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Heart Surgery to Better Health – My Amazing Success Story

How an autoimmune disease diagnosis helped me link my knowledge of dentistry to my own health challenges.

Better health can be achieved if we ask the right questions. By thinking more about the medicines, the food we eat and how to better supplement our diet, we can improve our health. Hopefully, my own story will inspire people to ask those questions, which will lead to better health.

My health story – the background

First came the extreme case of pericarditis, requiring emergency surgery using a very delicate procedure known as a pericardial window. Next came double pneumonia plus Hashimotos Thyroiditis, plus the beginning stages of organ failure and pericarditis, again. Then came the last round of pericarditis, with extreme joint pain that did not require surgery, but did result in hospitalization. These health issues all happened within the span of about 6 months.

My condition baffled the doctors and myself. They searched for everything from cancer, to Lupus, to HIV, with no positive identification. Then I went to a Rheumatologist who ran his own tests, but still could not find the culprit. He believed that it was most likely Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disease of the inflammatory bowel type. So, as a ‘preventive’ measure, he pulled out the big guns and prescribed an immunosuppressant. The logic was that if pericarditis happened before, it could happen again, but this would prevent it. However, I remained unconvinced. Let me explain why.

More about my life working abroad as a single parent.

A lifetime of symptoms

I was a normal and very athletic person growing up. Generally in good health, I developed normally and didn’t require any medication, except allergy medication. I remember visiting an Allergist a couple of times as a child.

At one of my visits to the Allergist, he performed an allergy test on my back and both my forearms. Since I reacted to almost every allergen prick, my poor back and forearms were on fire. He congratulated me as the most allergic person he had seen all day, prescribed a daily OTC allergy tablet and sent me on my merry little way. Not once was the question, “Why is this child so allergic to everything?” ever addressed.

During my senior year in high school, I began to have sore throats and to be cold all the time. I visited the doctor a couple of times for it, usually receiving a round of antibiotics for the sore throat. That calmed it down for a while but it would then flare up again.

So, my mom took me back to the doctor with the same complaint. This time the doctor examined my throat area more thoroughly and even palpated my neck. It revealed a movable growth around my thyroid gland. He ruled out a goiter but prescribed a few tests to see what it could be.

Requiring surgery

An Otolaryngologist, or Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist, told me it was a thyroglossal duct cyst and that I needed surgery. This is thought to be a cyst formed from remnant embryological tissues responsible for the formation of the tongue, thyroid and other organs in the throat and neck area.

While my thyroid wasn’t directly affected by the removal of the cyst, my body’s reaction to its presence was noteworthy. With the cyst removed, I was again sent on my way to continue life as normal. Since then, though, every medical checkup has scrutinized the function of my thyroid and the possible presence of a goiter. My thyroid function usually checks out well.

Sensitivity to cold started to become my hallmark, as well as heart palpitations. Doctors explained away the complaints of heart palpitations since they truly can happen due to any number of causes. Not long after the cyst removal surgery, I developed severe gastrointestinal reactions to dairy products. I eventually found out that I was lactose intolerant.

Learn how better gut health leads to better overall health.

Hiding in plain sight

As I now reflect, I almost always had gastrointestinal distress while growing up. I never paid any attention to it because being flatulent was funny and sometimes cool.

Years later came another strange symptom of extreme hair loss after giving birth that I have yet to recover from. So, it seems that I had autoimmune disorder tendencies from the very beginning that were just hidden in plain sight.

“…Do your research before you just blindly start taking something as powerful as an immunosuppressant.”

Dr. Aletha Chappelear

My search for better health

I started to visit a chiropractor, Dr. Aletha Chappelear, just before the birth of my child. A few years later, after my pericarditis calmed down and the joint pain settled in, I began to visit her more often. This provided the only significant joint pain relief that I could find, besides the steroids, of course. The doctors advised against prolonged steroid use and the powerful NSAIDs were too much for my stomach, even with the Prilosec. However, I really needed relief.

One day, during a chiropractic visit, I told her that I was prescribed an immunosuppressant, but was reluctant to take it. She looked at me and said, “Your body is not inflamed for no reason, check your diet. You are an intelligent person. Do your research before you just blindly start taking something as powerful as an immunosuppressant.” Patients usually take Immunosuppressive drugs to ensure that a transplanted organ is not rejected.

Elimination diet for better gut and overall health

I went home and scoured the internet for everything relating to the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) that she suggested. I learned that an elimination diet was necessary for better gut health. So, I made a plan for how to proceed and then started to throw food away. I bought what I could afford to replace the discarded foods, and slowly began a new way of eating.

This meant eliminating all grains and rice, especially wheat, as well as dairy, soy, eggs, nuts and naturally refined sugar. I essentially ate the same basic things every day and at the same time of day. I began to see food as a way to stay alive rather than as a source of satisfaction.

After one week of strict adherence to the first phase of the AIP diet, my health was much better. Many of my symptoms began to calm down. Within one month, I came off all 8 of my previously prescribed medications since leaving hospital for the last time. I lost about 20 pounds over the course of the next 6 months and my body aches with joint pain also calmed down.

Nevertheless, sleep was still elusive but when I did fall asleep I couldn’t stay asleep. I felt like my health was getting better, but I still wasn’t well and I could not understand what I was missing.

A chance discovery on the road to better health

Then, around that time a patient presented for a cleaning who also had an autoimmune disease. After reviewing her medical history, I asked her how she controlled her symptoms. She explained that someone had recently introduced a supplement to her called Restore4Life (now Ion*Biome) and that it was working wonders for her own health.

She suggested I look online for it and so I did. I looked into the research behind it and saw that maybe there was some logic to improving one’s gut health for the better. But I was still skeptical, because not even the best medical doctors in town could help me with my condition.

international dental hygiene hospital photo autoimmune disease dhabroad
After pericardial window operation Northside Hospital Atlanta Georgia 2015

How I began to make the link

Thankfully, we have doctors who are trained to diagnose and treat conditions. However, few step out of the box and take the time to find the root cause of unusual medical conditions. Without the root cause being identified, a person could theoretically be ‘treated‘ for the rest of their life. I did not want my symptoms to be treated. That would just mean taking different medications to address each one indefinitely. I wanted to know why a ’30 something’ ends up as sick as I did.

So, I decided to try this Restore4Life supplement because with all the positive online reviews, I figured it can’t hurt even if it doesn’t lead to better health. After taking it, I didn’t notice any changes at all but rather I started feeling funny and so I put it back on the shelf.

IonBiome really improved my health

A few weeks later, I was exposed to gluten by mistake, but my body didn’t go crazy like before. I started to think carefully about what had changed. I had been eating the same things and hadn’t changed anything else in my routine. Then I remembered the Restore4life (IonBiome) supplement that I started to take but stopped.

I started to do more research on how this supplement works. That’s when Dr. Zach Bush and his research helped me to make the connection to gut health. A proper diet is essential but our gut microbiome must to be optimized.

What is the immune system exactly? Where is the immune system found? What does it do? What happens when it is low or hyperactive as in the case of autoimmune disease? Over 70% of our immune system is in the gut. Without optimal gut health we cannot have a strong immune system.

Read more about how to boost the immune system via optimal gut health.

My battle with allergies and flatulence as a child, my thyroid issues as an adolescent, my battle with anxiety and poor sleep, and my extreme autoimmune reaction 5 years ago, were all related to a dysregulation of my immune system. Since the majority of the immune system is produced in the gut, that’s where I began to focus my efforts to address this autoimmune diagnosis that I had received.

Better health – the way forward

Since I am no doctor, this short bio is in no way designed to be medical advice. I simply wish to show how an ordinary person can take improving their health into their own hands.

As a dental hygienist, I studied Anatomy and Physiology I and II, as well as additional Head and Neck Anatomy to complete my degree. So, I have a working knowledge of the body. I understand inflammation and the immune response because I use that knowledge to help my patients every day.

I now realize that I had enough book knowledge to help myself through that tough time, but the focus was on the wrong thing. The doctors became so distracted treating my symptoms, that they never helped me make the connection between my symptoms and the whys behind them.

Read more about my life as a dental hygienist.

Understanding “why” leads to better health

I now manage my condition with the Autoimmune Protocol diet, IonBiome, rest and stress reduction. This doesn’t mean that I am cured. It simply means that on a day to day basis, I am able to cope with my symptoms without pharmaceuticals. If I ever fail to eat a nutrient-dense diet or go without a solid 7-8 hours’ night’s sleep for two days in a row or go through a bout of high stress, my symptoms do flare up.

I still suffer with fatigue, joint pain, heart palpitations, GI distress and brain fog, etc., from time to time, just like other sufferers of autoimmune diseases. Nevertheless, I’m medicine free, my blood work checks out fine, I can be considered ‘healthy’ and am able to lead a relatively ‘normal’ life.

Applying the lessons learned on my journey to better health

My experience is not unique to the way U.S. doctors approach healthcare. This is simply the way western medicine is designed to work. My daughter recently received a diagnosis of extreme vitamin D deficiency. I took her to her pediatrician and then to an Orthopedic doctor here in Germany and asked why she should have such an acute deficiency.

He basically told me that this is simply something that can happen to ‘dark-skinned people’. Of course I didn’t accept that fallacy but saw it as another perpetuation of the western medicine that failed me as a child. The answer to that why question has triggered a series of connections in my head about vitamin uptake and guess where they led me…

Visit the page Dental links to optimal health to see which products and supplements I use and recommend for better health naturally, and to support a healthy lifestyle. Regain your health today!

Here are some more interesting articles on gut health:

Boost the immune system via optimal gut health

Allergy and the gastrointestinal system

Immunity in the Gut

Your gut is the cornerstone of your immune system

Featured photo by Mark Autumns on Unsplash