FAMILY TIES

NPR story on genome sequencing: A future trend for newborns?

Posted Dec. 08, 2012, at 12:56 p.m.
Roxanne Moore Saucier
Roxanne Moore Saucier

A blood test taken before he was old enough to start school confirmed our doctor’s belief that one of our sons was highly allergic, as in he’s always going to have allergies, and no, he’s not going to “outgrow his asthma.”

Fortunately, his asthma has been manageable. One of his children has had some asthma, but seems to be less affected than his dad was as a child.

With my children now 36 and 33, it’s easy for me to look back and say, no, I don’t wish that whole genome sequencing for babies had been available way back then. My grandchildren are thriving at 9, 6, 4, 3 and 1, so we are blessed again.

But I quite understand that for many new parents or those considering parenthood, there may be real concerns, both for genetic diseases such as Huntington’s and for ailments that may show a familial pattern, such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, alcoholism, obesity — the list goes on.

NPR has been running a series of stories on the subject of genome sequencing, including the excellent Dec. 3 story by Rob Stein here.

Those of us who do genealogical research often put together a kind of partial genome for ourselves as we peruse death certificates for family members.

My dad and both of my grandmothers had heart disease, one grandfather and his mother had dementia, two grandparents and an aunt had pulmonary disease, and one grandmother had Type II diabetes, as do I.

Two great-aunts had breast cancer, and one of them had two daughters who also had breast cancer.

My great-grandmother and her mother both had stomach cancer.

No genetic testing was needed to reveal any of this to me.

But I also acknowledge these facts: at least two of the three cases of heart disease were lifestyle related. All three people who had pulmonary disease had been heavy smokers. Both cases of Type II diabetes were diagnosed in people in their 50s who were overweight.

My children work harder at being healthy in their 30s than I did, and I hope their children will follow suit in making healthy living a priority.

The stomach cancer was in my maternal line, and it didn’t show up in my grandmother, or my mother in her early 80s, nor me at 61. Moreover, a top-notch surgeon had an excellent look at my stomach a couple of years ago.

The breast cancer pattern obviously would be a concern for any female relatives, but the great-aunt and two daughters were on my dad’s side of the family. The other great-aunt was, indeed, a maternal relative, but her age was probably a major factor. Still, the women in my family are big believers in regular mammograms.

I think most of us know the feeling when something crops up “out of nowhere.” I’ve had glaucoma since I was 39, even though I don’t know anyone else in my close family who has had it.

As for the dementia, I believe my grandfather’s may have been multi-infarct dementia, which is cause by small strokes rather than Alzheimer’s.

Would I have genetic testing for something if my doctor recommended it? Probably I would, especially if it might yield information that my children wanted to know.

What really worries most people, of course, is the genetic ailments which show up only if both parents are carriers. How many of those are there? I have no idea. Should there be a list of certain genetic factors that everyone might choose to be tested for? What should be on the list?

My husband has several Ouellette lines, so we were very interested in the Lewiston Sun Journal story on the Lewiston-Auburn Franco-American families who have extremely high cholesterol known as Familial Hypercholesterolemia. Read the February story here.

But I didn’t chase him off to have genetic testing for this condition. He has been having regular cholesterol tests for the past several years, with good results. If he had this problem, it would have showed up by now.

So many wooden honor rolls that were taken down over the years are gone forever. May we all rejoice when an original turns up again.

In 1973, Searsport officials removed the aging wooden World War II Memorial Honor Roll from its location on Main Street next to the Methodist Church where it had been since the early 1950s. It was replaced with a large memorial stone, dedicated to the men and women from Searsport who served in all wars.

In the summer of 2011, Searsport’s official town historian, Charlene Knox Farris, was approached by the nephew of one of the WWII veterans whose name appeared on the original Honor Roll. He wondered why the original Honor Roll had never been replaced.

Farris, whose honors over the years include being named American History Teacher of the Year by the Maine Daughters of the American Revolution, located the original crumbling wooden Honor Roll, and has compiled a new list of the names that were honored on the monument.

On Dec. 7, Farris, Town Manager James Gillway and Searsport selectmen led an effort to raise money to create a replica of the original Honor Roll. The new memorial will be cast in bronze and will display all 173 names of Searsport’s WWII veterans.

The new World War II Honor Roll will be dedicated on July 3, 2013, at the opening of the Searsport Historical Society’s annual variety show. The monument will be on permanent display on the wall of the upstairs meeting room in Union Hall, Searsport’s town hall.

The estimated cost of the new World War II bronze monument is $3,000. The Searsport Historical Society has offered to pay half the cost, and the warrant for the town meeting in March will include an article asking for the town to fund “up to $1,500” for the monument.

On Dec. 7, Farris set up a table at Tozier’s Family Variety so that people could see the list of names from the original Honor Roll. She is hoping to learn how many of the veterans on the list are still living. In addition, private donations are welcome, which will help reduce the cost to the town’s taxpayers.

For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email familyti@bangordailynews.com.

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