|Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Cortex with florid plaques. Hematoxylin-eosin Staining (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
The condition strikes just 300 Americans each year, but it's a nightmare that some have described as a lightning quick version of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases combined. For families losing loved ones, research holds the only hope.
For Kip Laven of Minneapolis, Minn., warm memories of 17 years with his wife, Michelle, well up as quickly as the tears of loss.
"She always had a smile. Her laugh, her laugh was great. She was great. Really miss her," Laven says.
In March 2011, 42-year-old Michelle experienced a sudden onset of stroke-like symptoms: difficulty speaking, confusion, and odd movements. All tests came back negative and she was sent home, but Michelle was still struggling.
"You know everything was not working. She’d put her shirts on backwards," Laven says.
Within a few days, Michelle was back in the hospital to stay. Stroke and meningitis were ruled out. Primary care doctors and specialists were stumped. And then, without the chance to ever say goodbye, his wife was gone.
"40 days, I think, it was from the beginning to the end. It was done," Laven says.
The diagnosis: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). There is no treatment, and it's always fatal. One form of the disease grabbed headlines during the mad cow scare. That form — variant CJD — was caused by eating tainted meat. But CJD occurs naturally in humans as well, though it is extremely rare.
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