Team Katie – Great Strides 2011


As many of you know, our daughter Katie has Cystic Fibrosis. Katie was diagnosed with CF on September 30 2008. She was 17 months old at the time.

On Sunday May 29 2011, the Cystic Fibrosis Canada will be hosting the annual Great Strides walk for cystic fibrosis. We will be walking and invite you to join us for this annual event.

Please watch our video, which provides a window into our world:

CF, which affects the lungs and the digestive system, is the most common, fatal, genetic disease affecting Canadian children and young adults. Forty years ago, most children with CF did not live long enough to attend kindergarten. Today, half of Canadians with CF are expected to live into their 40s and beyond.

While life span has improved for patients with CF, quality of life is still an issue. Daily treatments, medication, clinic visits and health challenges are always present. When Katie is healthy, we do two treatment sessions a day with her. When she is sick (cold, flu, etc.), we do three or four treatment sessions each day with her.

Here’s a brief list of her regular medicine intake and treatment regimen:
– approx 20 pills a day (enzymes – they help Katie digest food);
– vitamin supplements;
– 2 to 4 Pediasure nutrition supplement drinks each day;
– Nebulizer + medicine – basically, a mist mask that Katie wears twice a day for 20 minutes each time;
– Percussion treatment – 20 minutes of hitting her chest and back – twice a day;
– Inhaled antibiotics – 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off year round;

Plus, the following “specialty items” when she is sick with a cold, flu or other sickness:
– Oral antibiotics;
– Additional medicine in her nebulizer from time to time as her health dictates;
– Additional nebulizer and percussion treatment – typically 3 or 4 treatment sessions a day when she’s sick;

Each year, on the last Sunday in May, friends, family and co-workers of people with cystic fibrosis participate in “Great Strides”, which is Cystic Fibrosis Canada’s largest national fundraising event. Walk with us on Sunday May 29 2011.

To assist, you can:
1. Donate money;
2. Donate and/or collect pledges and Walk with us on Sunday May 29; and/or
3. Recruit others to join us in this fundraising event;

To join our team, “Team Katie”, and walk with us on May 29 at Safari Niagara in Stevensville, click here:

To sponsor us directly in our fundraising efforts for Team Katie, click here:

We thank you for your support. Our wish is that one day, CF will stand for “Cure Found”.


Todd, Julie, Noah, Katie & Riley Dow

Happy New Year!

Yes, I know it’s already January 13th. I’m a bit late on my first post of the new year. 🙂

The last few months have been rather hectic. Plenty going on. And yes, I have neglected our blog for far too long. For that, I apologize.

So, to get everyone up to speed, here’s what we’ve been up to.

Dow Family 2010
Dow Family 2010

October: Plenty of good times. We checked out “Touch a Truck” in Niagara. We celebrated Noah’s 5th birthday. We visited Bry-Anne Farms in Fenwick, Ontario. The kids had a blast! And of course Halloween was fun.

November: Not much to report… Got ready for Christmas. Kept busy with work and play.

December: Busy month. We started the month with a sick household. We think that the cold/flu/whatever it was hit us early this year, affecting all of us at one time or another. Katie seemed to keep healthiest – I suspect that her daily CF treatments helped keep her lungs clear, and thus, helped to keep her healthy as well.

Feeding the sheep
Feeding the sheep

We had a special Christmas this year as well. We went to Ottawa to visit with my sister Stacey’s family: Stacey, Paul, Ben & Max. They have a bit of a hobby farm at their place. Needless to say the kids loved it. They even got to feed some sheep!

From there, we went to Julie’s extended family Christmas, which was hosted by Julie’s Uncle Steve and Aunt Ingrid in Ottawa this year. We had a great time there as well. Plenty of family time and we got out to see the Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec as well.

Which brings us to January. Plenty going on now as well. I’ll update more on that in my next post. Watch for that post within the next couple of days.

And yes, that book is still on my list. I’m working on it.

Talk soon!

Todd, Julie, Noah, Katie & Riley

I’m writing a book – “Cystic Diagnosis”

Katie, Noah & Riley - Aug 2010
Katie, Noah & Riley - Aug 2010

We found out that our daughter Katie had CF on September 30 2008. Katie was 17 months old at the time. We were devastated. We were afraid. We were concerned for our child. We worried if our other child might have CF. We wondered what the future would bring. We wondered if we would have any more children. We had a million questions.

OVer time, we got on our feet again. We spent time at the CF clinic. We met with other CF parents. We researched the disease. We spent lots of time on the internet. We read books. We watched movies. And eventually, we got to the point where we felt like we understood what we were dealing with.

To seasoned CF veterans, I’m sure we’re still “rookies”. But, we are insiders nonetheless. And we are recent insiders. Thus, we have a unique perspective and a unique chance to help others.

I’m compiling my notes into what I envision to be a book that will provide an overview of our first year living with CF. It will share our personal story. It will share resources that we’ve found helpful. It’ll explain how we’ve learned to navigate the health care system and how to optimize the help that is available to CF patients and their families.

Ideally, I’d like to provide a handbook that will comfort other families that have just learned that a loved one has cystic fibrosis. And, I’d like to provide context for those that are on the periphery of cystic fibrosis – friends and extended family members of those affected by CF.

Who knows… maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m overly ambitious. But, I looked high and low for such a book when Katie was first diagnosed, and, I couldn’t’ find that book. If I could provide something even remotely helpful, then I will have accomplished my goal.

Here’s the basic outline of the book that I’m thinking of writing:

1. Our Story – Intro
2. Practical Matters – Our first clinic visit
3. Lifestyle changes:
* Routine
* Family priorities
4. Existential angst (optonal philosophy chapter)
5. A depressing reading list
6. Hope:
* Medical research
* Community / Support groups
* The Internet Community
7. Charity work
8. Carrying on & Living life
9. One year on – where we’re at
10. Ethics:
* Having more children after a CF diagnosis
* Universal health care
* Etc
11. References:
* Books
* Websites
* Charities
* Additional resources

What do you think? Is there a need for such a book? Would you find it helpful? Am I missing anything in the basic outline above? Let me know… The more feedback I get, the better the end product.



Great Strides 2010 Thank You Party

Great Strides 2010 Thank You Party
Great Strides 2010 Thank You Party

Ever since Katie was first diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis two years ago, the love and support of our family and friends has been phenomenal. We have been extremely grateful to everyone that has offered prayers, words of encouragement, friendship and support as we adjusted to living life with a fatal disease always lurking in the background.

On the last Sunday of May each year, the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation hosts the annual “Great Strides™: Taking Steps to Cure Cystic Fibrosis” walk. This past May was our second year attending the walk. It was a greet day – the weather was perfect, we had a great turnout and we had a lot of fun. Check out this post for all of the details from the day.

This year, Team Katie had 210 sponsors and 53 people walked with us at Safari Niagara on Sunday May 30 2010. Team Katie raised over $13,000! Check out the Team Katie – Great Strides 2010 Results! blog post for a full summary of what the team accomplished this year.

To say thank you and to celebrate the success of this year’s walk, we hosted a thank you party for everyone that walked with us this year. The party was held at our house on Sunday August 29. You can see pictures from the event at this flickr slideshow.

We would like to say thank you to everyone that walked with us, donated to this year’s Great Strides walk and/or offered encouragement to us this year. We are truly grateful for the generosity that everyone has shown.

Much love,

Todd, Julie, Noah, Katie & Riley

Welcome to Riley John Dow!

Welcome Riley!


Great news – the latest addition to the Dow family has finally arrived. Please welcome Riley John Dow. Riley was born at home on Tuesday June 1 at 9:50am. He weighed in at 9 lbs even. Julie and Riley are both doing fantastic.

Big thanks to the midwife team: Rachel, Colleen and Pilar. They were fantastic. They made the birth such a fantastic, relaxing and enjoyable experience. Well… as relaxing as it can be to be giving birth – keep in mind this being written by Todd, who does not have experience giving birth. 🙂

Rachel, Julie, Riley, Colleen,
Pilar & Jennifer

And big thanks to Julie’s sister Jennifer who assisted as well. Couldn’t have done it without you Jennifer!

You can see a bunch of pics on flickr:
the main photoset
Riley John Dow slide show


Todd, Julie, Noah, Katie and Riley

Cystic Diagnosis Part 5: Diagnosis

On Tuesday afternoon (Sept 30) just after noon, Julie called me at work, crying. She said the CF clinic just called, and Katie’s results came back positive for CF. I took the afternoon off. Shortly after I got home, the Celiac doctor (the one that referred us to the CF clinic) called us from his cell phone. He was in Israel on the last day of a vacation and he felt the need to call us to reassure us that even though the results were positive, there was reason for hope. He said he would be back in the office the following day and he would follow up with another phone call then.

The next day (Wed Oct 1), the Celiac doctor called us from his office at McMaster. He explained what the positive result meant:

  • Katie most likely has CF.
  • There are few, if any, false positives.
  • But, they’d do another test to make sure.
  • He explained that CF isn’t as scary as it once was.
  • Half of CF patients now live into their 30s and beyond.
  • And, he said that the daily regimen of treatments has been key to the increased life span (only 20 years ago, the median life span was only 16 years of age).

Our lives changed in an instant that day. We entered into a period of mourning for a number of days. We were devastated. We were fearful for what this meant for Katie. We were fearful for what it meant for us as a family. Noah, only 19 months older than Katie, would be impacted by this as well.

We surrounded ourselves by those that could offer comfort during those first few days after the diagnosis. Our immediate families, friends and our extended church family became our strength in those first few days and weeks after the diagnosis.

We did our best to put on a brave face though… just two days later, on October 2, we hosted a large family gathering to celebrate Noah’s 3rd birthday. Life had to go on. We couldn’t deprive Noah of joy during this time. So, we did our best to celebrate his birthday on his special day. We did have a good time, but, it was the first time that we had to address having a good time while having sad thoughts always lurking in the background.

Next week, I’ll conclude this series with a couple of posts on the days following the diagnosis.

Thanks for reading and talk to you next week.


Cystic Diagnosis Part 4: Sweat Test at the CF Clinic

On Thurs Sept 25, we visited the CF clinic at McMaster Hospital.
Sweat Test machine at McMaster

The clinic at Mac was fantastic. The CF test itself is pretty archaic, but, apparently, it’s also extremely accurate. They refer to Mac’s test as “the gold standard”. And, I’ve been told that if you get a CF test, McMaster is the place to get it. Other hospitals do the test, but, even if their results come back positive, they still send you to McMaster to “make sure”. The test involves measuring the amount of salt in the patient’s sweat. It goes like this:

  1. They clean the person’s forearm with alcohol or some other cleaning material.
  2. They put a metal plate about the size of a credit card on the arm. They connect this metal plate to a big battery-sized device that looks like a radio from WWII. This machine sends an electrical pulse through the arm, stimulating it and making it sweat. This happens for approx 5 minutes.
  3. They take the plate off and they put a piece of sterile gauze on the arm, cover it with a plastic bandage and wrap the whole thing in a towel and tape the towel over the arm.
  4. You go hang out for a 1/2 hour, while the arm sweats and the sterile gauze soaks it up.
  5. Go back into the clinic room where they take the gauze off and send it off for testing.
  6. Done. Pretty simple.

NOTE: none of this is uncomfortable for the child. At most, the person will wonder why the plate is buzzing on their arm.

They told us that the results would be available quite quickly – our doctor would likely get the results back the next day (which would have meant Friday Sept 26 in the afternoon) but we likely wouldn’t hear back until the next week, as it takes doctors FOREVER to follow up on this stuff.
So… we spent a really long weekend worrying. Me, not so much. I was in denial that this would be something we’d have to deal with. Julie was panicked though. She was certain that Katie had CF. She called it “Mother’s intuition”.
Monday, still no word. Our doctor hadn’t heard. The clinic was unreachable. We started to get puzzled as to why it was taking so long.
Up next: Diagnosis

Cystic Diagnosis Part 3: Family Doctor & Celiac Clinic

McMaster Children’s Hospital

Picking up where we left off, Julie visited our family doctor the following Monday (Aug 25). The doctor reiterated #s 1 to 3 that we were told at the emergency room the Friday prior:

  1. It’s random. It won’t happen again. Don’t worry about it.
  2. Celiac disease – dietary disorder where the body can’t digest wheat properly.
  3. Cystic Fibrosis – but… the odds are quite low on this, so don’t worry about it.

And, the doctor also repeated her earlier statement that it likely wasn’t CF, because Katie didn’t have any of the other symptoms.

So… our family doctor booked us to visit the Celiac clinic at McMaster Hospital. We went to the Celiac clinic on Thurs September 11 2008. The clinic took some notes. They examined Katie. They took some blood. And they also spent a fair amount of time looking at her body – looking back, we can now see that they were considering whether she had “failure to thrive”.

Funny enough, at that time, she had started to look a bit small. It wasn’t a huge deal, but we were starting to notice her slipping a bit in how skinny she looked. This was strange, as she was a pretty chubby baby. We look back at baby pictures and she was always a pretty good weight. But, around the time we started to have her tested for Celiac and CF, she started to look thinner.

Celiac results came back a week or so later – I don’t have the exact date for that handy. Negative. She did not have Celiac disease. We were down to two options at that point: The prolapsed rectum was a random thing, or, we were looking at Cystic Fibrosis.

Next step: test for CF. The Celiac clinic booked that appointment for us for Thurs Sept 25.

Next post: Sweat test at the CF clinic

Cystic Diagnosis Part 2: Warning Signs

Katie’s symptoms were subtle at first. She had colds that took a long time to shake. She had a hard time sleeping at night when she was sick with colds. Looking back, before her diagnosis, she had a LOT of sleepless nights. She was diagnosed at 17 months of age, and up until that point, Julie and I both wondered when she’d start sleeping through the night on her own. We felt that it was taking forever for her to do that.
But, that in itself wasn’t a big deal. We repeatedly asked our doctor (who had been a pediatrician prior to going into family medicine) if she thought Katie’s constant colds were cause for concern. Our doctor said no, because most kids will get up to 10 colds a year. It didn’t seem unusual. Looking back, we didn’t have any cause for concern as Katie wasn’t exhibiting any of the other symptoms when she was younger (under a year old)… symptoms like failure to thrive, constant appetite, underweight, etc. So, we didn’t worry about it much.
As well, she has always had a bit of a big belly. Nothing too major, but her belly has always been pretty big compared to the rest of her body.But, that’s not really a big deal and she’ll likely grow out of it.
The one other symptom that we had always noticed, but didn’t pay much attention to was her poop. It was always really smelly and some of her food seemed to come out pretty undigested. But again, looking back, we didn’t clue in to this until after the diagnosis.
Then, on Friday August 22, I was changing Katie’s diaper and she had some kind of a brown walnut shaped thing coming out of her bum. I called Julie into the room. She didn’t know what it was either. So, we bundled her up and Julie took her to emergency.
Note: Katie wasn’t uncomfortable. It didn’t seem to hurt her.
Julie FINALLY saw the ER doctor after waiting in the ER for about 4 hours. By that time, the walnut sized thing had disappeared. The doctor told Julie that it sounded like a prolapsed rectum. The doctor said it shouldn’t be a cause for concern, but to go see our family doctor the next week to investigate further. The doctor said prolapsed rectums are typically caused by one of three things:
  1. It’s random. It won’t happen again. Don’t worry about it.
  2. Celiac disease – dietary disorder where the body can’t digest wheat properly.
  3. Cystic Fibrosis – but… the odds are quite low on this, so don’t worry about it.

So… we waited through a long and agonizing weekend before booking a visit with our family doctor the following week.

Cystic Diagnosis Part 1: Intro

My daughter Katie was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis on Tuesday September 30 2008. Life changed for our family that day.

This post series is a documentary of our family’s experiences in the time leading up to that diagnosis. Writing these posts have been a cleansing experience for me. Putting my thoughts into words is helping me to process our predicament. And it is also helping me to focus on next steps.

My goals for writing these posts are two-fold:
  • First, I hope to offer encouragement to other families that are faced with difficult health issues. Whether the struggles are Cystic Fibrosis or something else, there is a common understanding when we face our mortality and that of our loved ones. We share the same hopes, fears, dreams and disappointments.
  • Second, I hope to raise awareness for Cystic Fibrosis. Much has been accomplished, but there is still much to be achieved. I feel that we’ve measured how deep and wide the Grand Canyon is, and now in order to reach the other side we need to either build a bridge or fill it in. Uncovering the genetic source of the disease and enhanced treatment options to slow the progress of the disease have significantly improved the lives of CF patients. But the end goal remains elusive.

I’ve been told that we’re fortunate. “At least she’s doing okay.” “It could be worse.” And my personal favourite, “She doesn’t look sick. Maybe she’s got a less severe kind of CF”. Most days, I tend to agree. Katie is doing well. She’s a little spitfire. She’s stubborn, tenacious and above all, she’s healthy. For now. But the truth is, she is sick. She needs her daily treatments. Without them, her health will degrade in a hurry. And, unless a cure is found, she will likely die from this disease at a younger age than any of us would like. And for the record, no, there is no “less severe kind of CF”.

But… for now, it’s not as dire as it sounds. Things COULD be worse. And she IS doing okay. But the question remains: for how long? We live every day in denial. Maybe CF won’t catch up with Katie. Maybe she will be one of the lucky ones that lives a full life, growing into adulthood, getting married, having kids, having grandchildren. Hopefully.

In the meantime, we live each day to the fullest. We enjoy our time together as a family. We learn as much as we can about CF. We pray for a cure sooner rather than later. We fundraise and raise awareness in the hopes that it will make a difference. We do her treatments religiously. And we thank God for the time that we can spend together as a family.

Follow us for the next few days as we share our personal story of learning and accepting Katie’s CF diagnosis.

Here is my post schedule for this series:
  1. Intro (this post)
  2. warning signs
  3. family doctor & celiac clinic
  4. Sweat test at the CF clinic
  5. Diagnosis
  6. My nightmare the night after the diagnosis
  7. First clinic visit at McMaster
I’ll try to provide a new post in this series every weekday until it’s complete. Be sure to check back daily.

Talk soon,