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Patient Heal Thyself: A Remarkable Health Program Combining Ancient Wisdom with Groundbreaking Clinical Research
by Jordan Rubin
Learn More | Meet Jordan Rubin
There I was, standing on the field at Doak Campbell Stadium at Florida State University, doing the tomahawk chop with my fellow cheerleaders and 80,000 screaming fans as our Seminoles marched their way to their first-ever NCAA national championship.
The year was 1993. Life couldn’t have been better. I was an eighteen-year-old freshman on an academic and athletic scholarship, with more friends than I could spend time with and a member of a great fraternity. In my spare time, I was a soloist in a traveling singing group and a quarterback for my intramural football team. I lived with seven of my friends in a house just outside of campus. Life was great.
Then, it happened.
The summer after my freshman year, I was working as a counselor at a day camp in Central Florida to earn extra money. I remember the afternoon I first started getting sick. I was riding on a bus with the kids at camp. I was feeling sleepy, which was unusual for me because I usually had an energy level that rivaled the Energizer Bunny. I just kept going and going and going. At one point, though, while riding on the bus, I actually fell asleep.
“Jordan, Jordan! Wake up!”
One of the kids was shaking me to wake me up, which was embarrassing. Unfortunately, falling asleep at inopportune times such as this became a regular occurrence for me. I also became frequently tired during the day and lacked energy.
Shortly after my noticeable loss of energy, I remember getting terrible stomach cramps that had me running to the bathroom several times a day with diarrhea. Before long, frequent trips to the toilet were routine for me. Even though I was feeling lousy, I didn’t want to admit it to myself. Getting sick didn’t really fit into my schedule, if you know what I mean.
In fact, I even decided to attend a week-long overnight camp, in spite of my need to be close to a toilet. What was I thinking? Camping out in the summer heat of Florida is tough enough on a healthy person. My nausea was making me feel even worse, and the usual camp “chow” wasn’t helping. I found myself gulping iced tea and beating a well-worn path to the outdoor bathrooms.
The next fact I want to tell you is quite startling. In seven days, I lost twenty pounds. That’s twenty pounds in one week. For some people, losing twenty pounds in a week would be a dream come true. But for me, it was a nightmare. I remember trying to tackle a friend of mine during a camp football game and getting trampled. I realized how much weaker I had become. At this point, I had to face reality to a certain extent. Something was really wrong with me.
Like a seasick passenger on a long bumpy boat ride, my upset stomach was constant. I became completely dehydrated, and my mouth felt like I had a large ball of cotton stuffed in it. My gums were riddled with canker sores and ulcers.
I had become so sick and fatigued that I couldn’t even make it through one week of overnight camp. I had to have someone drive me four hours south to my family’s home in Palm Beach Gardens. When I got there, I was in denial. I hugged my mom and dad and did my best to hide my illness from my parents, which was sort of dumb because my father is a naturopathic doctor.
Actually, I had to hide my illness. If my parents had any idea how sick I really was, they would have made me go to the hospital. Or worse, they would not have let me go back to school, and the new semester was starting in only ten days. This was my sophomore year, and I was sure that if I could hang on until school started, everything would be fine. I just needed to get back into the swing of things.
Without telling my parents, I visited a family doctor in our community. I detailed my symptoms—nausea, constant diarrhea, weight loss, cotton-mouth, and fatigue. That was just the beginning of my list.
The doctor put me through a series of tests looking for viruses, including the HIV virus that causes AIDS, but none were detected. He ordered a stool culture that came back negative and prescribed a course of antibiotics for me to take. Neither the doctor nor I ever asked why I had developed severe digestive problems.
Looking back, I sure wish I or someone else had. I mean, I don’t want to sound like a bad sport or an ungrateful patient, but when something goes wrong, it’s often a good idea to find out why. In any event, I took the antibiotics with me on my return to school. Unfortunately, my condition only worsened, and I began experiencing even more severe gastrointestinal problems.
I did everything I could to ignore what was happening to my body. I kept busy by trying to go to class, but I had to discontinue all of my extracurricular activities. I was forced to quit the cheerleading squad and the fraternity I was joining. I also had to quit studying to pass my American College of Sports Medicine exam in preparation for becoming a fitness professional.
I weighed about 145 pounds at that time, down from my normal 175 to 180 pounds. As the days went by, my health worsened. I was falling apart. I was running fevers of 104 degrees every night. I barely slept because I was getting up to run to the bathroom all night.
To make matters worse, my gastrointestinal problems had become systemic, affecting my joints. My hip constantly popped out of its socket whenever I did anything. I would suffer minor dislocations even getting in and out of cars. I remember the situation became so severe that my hip popped out once as I was walking to class. I was forced to turn around and go back to my house rental.
Before I left for school, my father had given me a cache of dietary supplements to take with me back to college. As a naturopath, my father was taught to work with the whole person and to use safe and natural, nontoxic healing methods.
While exploring this collection one afternoon, I saw that he had given me probiotics, digestive enzymes, and other herbal and nutritional dietary products. I didn’t know much about nutritional supplements. I did, however, believe that these products would help me get well. Perhaps I made myself believe that.
Thus began my “magical mystery tour” of alternative medicine. Besides these first nutritional supplements, I also tried different diets. After I discovered that the cotton feeling in my mouth was oral thrush, which was linked with candida infection, I tried several anti-candida diets. My father also put me on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which was purported to have been used successfully to treat people with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and chronic diarrhea.
The premise of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is that damage done to intestinal walls by bacterial/fungal overgrowth is part of a vicious cycle that wreaks havoc with the body’s health and immunity. The diet attempts to eliminate the type of carbohydrates—grains, sugar, dairy, corn, and potatoes—that tend to nourish “bad” bacteria and fungal species. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet often helps to lower their populations and restores the body’s balance or inner ecology.
I stopped eating sugar, molasses, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, or any other processed sugars. I tried to avoid corn, wheat, barley, oats, rye, rice, and other grains. I also sought to avoid starchy foods such as potatoes, yams, and parsnips. I forgot about drinking milk and eating cheese. Pasta was also a food of my past. That was just the beginning of the dietary restrictions.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet may have helped some. Trouble was, I didn’t have the self-discipline necessary to stay on a diet as rigorous as this one. Well, let me amend that statement. I could stay on the diet for periods of time—until my roommate who worked at a sorority house brought home leftovers from the kitchen. Suddenly, after eating a plate of spaghetti, I wasn’t on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet anymore, though I promised myself I would get back on it as soon as I was through pigging out.
You see, I was hungry all the time. I had a ravenous appetite, but I only wanted to eat foods that tasted good to me, which, of course, happened to be unhealthy. Yet no matter how much I ate, I continued to lose weight.
When you are as sick as I was, toilet locations become an obsession. No matter where I went, I had to know where a toilet was located. Even if I felt well enough to go out with friends, I wouldn’t go unless I knew where a decent bathroom was. Long car rides were definitely out. My daily plans were dominated by the question, “Where’s the bathroom?” That may sound funny to most people, but not to the millions of people who suffered as I did.
I finally broke down and called my parents and told them how sick I really was. They were very concerned and made plans for me to fly home the next day. When I arrived, I walked in the front door with a temperature of 105 degrees. I was burning up!
My dad took one look at me, packed the bathtub with ice cubes, and dunked me in ice-cold water. I remember freezing in the ice water and overhearing my father crying out to my mother, “My God, I don’t want my son to die.”
I was confused. I didn’t know what was happening. All I could think about was that I didn’t want to die. I wanted to return to school. I wanted my old life back.
The very next morning, my father and mother took me to the emergency room—the first time I had ever been in a hospital since I was born in a hot tub. (That’s another story.) I was hoping it would be a quick visit, that I’d get some “cure all” medication and be on my way back to school.
My “quick visit” lasted two weeks. During this period, I would lie in a hospital bed with an IV pole attached to each arm, receiving intravenous antibiotics and nutrients, and watch TV.
The doctors prescribed antibiotics and antiparasitic drugs that had to be given intravenously for maximum effect, but my body was so overridden by infection that it had become terribly inflamed. To combat this, I was prescribed two heavy-duty and highly toxic steroid medications—hydrocortisone and prednisone.
I was also given every kind of test imaginable. I got more X-rays in those two weeks than most people get in a lifetime. Both my upper and lower gastrointestinal tracts were scanned—and believe me, these weren’t the usual short bursts of radiation you get with dental X-rays. I felt like radiologists were conducting an in-depth tour of my gut.
I was told that I had Crohn’s disease, a condition primarily involving the small bowel and proximal colon that causes the intestinal wall to thicken and cause narrowing of the bowel channel, blocking the intestinal tract. The result was abnormal membrane function, including nutrient malabsorption.
I had an even worse variation of the disease. The doctors noted I had duodenitis, an inflammation of the duodenum, which is at the beginning of the small intestine. In addition, there was widespread inflammation throughout my large and small intestine. Although less than 1 percent of Crohn’s disease patients specifically experience duodenitis, it appeared that I was one of the chosen few with both duodenal and total colonic inflammation.
At this point, the doctor ordered total parenteral nutrition (TPN). This is where nutrients were delivered intravenously and directly into the bloodstream. I was rampant with infection, inflammation, and pain.
Crohn’s disease was a much worse diagnosis than I had imagined. I was not in a good state of mind at this point—especially when the doctor told me the disease was incurable. Patients with Crohn’s disease experience frequent and progressive symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea, and extreme weight loss as seen in other wasting conditions such as cancer and AIDS. Many patients experience premature death.
How’s that for making you feel hopeful about your diagnosis! One thing was for sure, I was going to have to take medication if I wanted to stay alive. Yet the side effects of the medications that keep me alive were almost as bad as the disease itself.
I was among the 1.3 million Americans who suffered from an inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, the incidence of Crohn’s disease is 201 persons per 100,000 adults, a figure slightly less than ulcerative colitis.
Although I can speak with experience and knowledge about bowel disease today, back in 1994 I was just a nineteen-year-old suffering from a chronic disease that I was told would require a lifetime of medication. I was confused about how my entire life got so turned upside down in a matter of months. I didn’t know anyone with Crohn’s disease and didn’t know where to go for help in those pre-Internet days. I was too embarrassed to even tell my friends what my symptoms were. When they asked what was going on, I just told them I was sick. I refused to go into detail.
I left the hospital and returned home still desperately hoping to improve enough to return to school in a few weeks. I thought that there must be some kind of magic bullet that would get me well. But this new existence via medications was not a good one. True, I was no longer being given intravenous drugs, but this was only because the doctor had prednisone and other medications administered orally.
What a dangerous drug prednisone is. I hallucinated the first day I took it. I began crying. I was emotionally wrought. I also was taking asacol (Mesalamine), an anti-inflammatory used to treat ulcerative colitis, and two more antimicrobials—metronidazole (Flagyl) and fluconazole (Diflucan)—for what had become a chronic case of thrush. To ensure I improved, the doctors also put me on ciprofloxacin (Cipro), which we now know is also prescribed for anthrax. Because a side effect of prednisone was heartburn, I had to be put on ranitidine (Zantac).
The worst part of this ordeal was that I wasn’t getting better. I was still using the toilet a dozen to thirty times a day. Most of my stools were bloody.
The nighttime was worse. You don’t know what sleep deprivation is until you experience chronic nocturnal diarrhea. The trips to the bathroom went on all night—every forty-five minutes to an hour. If I got more than an hour of sleep during the entire night, it was a miracle. The cramps were often so intense that I wanted to pull my hair out or bang my head against the wall. I existed in a state of fatigue and exhaustion.
Not surprisingly, I almost completely lacked iron. In fact, at one point, I went more than an entire year with an almost unheard-of serum iron level of 0—zero, nada. My serum levels of the blood protein albumin were so low that they indicated my body was suffering from a severe wasting disease known as cachexia. This was quite serious on both accounts. Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood. Iron is normally obtained through food in our diet and by the recycling of iron from old red blood cells. Iron-deficiency anemia means the tissues are receiving inadequate oxygen.
As for my albumin levels, this test helped to determine that not enough protein was being absorbed by my body. Albumin is the protein of the highest concentration in plasma. Albumin transports many small molecules in the blood such as bilirubin, calcium, progesterone, and drugs. This protein is also of prime importance in maintaining the oncotic pressure of the blood, which keeps fluid from leaking out into the tissues. Low albumin levels also often indicate malnutrition. I was definitely malnourished.
But while the consumption of large amounts of dairy may have played a role in the onset of my condition, I believe one of the exacerbating influences was my high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. Put simply, bad bacteria in the gut love the types of sugary, high-carbohydrate and refined foods in the modern diet.
When I started eating large amounts of sugary foods in college, it was the bad bacteria that got the head start in repopulating the barren property within my gut after my friendly bacteria were decimated by the large doses of antibiotics I had taken.
The growth of yeast, fungi, parasites, and disease-causing bacteria within my gut seriously damaged my gut lining, promoted the absorption of internally produced toxins, and impaired the absorption of nutrients. With this bacterial imbalance (dysbiosis) also came the breakdown of my body’s immune barrier.
The gastrointestinal tract is critical to the body’s immune function because the gut is where most of the body’s antibody-producing cells reside. To put it bluntly, my dysbiosis led to a host of debilitating illnesses. During my illness, I had all of the following conditions:
- chronic candidiasis, of which I was given the absolute worst rating given for candida from the diagnostic laboratories that tested me
- infestation by Entamoeba histolytica, also known as amebic dysentery
- cryptosporidiosis, caused by a protozoa infection in the gastrointestinal tract
- incipient diabetes with extremely poor circulation (my whole lower leg was purple)
- jaundice plus other liver and gallbladder problems
- insomnia (the most I ever slept continuously was an hour and fifteen minutes)
- hair loss, which was awful to suffer from (I was nineteen...need I say more?)
- endocarditis (a heart infection)
- eye inflammation
- prostate and bladder infections
- chronic electrolyte imbalance due to dehydration
- elevated C-reactive protein, which was indicative of chronic inflammation and bacterial infection, as well as increased susceptibility to heart attack and stroke risk
- anemia, which meant that too few red blood cells were present in the bloodstream and insufficient oxygen reached muscle tissues and organs
- chronic fatigue, a mysterious, debilitating ailment known for unceasing fatigue, headaches, weakness, muscle and joint aches, and the inability to concentrate
- arthritis, which inflames the joints and causes stiffness and pain
- leukocytosis, which is caused by an abnormal increase in white blood cells
- malabsorption syndrome, meaning I could not assimilate the nutrients in the food I ate
Because of my dad’s naturopathic background, I had it in me to try natural methods that I hoped would turn on my body’s healing response. Not long after I was discharged from the hospital, my father and I made the decision to try to find natural pathways to do just that.
I tried everything. And I do mean everything. Getting well became an obsession for both my dad and me. Together we began a search around the world that took me to seventy health practitioners from seven different countries, including medical doctors, chiropractors, immunologists, acupuncturists, homeopaths, herbalists, nutritionists, and dieticians.
I mentioned earlier my experience with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. At this point, I still believed that this restrictive diet could help me if I had stayed on it perfectly with no deviations, so I decided to try it one more time. I became a strict devotee and even consulted daily on the phone with Elaine Gottschall, who devised the diet and wrote about it in her book Breaking the Vicious Cycle.
She had worked with a physician, Elson Haas, to heal her daughter of ulcerative colitis, a disease similar to Crohn’s disease. I stayed on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet with fanatical adherence for three to six months on three different occasions. Unfortunately, the diet didn’t work for me.
I moved on and tried just about every other diet that has ever been written about. I consulted with some of the foremost practitioners and diet experts throughout the world. I visited Dr. Robert Atkins, the physician and cardiologist behind the Atkins Diet. I met with eicosanoid guru Barry Sears, Ph.D., author of The Zone. I contacted Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., a highly regarded functional medicine expert.
I didn’t have any luck with any of these extremely knowledgeable and highly educated health professionals. They truly wanted to help, and I knew they were sincere. Their diets had many solid underpinnings, but something was missing because none of them were able to help.
So I kept searching.
I estimate that over the course of about two years, my father spent $150,000 on natural health treatments. (That amount would be $250,000 today.) I took dozens of probiotic formulas, as well as enzyme, fiber, anti-candida, and antiparasitic formulas. At one point, I was taking upwards of six bottles a day of expensive probiotics. I remember using two bottles of powdered acidophilus, two bottles of bifidus, and two bottles of Lactobacillus bulgaricus every day, which was costing my parents hundreds of dollars daily.
When someone told me my liver was the problem, I tried liver detoxification, using live cell therapy with injectable sheep cells taken from sheep embryos. The “health expert” who provided the products told me that in the United Kingdom he had cured some 250 Crohn’s disease patients. All I remember is that the needles were huge and I didn’t get better.
Then I read that cabbage juice was good for the gut and was rich in organic sulfur compounds, so I ingested large amounts of cabbage juice. I used plenty of other detoxification formulas. I did retention enemas and colonics and more liver detoxification. I tried glandulars from every conceivable organ. I used injectable vitamins and minerals. For this regimen, I was instructed to inject myself seven times a day. I used a needle reserved for insulin injections. I became so emaciated that when I injected myself in the shoulders and the sides of my hip, I could feel the needle hitting my bone.
I used injectable thymus gland extract. I consumed wheat grass juice. I tried Chinese herbs, Peruvian herbs, Japanese kampo, olive leaf extract, and shark cartilage. I tried macrobiotics. I used nitrogenated soy. I visited alternative clinics in Mexico and Germany, often in a wheelchair and often returning worse than when I began. One doctor who treated me characterized my appearance as that of a “Nazi concentration camp survivor.”
As my search grew more frantic and desperate, I grasped for straws. I took something called adrenal cortical extract, or ACE, an extract of bovine adrenal gland that is thought to possess the powers of hydrocortisone and was once used extensively in medicine. Only belatedly did I learn that many such batches were contaminated with Mycobacterium abscessus, a rapidly growing bacterium distantly related to the tuberculosis organism.
My dad, through reading health magazines and calling colleagues, found all kinds of clinics and therapies for me to try. The number of machines that were hooked up to my body could fill a science fiction novel! I tried various forms of electro-dermal screening (EDS), a form of computerized information gathering based on physics.
For that, a blunt, noninvasive electric probe was placed at specific points on my hands, face, or feet, corresponding to acupuncture points at the beginning or end of the energy meridians. Minute electrical discharges from these points served as information signals about the condition of the body’s organs and systems. According to the doctor who probed me with his EDS machine, my illness was due to electromagnetic fields in my house. The next thing I knew, I had to sleep in a steel cage that was put around my room. At night, I began to shut off the TV and clocks—all electrical devices. I don’t need to tell you whether this worked. I think you know the answer.
This was all weird science, and it could only have come from the outer reaches of the alternative health field. Another so-called alternative health practitioner told me I was sensitive to the movements of a certain satellite that orbited the Earth every ten years. He said that I was one of the rare, unlucky people that the satellite influenced—and that I would have to wait a considerable period of time before the satellite left the Earth’s orbit.
You might say I’m still waiting.
Taking various medications and supplements was my life. Unless I was visiting a doctor, which I did several times a week, I stayed home. I passed the time by watching cooking shows and fantasizing about foods that I could eat someday. I felt a special bond with Chef Emeril, who was in his heyday on the Food Network.
I also read just about every piece of literature and book about health that I could get my hands on. I consumed three hundred books on health and nutrition during my illness, but I was still puzzled over what products to use and which products could help me.
I didn’t just read health books. I often sought out the doctor who wrote the book and consulted with him or her in person or on the phone. All the doctors and health practitioners I spoke with said they could cure me in a short period of time. They had never failed to cure their patients, they added. All of them made promises, but very few of them had any clinical validation to verify their claims. My willingness to believe them and put all my faith in them, however, demonstrates what people who are desperately ill go through.
Because I was so weak, traveling from clinic to clinic was an ordeal, especially by airplane. I oftentimes got bladder as well as eye infections. I remember one time, as I sat in my seat waiting for an airplane to take off, I said to myself, “If this plane went down, it wouldn’t be that bad.” I was not suicidal, but I just couldn’t handle the pain anymore. I reasoned that if I died, at least I could join my Creator.
I hit rock bottom on a trip to Germany, where I traveled to take yet another herbal IV treatment. At that time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not permit this supplement to be imported, so I had to go to Germany to take it. The timing for a European trip couldn’t have been worse because I was weaning myself from other medications. I had gotten off prednisone, but when I did that, I experienced a complete adrenal shock. I couldn’t catch my breath.
My mother accompanied me to the German clinic. Upon landing, we missed a train by a few minutes because my mom and I couldn’t manage to drag our luggage through the station on time. Because we missed the train, we were stuck in the station for six more hours! All the time I was dragging my jet-lagged body back and forth to a bathroom.
Once at the clinic, the German doctor made an interesting diagnosis. He concluded that my problem rested with my immune system. He declared that certain parts of my immune system were overactive and certain parts were underactive, and I needed to stay at the clinic for six weeks to receive treatment. My mother, a schoolteacher, returned to the United States and left me in Germany while I underwent the six-week treatment protocol.
What an awful experience! For instance, after my six-hour IV treatments, no one would come to help me back to my room. There I sat, all alone, shaking with cold chills, feeling like I was about to have a seizure. No one ever came by to check up on me. After a while, I would do my best to fall asleep.
I certainly slept more while I was in Germany because I was put on high doses of opium. In Germany, doctors prescribe a tincture of opium to slow down peristalsis and keep patients from having to go to the bathroom so much. When I failed to improve, the doctor, who was egoistical, decided that I wasn’t getting well because I had mental problems.
I reached rock bottom. Think about my circumstances: I was nineteen years old. I had dropped out of college. I was far away from family and friends. My mother had left me in a German health clinic where nobody spoke English. My feeble attempts at speaking German got me nowhere.
Not only did I feel like I was in a prison, I was imprisoned in my own body. I was miserable and constantly in pain. I contemplated dark and dreary thoughts, wondering if I would ever enjoy normalcy again, if I would ever wake up without pain and be healthy like I once had been.
Finally, my parents and I decided it was time for me to come home. To catch my airplane flight, I had to leave at 5 a.m., but nobody in the clinic was awake that early. I was too frail and thin to carry my own luggage, but I tried anyway. I couldn’t find switches to turn on lights in the halls and tripped down some stairs in the dark. I finally managed to get my suitcases to the lobby, but when the taxicab showed up I couldn’t open the front door to the clinic. I found a back entrance, managed to wheel my bags out, but tripped down another set of steps and fell flat on my face.
The taxi driver, upon arriving at the airport, fetched a wheelchair for me. After wheeling me to the ticket counter, the agent had to summon someone who spoke English, but he couldn’t find any record of my ticket.
Now what do I do? I had no money. My credit card was declined for some reason. I was completely sick. I had a urinary tract infection (UTI) in addition to my massive bowl problems. I was on opium. And now I couldn’t go home.
I was literally at the end of my rope.
All I could do was whisper a quick prayer: “Lord, I cannot do a single thing. Please help me get out of this situation. I feel completely hopeless.”
In a couple of minutes, the agent told me that my ticket had been found. I got on the plane. I took a ten-hour flight to the United States, missed a connecting flight, waited around for the next one, and finally made it to Miami. Getting home was a thirty-hour ordeal.
I cannot describe how relieved I was to be back in my old house. I remember lying on the couch listening to The Annette Funicello Story on television. Notice that I said listening because I had compresses over my eyes for double conjunctivitis. When I had to go to the bathroom, I had to walk quickly even though my eyes were closed. Bowel movements were painful and urination burned. But in spite of my illness and pain, I was thrilled to be home again with my family—at least as thrilled as could be expected from someone who lacked hope of recovering from a terminal illness. I say terminal because I really thought I was going to die.
Shortly after my return home from Germany, I was hospitalized a second time. I was completely dehydrated and had a resting heart rate of between 160 to 180 beats per minute. I couldn’t keep water down. My weight dropped to 104 pounds, the lowest ever. The nurses tried to get IVs into me so I could be rehydrated, but they couldn’t get any blood to return because my veins were dry and tapped out. One time, it took the nurses and doctors two and a half hours to get an IV into my body.
I remember hearing one of the nurses crying in the hallway. She told another nurse, “That poor boy isn’t going to make it through the night.”
Feeling more hopeless than words can describe, I only knew to pray. I didn’t blame God. Even while feeling grim and believing I was going to die, I always held a glimmer of hope that God would choose to cure me. If not, I was prepared to meet my Maker. I was disappointed that I had never fallen in love or married. But I had had a great, great life. I trusted God’s plan for my future and put myself in the only capable hands I knew of—my heavenly Father’s. I thanked my Creator for every moment He’d given me and expressed my gratitude. That night, I lay in bed, alone in my room, fully prepared to die.
When I woke in the morning, I was surprised that I was still there. I looked up and saw my Grandmother Rose, who’d placed her hand on my forehead and spoke soothing thoughts. Soon, several nurses entered. They tried to hook me up to an IV and were elated when they were able to get a blood return. Overnight, they calculated that I gained ten pounds of water weight. That’s how dehydrated I was!
I felt a new resolve in my body. I wanted so badly to live. A glimmer of sunshine entered my life, giving me newfound hope—real hope.
That feeling of hope was short-lived, however, when doctors got hold of my body. Once again, I became a human drugstore. The doctors prescribed the same medications I had been given the first time I was hospitalized—the usual antibiotics, antifungals, and antiparasitics, along with the steroids hydrocortisone and prednisone. When the time came to leave the hospital and they switched me from IV to oral medications, I had hallucinations. As baseball sage Yogi Berra once said, “It was déjà vu all over again.”
Back at home, I managed to break through the hallucinations to say something to my mom. I had an unusual demand that completely startled her.
“I want you to take a picture of me,” I said.
She stammered and then refused. She couldn’t fathom why anyone would want a picture to commemorate such a pathetic condition. But even with everything I had been through and all those doctors who failed to help me, I still had faith in my God’s ability to deliver me from my despair. I wanted to document the moment that I was at my absolute lowest.
I remember my mom asking, “Why in the world do you want me to take a picture of you?”
I answered with my best attempt at a smile, “Because no one will believe me when I get well. No one will believe that I was this sick. I’m getting out of bed, and I need you to take my picture.” There were no selfies in those days.
I nearly fell to the floor climbing out of bed. My legs were sticks, and my torso was skin and bones. I needed help standing up, and even then staying upright on my two feet was a struggle. The picture you see on the cover of this book is the photograph my mother took. I weighed 114 pounds, and that was after gaining ten pounds of water weight in the hospital.
I had a beard because I was too weak to shave and couldn’t afford to cut myself with my unsteady hand. My skin-and-bones body looked like someone who had been in a concentration camp or held as a prisoner of war. My skin looked dead.
One doctor told me my only hope was to go to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where surgeons would expertly remove all of my large colon and part of my small intestine. Or I could undergo another kind of surgery, experimental at the time, called a J-pouch procedure. This surgery was a way to try and preserve bowel function once I had my colon removed.
As I was considering what to do, I read the doctors’ transcripts of my medical records. My primary physician called my condition the worst case of Crohn’s disease he had ever seen and doubted I would live to return home.
It was crazy. The medications were only making me worse. At least their effects could probably be reversed, but surgery to remove my large colon? That was permanent. Not only that, I learned that nearly 75 percent of people with Crohn’s who have surgery must undergo a second surgery.
After talking things through with my family, I decided to go to Mount Sinai and get whatever surgery I needed. That’s what I would have to do to stay alive.
It was early 1996, and I hadn’t left for New York City yet. I still held out hope that I could avoid ostomy surgery.
One day, my father came into my bedroom and told me that he had just spoken to an eccentric nutritionist named Bud Keith on the phone. The nutritionist told my father that he believed I was ill because I was not eating the diet of my ancestors, based upon biblical principles.
When my father told me about all of this, I was naturally curious. My father investigated the nutritionist’s program and thought it was worth a shot. I would do anything to avoid surgery, so I decided to try out his ideas, which fit into my belief system.
In an effort to start over, I took myself off all nutritional products and read the Bible to see what people ate thousands of years ago. I also learned that the longest living cultures in the world had one thing in common—they consumed living foods that abounded with beneficial microorganisms.
A few weeks later, I got on a plane, still bound to my wheelchair, and headed for San Diego to live closer to Bud Keith, who would teach me how to eat from the Bible. After integrating his program along with some of my own findings about nutrition and health from the Bible, I saw some improvement.
While I was gone, my father had promised that he wouldn’t send me nutritional supplements to try; he did anyway. One day, I received a package from him containing a plastic bag containing black powder. He said it was a probiotic, but I had already tried over thirty different probiotics. Now was I supposed to eat this stuff that looked like dirt?
Forget it, I thought.
My dad called on the phone and urged me to give the probiotic a try.
“It may look like dirt, but it isn’t,” he said. “It contains healthy organisms from the soil.”
An article that accompanied the package explained that this nutritional pack contained nutrients missing from today’s pesticide-sterilized, barren soils. They weren’t trace minerals but organisms known as soil-based organisms or SBOs. These were living organisms that had been wiped out by the pesticide treatment of America’s farmlands, pasteurization of foods, and modern man’s disdain for all microorganisms—even those life-supportive bugs our bodies need for great health.
I decided to include these SBOs in my daily diet, which also included raw goat’s milk in the form of fermented kefir; different organically grown free-range or grass-fed meats; natural sprouted or sourdough breads made from whole grains that were yeast-free; organic fruits and vegetables like raw sauerkraut, carrots, and other vegetable juices. These were all “live” foods with their beneficial enzymes and microorganisms intact.
Improvement didn’t come immediately. In fact, I had somewhat of a Herxheimer reaction, which is an allergic response resulting from the death of large numbers of pathological organisms. This is also known as a “die-off.”
The collective effects of organism die-off often temporarily worsen one’s symptoms. Holistic physicians who practice environmental medicine believe this die-off reaction indicates that the patient is having an excellent backlash effect to good treatment.
Since the time of Hippocrates, it has been understood that symptoms of most diseases, other than degenerative disorders where irreversible organic damage has been sustained, represent the efforts of the body to eliminate toxins. In 1848, Thomas Sydenham, the so-called English Hippocrates, wrote, “[a] disease, however much its cause may be adverse to the human body, is nothing more than an effort of Nature who strains with might and main to restore the health of the patient by the elimination of the morbific matter.”
One month after adding the “black powder” to my diet, I noticed an elimination of black, tar-like stuff during a bowel movement. I also had newfound energy, and I went to the bathroom less frequently.
At this point, my father purchased a used motor home for me while I was living in San Diego. He thought that staying close to the ocean and breathing the salt air would be good for me. While driving around beach communities like Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach in my motor home, I felt like a bum trying to find places to park at night—an unusual experience for an upper-middle-class kid like me.
You may ask how on Earth I was able to drive a motor home in my condition. My answer is simply: Only the Lord knows. It helped that friends from my hometown of Palm Beach Gardens flew out to San Diego to stay with me in my motor home and take care of me.
During my forty days and nights of parking my motor home close to the beach, I prayed, listened to music, and planned everything around buying, preparing, and eating my food. My weight jumped from 122 to 151 pounds, which meant I gained 29 pounds in forty days! The photograph of me on the beach that you see on the book cover was taken during this period. I was not completely well yet, but I had made miraculous strides toward full recovery. I continued to gain weight and strength, and by my twenty-first birthday, I weighed 170 pounds—practically my original weight before I got sick. I doubt if anyone in the world was happier than me.
The terrain of my body and my intestinal tract were rebuilt, and it appeared that somehow the SBOs were taking care of my underlying condition. All in all, in three months I gained over fifty pounds.
I am convinced that the combination of the biblical diet and the SBOs restored my health. I still went through periods of detoxification every few months or so, but I continued to persevere. In December 1996, I returned home to Florida at my normal weight. I was ready to start my life again. I was finally healthy!
I had done what hundreds of thousands of disease sufferers desperately want to do—make a full recovery to good health. My first idea was to go back to the many doctors who had treated me and tell them about the biblical or Maker’s Diet and the SBOs. I mailed my “before” and “after” pictures to the doctors I had consulted with. I thought everyone would be so eager to learn what had healed me. I even thought the doctors would want to include the Maker’s Diet and SBOs in their treatment programs.
While some health professionals were genuinely excited to hear about my recovery, including Elaine Gottschall, author of Breaking the Vicious Cycle, very few of them wanted to try my Maker’s Diet and SBOs with their patients. I felt like I had something to help other sufferers of digestive disorders, especially other Crohn’s disease sufferers, but no one in the traditional medical world wanted to hear about it.
Dr. Morton Walker, a medical journalist who had given me information for some of the clinics I visited, offered to write an article outlining my story for the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, a prestigious health publication that focuses on alternative medicines and treatments. The article about my recovery generated over two thousand phone calls from doctors as well as individuals suffering from bowel disease.
Literally overnight, I had to find a way to distribute the SBOs that had helped me get well. I started a whole-food nutrition company to help ill and hurting people like myself who were seeking to regain their health.
I believe I went through my ordeal for a reason. I consulted seventy doctors and took five hundred health products for a reason. Because I have personally experienced and survived my walk through the valley of disease but have remained healthy as a horse for the last twenty years, I believe I can speak to you as an authority.
People say Crohn’s disease is incurable, but from my experience, no disease is incurable. Some people may be too far gone and may not ever get completely well, but every single disease and every single state of health can be improved through whole-food nutrition and whole-food supplements that bring us back to a diet and a lifestyle that has been proven to work for thousands of years.
My goal after getting well was to create a vehicle whereby I could reach people who were suffering from digestive and immune system disorders. I began to design products based on the theory of anthropological nutrition or, simply, the nutrition of our history.
But now that I was better, I also wanted to know everything there was to know about how I got better. I wanted to design a program so that everyone who suffers from illness can take their health into their own hands.
You’ll learn about my health program in the coming pages of Patient Heal Thyself, but first, we need to take a gut check.
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