A chance encounter in a parking lot in New Jersey led Julie Balay and her family to National Jewish Health in Denver, where they were finally able to find a successful treatment for her son’s atopic dermatitis.
A few weeks after Ryder Balay, now 5, was born, he developed atopic dermatitis. Also known as eczema, atopic dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin that causes it to be dry, itchy and easily irritated.
Ryder’s physicians were not overly worried and told Julie that it is a common condition that would probably clear up by the time he turned 1. Ryder also had food allergies, but Julie is a dietitian and was able to successfully manage these.
The eczema, however, was not improving and was making life miserable for Ryder. He was uncomfortable all the time and couldn’t sleep from the constant itching. The family’s life also revolved around managing the condition.
“The sleep deprivation was ruining our lives,” said Julie. “We were feeling helpless.”
Living in northern New Jersey, Julie and her husband took Ryder to see an allergist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “They were great with the food allergies, but not the eczema,” said Julie. “They gave us cortisone and recommended baths.”
By the time Ryder was 2, he didn’t want to take baths because of the burning sensation caused by the water. He couldn’t go to the neighborhood pool or swim in the ocean on family vacations.
Julie tried an array of treatments, with varying success, including homeopathic treatments that worked for a few days. She also took him to a physician at Mount Sinai who specialized in Chinese medicine. Ryder began a regimen of bathing in and drinking a tea and applying a blue cream.
“After two or three weeks, the eczema was 90 percent gone,” said Julie. “He was blue for months, but I didn’t care because he was happy.”
The treatment worked for a couple of months, but when his seasonal allergies started in the spring, the eczema also flared up. They stopped the treatments and “just tried to deal” with the eczema.
Seasonal allergies are a common trigger for eczema, and some patients are sensitive to many while others react to only one. Eczema triggers fall into four categories: things that dry out the skin, emotional stressors, allergies and skin infections. It often is possible to minimize the number of outbreaks by avoiding triggers.
When Ryder was 3 years old, he and Julie were leaving a store when a woman approached her and told her about “this place in Colorado” that cured her niece’s eczema. The woman called her sister and told Julie the name of the hospital – National Jewish Health.
While the online research Julie did on National Jewish Health seemed promising, she decided to wait a few months before making an appointment. “It’s a big trip and ordeal for what you think isn’t going to work,” she said.
In the spring, Ryder’s eczema flared up again, and Julie made an appointment to come to National Jewish Health.
Ryder was 4 years old when they arrived in Denver at the end of August 2009 for a two-week stay in the Pediatric Day Program. Julie accompanied him and was skeptical that anything would work.
The Pediatric Day Program is a unique, one- to two-week day program at National Jewish Health that allows children and their families to work with a variety of specialists for diagnosis, treatment, and to learn how to manage the disease.
They started a treatment called Wet Wrap Therapy, which is used for severe eczema. After taking a bath and applying medicated creams, Ryder was wrapped in dressings that were soaked in warm water with a dry layer applied on top.
After a couple of days, Julie and Ryder could tell it was working. “By the fourth day, it was like his skin was new,” said Julie. “I couldn’t believe that it worked.”
When Ryder’s dad arrived for the second week of their stay, Ryder said, “Look Papa, they fixed me!”
At discharge, National Jewish Health provided the Balays with packets of information to take home with them to help them manage Ryder’s eczema and to share with his pre-school. His medical information was also sent to Ryder’s doctors at Mount Sinai.
Since returning home, “everything is better, everybody is different,” said Julie. “At the time you don’t think about it, but we were missing out on life. Now we are a completely different family, and he is a completely different kid.”