide techniques to prevent further health complications.

“We have been able to prevent them from suffering fractures and additional bone loss,” said Pauline Camacho, MD, director of the Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Disease Center, LUHS. “The Lashes also have been able to maintain a very normal life because they have taken good care of themselves and each other. They are an amazing and very supportive couple."

People with each of these disorders have a short stature, so Thomas and Laureen live in a house that is fully equipped for their height with lowered countertops, light switches and bathroom facilities. Thomas also uses a wheelchair, and Laureen drives a car that is custom-made for her needs.

“When I was a bachelor, I didn’t feel the need to equip my house with special features to accommodate my height, but this all changed when I got married, and my wife moved in with me,” Thomas said. “I upgraded my house to make her comfortable."

In their spare time, the Lashes serve as advocates for others with these conditions. They also are taking steps to adopt a child with similar health issues in the near future.

About Loyola University Health System

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), located on a 61-acre campus in Maywood, Gottlieb Memorial Hospital (GMH), on a 36-acre campus in Melrose Park, and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. At the heart of LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital that houses the Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, a burn center, a children's hospital, Loyola Outpatient Center, and Loyola Oral Health Center. The campus also is home to Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. The GMH campus includes a 254-licensed-bed community hospital, a Professional Office Building with 150 private practice clinics, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation. It serves people and communities in 22 states from coast to coast with 93 hospitals, and 120 continuing care locations — including home care, hospice, PACE and senior living facilities — that provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually.