It can kill kids before their first birthday. The infantile form of Pompe disease is a death sentence if not treated, but now there's something keeping kids alive longer.

If Haley Hayes' parents could have one wish, it would be a cure for their six-year-old daughter. Haley was diagnosed with Pompe disease, a fatal, genetic illness when she was six months old.

"It was awful," said Krystal Hayes, Haley's mom. "That was probably just the worst news you could ever hear."

Haley lacks an enzyme that helps break down sugar so it builds up in her heart and skeletal muscles, damaging them. She can't walk but she can get around, and she loves to talk.

"I do art and I watch TV, and I play Wii or Nintendo sometimes," Haley said.

When Haley was diagnosed, most babies with Pompe disease died. But, a once-a-week infusion given while Haley paints has changed everything.

"We know it's basically keeping her alive at this moment," Krystal said.

Myozyme replaces the enzyme Haley lacks. Without it, most babies didn't make it to their first birthday.

"It's similar to providing insulin to someone who has diabetes, so she needs to have this enzyme given to her throughout her life course to be able to live," explained Priya S. Kishnani, M.D. at Duke University Medical Center.

Some patients create antibodies that prevent them from responding to myozyme. Duke doctors found three chemotherapy drugs that wiped out the harmful antibodies in infants, allowing them to respond to myozyme. These babies would have died, but the oldest is now five.

"It allows children to live," said Kishnani. "It allows them to have dreams, to be able to go to school, to ride a bicycle, to celebrate birthdays."

Haley doesn't let it slow her don. Her parents cling tight to hopes for a cure and enjoy each precious day.

"Just treasure every milestone," said David Hayes, Hayley's dad.

While Haley takes myozyme once a week, most patients take it once every two weeks.

Myozyme is not a cure. Since it's so new, doctors don't yet know how long kids treated with it will live. The oldest living child taking it is 13 years old. Doctors say it's vital to start children with myozyme as soon as possible.

Additional Information:

BACKGROUND: Pompe disease is an inherited, neuromuscular disorder that causes progressive muscle weakness. It is a rare disease, affecting about 1 in every 40,000 births. Pompe disease is caused by a defective gene that results in a deficiency of an enzyme known as acid alpha-glucosidase (GAA). The lack of this enzyme results in excessive build-up of glycogen -- a form of sugar -- in a specialized compartment of muscle cells throughout the body. Researchers have identified up to 300 different mutations in the GAA gene that cause the symptoms of Pompe disease. The severity of the disease and the age of onset are related to the degree of enzyme deficiency.

There are two types of Pompe disease:

  1. Early onset (the infantile form): This is the result of complete or near-complete deficiency of GAA. Symptoms such as feeding problems, poor weight gain, muscle weakness, floppiness, and head lag usually start during the first months of life. Respiratory difficulties are often complicated by lung infections. The heart is also very enlarged. Many infants with Pompe disease also have enlarged tongues. Most babies die from cardiac or respiratory complications before their first birthday.
  2. Late onset (juvenile/adult form): This is the result of a partial deficiency of GAA. The onset can be as early as the first decade of childhood or as late as the sixth decade of adulthood. The primary symptom is muscle weakness that progresses to respiratory weakness. The heart is usually not involved. (SOURCE: NIH)

MYOZYME: Myozyme is a lysosomal glycogen-specific enzyme that essentially replaces the enzyme Pompe disease patients are lacking. The treatment has to be given throughout the course of a patient’s life. “This is the first lifesaving treatment that is FDA approved for Pompe disease,” Priya S. Kishnani, M.D., C.L. and Sue Chen Professor of Pediatrics/Division Chief, Medical Genetics, Duke University Medical Center, told Ivanhoe. “Prior to 2006, there was no treatment for Pompe disease other than symptomatic care.”