Mom, MS is the best thing that has happened to me. Just look at the way I eat, how well I am sleeping, and how we changed things in our house to make everything healthier. We are better off now!
– Romy Stark, 14 yr old student, cook & snowboarder
Life Before Illness
Romy came into the world on her due date, healthy, happy and smart beyond her years. I remember pushing her in her stroller when she was about 15 months old. She pointed to the power line above and asked “That?” I sighed wondering how best to explain a power line to a 1-year-old. I said, “Romy, that line brings power to our house.” Right away she said “Oh, T.V.!”
Romy was formula-fed as an infant, as breastfeeding was not an option. She received all the typical childhood vaccinations and was prescribed antibiotics on several occasions for strep throat. We all ate a Standard Canadian Diet – very similar to the Standard American Diet — with lots of carbohydrates and sugar.
Looking back, I think what set her up for her eventual illness was a series of stressful events during her first decade. First, her grandparents, who were living with us at the time, divorced when she was two. We then moved about 4 hours away, which was especially tough on Romy since she was very close to her grandmother.
I remember there was about a week during this time that Romy vomited every few hours each night. Pediatricians couldn’t find anything wrong and chalked it up to stress, which was likely true. When Romy was 6 her father and I divorced.
By the time Romy was 10, I had multiple health concerns: severe IBS, anxiety, acid reflux, and other troublesome gut-related conditions. I decided to improve my own health by following a Paleo diet — but that’s a story for another time.
Strange, Unexplained Symptoms
At 14, Romy was a great student and emotionally stable and mature for her age. Yet suddenly, at the end of 8th grade, she began to struggle in math and her grade fell to a C. I hired a tutor for the summer to help her catch up and prepare for 9th grade math. As the tutor reviewed math concepts and problems with her, Romy was like a deer in the headlights. She seemed unable to absorb the concepts and put them into practice.
I was confused and frustrated, not understanding what was happening – was this typical teenage attitude setting in, or something else? At the end of the summer I noticed that Romy’s right eye was not moving in conjunction with her left when she looked to the left. I videotaped this unusual phenomenon and set up a series of appointments, starting with an optometrist, then an ophthalmologist and finally a neurologist. By the time we were able to see the doctors, her eye had corrected itself, so the doctors were unable to see for themselves what had been happening. Were it not for the videotape of Romy’s strange eye movement, the doctors might have just sent us home.
Once the neurologist saw proof of the strange eye movements, he admitted Romy to The Hospital of Sick Children in Toronto. One week and a battery of tests later, the team of specialists informed the family that Romy had 8 lesions on her brain and 1 located on her cervical spine. The diagnosis was shattering: multiple sclerosis (MS). We were told that the condition would progress, and that there was no cure. The hospital team handed me pamphlets from the MS Society and a list of available drugs to choose from. We were sent home with instructions to return for a follow-up after having made a decision about which drug we would like to start with.
Synchronicity Leads to Wahls Protocol
Two years earlier, while on my own IBS healing journey, I had spent a week in Austin, Texas, at a Paleo conference. There I heard Dr. Terry Wahls, Professor of Medicine at Iowa State University give a speech about her own healing path from progressive MS, mostly by adopting a nourishing, plant-based Paleo diet. I was deeply impressed with her healing story and remember feeling compelled to go up, meet her and have her autograph my Paleo Toronto T-shirt. Little did I know that two years later my own teenage daughter would be diagnosed with the very same disorder!
Both Romy and I knew we didn’t want to experiment with the MS drugs suggested by the neurologist. We studied the research on the drugs offered, and believed that not only would the medications not heal the multiple sclerosis, but they might even exacerbate the condition. Even so, we were riddled with fear that we might be making the wrong decision. Fear is dangerous, and we had to deal with that first. I was afraid for Romy to take the drugs, and afraid of what would happen if she didn’t.
For support, we turned to the Wahls website community and a functional medicine nutritionist with whom I had already been working. Both were instrumental in putting our fears to rest. We recognized that any decision we made involved risks, so we decided to risk the natural healing path – instead of the greater risks of the potentially ineffective prescription medications and their likely side effects.
When asked about how she dealt with the diagnosis, Romy responded, “I felt a bit queasy about it at first, but then thought this was better than something like a brain tumor and that between my mom and Matt [our nutritionist] and me, we could deal with this.”
Getting to the Roots
I believe that every disease can be reversed, and that the starting point must always be to find and fix the root causes. So, we began to hunt for root causes, and discovered that Romy’s blood work showed some interesting things: two strains of the Epstein-Barr Virus, herpes, cytomegalovirus, strep A & B, and high blood levels of mercury and aluminum. Any of these infections, or the high levels of heavy metals, or a combination, might have served as the primary triggers for the multiple sclerosis. Additionally, our nutritionist found that Romy had a leaky gut, was not absorbing B vitamins, had very low stomach acid, and a congested liver — the list seemed to go on and on.
A Flurry of Lifestyle Changes
I believe the single most significant factor in Romy’s healing was the guidance of our functional medicine nutritionist, Matt Wilson. Matt devised an action plan that started with changing Romy’s diet, clearing out her elimination organs (liver and kidneys), healing her leaky gut, and replacing the nutrients she was missing. Matt is confident that, in time, we can heal the MS lesions by detoxing Romy’s nervous system and then regenerating it.
The day after Romy arrived home from the hospital with her new diagnosis, we started her on the “Wahls Protocol.” The transition from her prior diet was fairly easy, thanks in part to Matt’s guidance. I made a food pyramid based on the Wahls protocol, highlighted all of Romy’s favorite foods and put the list on the fridge. Romy has dedicated herself completely to the protocol and has even become a good cook!
A Typical Day in Romy’s Diet
Romy fasts from 7pm till 11:30am every day to help her immune system and her brain.
An hour after her first set of supplements she drinks 6-8 oz. of organic, un-washed celery juiced fresh each morning. We are doing this to support production of stomach acid and to benefit from good microbes.
At 11:30 am her first meal consists of:
- Roasted seaweed
- Nuts and or seeds (she does seed cycling as well). I make a sunflower hummus or a walnut & roasted red pepper dip that she dips her raw veggies in.
- Bubbies Sauerkraut (1 heaping TBSP), or a glass of homemade kombucha
- Grass-fed local meats, or wild-caught fish, about 4oz. She eats organ meats a couple times a week. Wahls does not call for eggs and Romy doesn’t like eggs on their own, but because our eggs come from our neighbor I do use eggs in recipes for her.
- Bone broth
- 2 cups kale or lettuce or spinach or chard (rotated), usually cooked
- 2 cups of colorful veggies, usually raw
- 2 cups of sulfur-rich veggies. I usually make a batch of cauliflower-onion-garlic soup for the week.
- Fats: coconut oil, avocado, raw cacao, olive oil, coconut milk, almond milk — all homemade.
That is the format for each of her 2 meals per day.
Weekly we allow:
- Rice pasta (once/week)
- White potato (once/week)
- Sweetener (honey, maple syrup) both of these also come from our neighbor…you can’t get more local and raw than that! Romy is allowed 1 tsp. of sweetener per day…but she doesn’t use it every day.
- Once in a while I will make Yiddish Paleo Bagels so she can have her bagel fix.
- Romy also makes marshmallows out of Vital Protein Gelatin, marshmallow root, and our neighbor’s honey.
- Her favorite treat is: 1 cup of almond milk heated on the stove with raw cacao powder, either her tsp. of maple syrup or honey, and topped with a couple of her homemade marshmallows.
- When we have to eat out, we do our best with a healthy protein and a big salad or grilled veggies.
- If she has cooked greens at lunch she makes sure her next meal she has a big raw green salad.
When asked about her new way of eating, Romy said, “I feel better than before. I am more creative with my foods now. I eat more, and I like the way the food tastes. Once you get back to real food…it tastes way better. My mom will make a killer Paleo Pizza a couple times a month, and now a store-bought pizza just tastes like cardboard. If the family is craving something like Chinese take-out, we just make our own Paleo version.”
Detoxifying Romy’s Environment
Next we went to work on removing toxins from her environment. All areas of her life had to be reconsidered and detoxed. We added a Himalayan Salt lamp in her bedroom, filled her room with a few air-purifying plants, and replaced her conventionally-scented candles with natural beeswax candles, all of which are known to help reduce indoor air pollution.
We reduced as much as possible Romy’s exposure to electromagnetic frequencies (EMF), potentially hazardous environmental radiation frequencies that emanate from all household appliances. To mitigate the effects of remaining exposure, Romy wears an EMF-protective pendant. Our home’s WiFi was directly under Romy’s bedroom in the basement – in fact it was right under the head of her bed. We moved the WiFi to the other side of the house and put it on a timer so it shut down at night.
We built a Faraday Cage, a grounded metal screen that covers electrical equipment to exclude potential electrostatic and electromagnetic influences from our “smart” meter to further reduce possibly harmful exposure.
We also want to avoid the thousands of chemicals in our personal care products, so now we make our own shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, body cream, laundry soap, and dishwasher detergent. Just last night we made 9 bars of soap with simple ingredients: saponified (a process that turns fats into soap) grass-fed tallow, organic turmeric, bergamot and sandalwood oils.
After doing some research on sleep and discovering the potential benefits of better and deeper sleep, we replaced Romy’s bed with a hammock. Romy now sleeps about 9.5 hours a night in total darkness so that she produces optimal levels of melatonin. We installed Near Infrared Light (NIR) panels that Romy uses for about 15 minutes every other day to further promote healing energies deep within her body.
Signs of Healing
A few weeks after Romy started the Wahls Protocol she sat down to catch up on the math homework she missed while in the hospital. Recalling her prior struggles, I decided to check her work and was stunned to discover that Romy was flying through the math and getting all the answers right. I asked her what had changed since summer when she struggled over math with her tutor. Romy shrugged and replied, “I don’t know — it just feels like my brain just woke up.”
It dawned on me that the summer math struggles were a sign of loss of function due to the MS. Romy had clearly been dealing with “brain fog”, and in just a short time on the Wahls Protocol, it had cleared.
Six months after the mysterious eye incident, Romy has not developed any other symptoms of MS. She is once again very active at school – she’s a member of the Improv team, the snowboarding club, and just landed a part in the school play. She takes her health very seriously and would “rather starve” than eat gluten or sugar or anything processed.
Romy said to me recently, “Mom, MS is the best thing that has happened to me.” I looked at her in disbelief and asked why. Romy replied, “Just look at the way I eat, how well I am sleeping, and how we changed things in our house to make everything healthier. We are better off now!”
Our healing plan is still in process and may take a few years to complete. We are confident in and committed to the healing process, in spite of its length. So far, we have concluded that we all need to take charge of our health. We need to research what supports healing, keep learning, and most of all, try everything we can to heal.
When asked if she suffers from the MS, Romy replies, “No, the MS is suffering from me!” One day we plan to write about how Romy healed herself completely from MS.
Image Credit: Shannon Stark