MY HEALTH JOURNEY
Sometimes finding the light means you must pass through the deepest darkness. "Don't lose faith. I didn't promise it would be easy.
I promised it would be worth it. "
My journey into this world was a difficult one. I was born a month premature and struggled to breathe and eat, so I was put in an incubator/isolette to help me survive. At about 6 months, my parents and grandparents noticed I was struggling to stand because my right foot and lower leg actually faced sideways like club foot. The orthopedic prescribed wearing a metal brace with baby shoes attached to it 24 hours a day for about 9 months to correct my malformed leg and foot, so I could learn to stand and to walk. I actually learned to walk with the brace! My parents have spoken of the heartbreak seeing me struggle to move (crawl, roll, stand, walk...) with the brace and cry from the pain of the blisters caused by the braced shoes. But, my parents bestowed upon me the greatest gift of all, if you feel loved, persevere, have faith and hope, and feel accepted unconditionally, you develop the courage and resilience to overcome ANY STRUGGLE life brings you! My dad actually turned this traumatic experience into play by carrying me upside down and swinging me from the metal bar like a suitcase; I've heard stories of how I giggled and loved it, although from hearing my family's story of this through the years, people in stores thought carrying me around by the metal shoe bar was abusive. It actually was the beginning of my gymnastics career and a successful athletic career in high school with football cheerleading, playing on the girls basketball team, and running track as a hurdler and sprinter as well as a collegiate gymnast my freshman year of college. My dad was the receiver of many nasty glares, but stayed true to what he felt was best for me; he was wise. He also taught me how to do sit ups from this hanging position. This developed in me phenomenal core strength which benefitted me immensely in sports and became part of my identity boosting my confidence tremendously. I am so grateful my parents nurtured me through the struggle instead of ignoring or dismissing my malformed leg and foot. The greatest gift through the struggle was my parents helping me develop resilience, courage, and a sense of hope to face any challenge - physically, mentally, and spiritually, throughout the rest of my life!
I grew up living an extremely active lifestyle on our farm and in competitive sports such as gymnastics, basketball, track, and cheerleading. I coached recreational and competitive gymnastics throughout high school, college, and post college continuing to be healthy and living an active lifestyle. In my mid twenties, I began to develop abdominal pain and nausea with eating. One evening I was experiencing the severe pain, nausea and vomiting, and an emergency room visit revealed that gall bladder removal was needed. Several surgical errors during the "routine" gall bladder surgery almost took my life. While undergoing tests to determine the cause of my debilitating pain, nausea and vomiting following surgery, I experienced severe reactions to some of the tests such as pancreatitis, uncontrollable vomiting even with medications, a trigeminal nerve reaction causing me to become blind in one eye and pain so severe on the side of my head and in my eye it felt as though they might explode. I underwent two abdominal surgeries in two weeks. After the exploratory abdominal surgery to seal all the bile ducts that the surgeon mistakenly left open leaking bile into my abdominal cavity, I struggled with my health, debilitating pain, and a 5 inch diagonal scar across my abdomen making me so weak even opening a door was a struggle much less trying to get up out of bed. I went from a healthy active former athlete to a life where I struggled immensely each moment of the day. I also developed hives during the first week home and became physically sick with severe abdominal pain with eating in addition to the severe pain of just moving during the day. The pain was debilitating and exhausting. I felt like my life and my body were stolen from me! With the debilitating digestive issues and living in severe pain, I even went to Mayo Clinic; the doctor said I was lucky to be alive, and it would take time to heal. They couldn’t find anything wrong and encouraged me to listen to my body, only eating and drinking what helped me feel better. The doctor also encouraged me to focus on doing things that brought joy and meaning into my life to enhance healing; a tough prescription when the life you knew and the body you loved and worked so hard for have been stripped from you.
I was left with a grotesque scar across my abs which was a constant reminder of how the surgeon destroyed my health and the body I had trained for all my life. I began reading books about healing: physically, emotionally and spiritually and then reflecting how I was going to get my life and my health back. My first goal was to walk around the block every day which I DID eventually, at age 26. I also joined a free tai chi/qigong class offered at a hospital for those living with severe pain which eased my pain, improved my breathing, and gave me hope that I could feel better and get my life back. Most individuals in this class were older dealing with cancer, severe arthritis, and other health issues. These small steps placed me on the path to getting my life and my body back. I gradually came to fully accept my abs, scars and all, and my journey back to health. In reality my abs were still my strength and my body had kept me alive against all odds! I also focused on learning as much as possible about improving my health through alternative paths such as meditation, relaxing, nutrition, and functional exercise while also testing for food allergies due to severe abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation with eating. Allergy testing revealed that I was allergic to dairy, so I removed dairy from my diet which helped immensely; the doctors wanted me to test for eggs and all the top 7 allergenic foods, but I didn't have medical insurance, so I just listened to my body paying attention to foods that caused me to feel awful and then eliminating them. After such a horrific experience with a doctor/surgeon and surgeries, I also dealt with anxiety each time I had any doctor appointments, so I did my newly learned tai chi/qigong movements, breathing, and prayer while waiting for the doctor in the patient room; it was like post traumatic stress disorder which I didn't know about at the time. Those were my coping skills. My health improved immensely during the year, and I was inspired to become certified as a personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine in 1994 to share with others what I learned in overcoming such a traumatic life experience. My scars show that I am a survivor; they are a part of my journey and who I am today. I am grateful for my life, my children, and the extraordinarily kind people in my life!
My first child, Austin, was born in 1995. Personal Training was great because I could still work and stay home with my children. My daughter, Lindsay, was born in 1997. My pregnancies were difficult with complications including severe vomiting and extremely high bile salts which make you feel like you have hives on the inside of your body and causee preterm labor. My obstetrician saved my life after my first child was born as I hemorrhaged severely shortly after his birth. My son also had complications and was whisked quickly to the neonatal specialists who came directly to our room; I thank God for giving me the courage and strength to trust my intuition with having my babies at Northwestern Memorial in Chicago instead of the suburbs because of they offered neonatal specialists at the hospital in case something went wrong. We drove a long way for their births which people thought was ridiculous, but it gave my son the best chance of surviving. I wasn't able to hold him until they stabilized him. One thing that comes with healing after trauma is learning to trust your intuition no matter what, especially when you become a momma. I hemorrhaged a few times during my second pregnancy due to the severe vomitting and struggled to eat due to such severe nausea while also have the extremely high bile salts causing severe itching (The itching was so severe, I had to wear cotton gloves to prevent bleeding from scratching.) so had to take medication and was prescribed to stay off my feet as much as possible to save my unborn baby. This is not easy when you have a one year old to take care of and to nurture. My health and immune system began declining again after the birth of my children. Another strong contributing factor, living with an abusive spouse, started taking its toll on my health and on the health of my children as well. I developed fibromyalgia, uncontrollable asthma and acid reflux (GERD) which medications helped short term, but I came down with flus, upper respiratory infections, and pneumonia regularly which meant antibiotics, highest doses of asthma meds, and prednisone often. One episode of pneumonia put me in the hospital with one lung full of fluid and the other lung half filled with fluid. A beautiful friend of mine was working in the pediatric unit that day and asked permission to work on my floor caring for me when she discovered I was so ill. She later told me that they weren't sure I would make it through the night, and she wanted to be there for me. God blesses us with angels on earth sometimes, and she was my angel that day. It took me 3 months to heal and to get my life back to normal with my two grade school aged children. Bless my children's hearts; they were used to a very active lifestyle with me and a mom who played with them and did science experiments, but the fatigue and difficulty breathing made just doing the bare minimum difficult. My bone health and immune system continued to decline. I developed osteopenia and low white blood cell counts requiring visits to the hematologist/oncologist off and on since the year 2000. I constantly came down with severe flus and lived with severe joint pain. My heels hurt so badly some days that by the end of the day I had to walk on the balls of my feet and many days just walking up and down the stairs was exhausting with my uncontrolled asthma. I later came down with parvovirus which caused rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in my feet (waking up to feet 3x their normal size), knees, hips and hands for about a year. Getting up in the morning my feet, knees and hips hurt excruciatingly just to stand, but there is no option to stop when you are raising children and making home-made meals with real whole foods for your health and your family's health and a spouse who refused to help feed the children breakfast and get them ready for school when I was so ill. Another girlfriend came to check on me once when my children were about 8 and 9 because she knew I had been sick, but had not heard back from me. She lived 45 minutes from me, but wanted to make sure I was okay. My husband left me deathly ill the day before to attend a seminar, and I later found out that he told my daughter who was 8 that if I died while he was gone, it would be her fault that mom died. When she arrived, I was so ill she immediately took me to the hospital emergency room. Without her I may not have survived that flu. She was another angel God placed on earth for me that day. My health was not improving, and I continued to develop additional food allergies that I noticed with elimination diets and journaling how I felt with each food/meal. Further testing revealed allergies to egg white, chicken, onion, pepper, apple, celery, cantaloupe, crab, pecans and cashews which also confirmed what I had noticed with the elimination diet, but hadn't picked up on the onion and pepper allergy. Removing these foods improved my asthma and energy levels. I continued researching environmental causes along with the guidance of my Internal Medicine doctor, Dr. Thayu, a holistic nutritionist, Carol Childers, and a naturopathic doctor on how to improve my health with nutritional supplements, herbs, and real whole foods while also reducing our exposure to chemicals and toxins in our home environment. Dr. Thayu told me to remove gluten and corn from my diet, otherwise, she said I may not survive another bout of the flus or pneumonias with my uncontrollable asthma; I was annoyed with giving up my absolute favorite foods, but accepted this change was crucial for my health and to be there to raise and protect my children. I immersed myself into learning how to bake our favorite foods gluten free and with trial and error, creating my own gluten free flour mix and modifying recipes until they were delicious and nutritious. Dr. Thayu was correct! Removing gluten and corn from my diet improved my health immensely, especially my asthma and joint pain. She later diagnosed me with celiac sprue disease. My asthma improved even more with nutritional guidance along with herbs and supplements recommended by Carol Childers and her staff, Chenoa Lorenzo, as well as a naturopathic doctor's recommendations while also incorporating real whole anti-inflammatory foods into my diet and removing inflammatory foods. I no longer need daily asthma medications, but always keep my emergency inhaler on hand. Due to undiagnosed Celiac Disease for years and come to find out poor care by my former dentist, I had to have 3 periodontal surgeries in the last 3 years. These surgeries are as excruciatingly painful as exploratory abdominal surgery. The skin from the roof of my mouth was removed twice, once to graft my skin to my entire lower gums and a second time to graft my skin to my 1/2 of my upper gums. After the second graft healed, the healed graft had to be cut and pulled down over the roots of my upper teeth. There was not enough skin from the roof of my mouth, therefore, the procedure had to be done in two parts. With black stitches holding the tissue to my teeth, my mouth looked like Frankenstein's face and felt excruciatingly painful. To enhance healing, I made veggie/fruit smoothies and pureed home-made soups with lots of veggies, fresh turmeric root, and grass fed beef to last me about two weeks because chewing was not possible. I also drank lots of herbal teas to help decrease inflammation and enhance healing. My periodontist was impressed with how quickly I healed. Acceptance of the struggles and embracing the changes we had to make was key to healing our minds, bodies and souls. What was a devastating disfigurement, excruciatingly painful experience, destruction of my immune system and extreme loss of abdominal function to me initially now actually became my gift because it instilled in me a deeper sense of compassion and empathy for others, opened my mind to a different more holistic way of training the body, and inspired me to read research, reputable articles and books related to health and the immune system which changed every aspect of our lifestyle and improved our health immensely.
I stayed fit raising my children by creating short bouts of exercise I could do anywhere and by exercising with my children (tag, biking, climbing, playground activities, home-made obstacle courses, jumping rope, etc.) which also developed in them a love of living an active lifestyle. Raising my two children with an abusive spouse/father without family nearby to help regularly has given me great perspective and insight with regard to balancing family, exercise, relaxation, nutrition, sleep, relationships, and work. My two children and I have dealt with severe food allergies and intolerances, environmental allergies, surgeries my children underwent and complications with those surgeries, GERD, asthma, anaphylaxis, severe migraines, severe joint pain, idiopathic acute elevated liver enzymes, along with auto-immune diseases which inspires me to continue learning as much as possible about achieving optimal health through natural alternatives. One example of our experience with food allergies/sensitivities involves my daughter's migraines as a young child. My daughter developed severe migraines in 1st grade. Her migraines became progressively so severe, she was missing weeks of school at a time. After cat scans revealed no explanation, I did an elimination diet with her reintroducing 1 food at a time which revealed that soy and cinnamon were causing her migraines. Later research was published indicating that soy is the number one trigger for migraines. Our healthy lifestyle has greatly improved our health and well-being over the years and kept us alive along with God's grace when we should not have survived. When you have held your lifeless 7 year old daughter in your arms in the back seat of a vehicle because your husband was enraged at your plea for him to call for an ambulance to save her, then a police man pulls him over for speeding, yelling at your husband, only 8 miles from your home, and I look at the officer with tears in my eyes from the back seat with my lifeless daughter in my arms not breathing, with no color in her face and with a calm urgent voice beg him to call an ambulance because she isn't breathing, you are living your absolute worst nightmare; your little girl is gone. Then the paramedics take her from my arms telling me to keep talking to her to help bring her back, hearing is the last to go they to tell me. They struggled getting her back. Her favorite, most comforting thing was for me to put my cheek next to hers, I had nursed her for 18 months. Cheek-to-cheek we always said and did whenever she was sad or scared for she was always glued to me and rarely spoke to others. So I pressed my cheek next to hers telling her how much I love her with all my heart, lovingly holding her lifeless hand in mine with her lifeless colorless body on the stretcher in the ambulance, silently pleading with God to please not take her; I can't and won't live this life without her. The paramedics finally brought her back to life in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. My daughter was about 16 when she shared with me her afterlife experience that traumatic night; she expressed how beautiful and peaceful it was with this brilliant white. She didn't want to come back, but was told she had to go back for her mom. Her mom needed her. God blessed me with a miracle that night; He brought her back to me. When people say they are allergic to a food, please do all you can to help keep them safe; when you have a child who has severe food allergies, you learn quickly how precious each moment in life is and will do anything to keep your child safe and cherish every moment together, most parents would, but not her abusive father. We experienced so many traumas while my children were growing up, but I have also seen how God brings healing to our souls and our bodies through His miracles, through kind and generous people, a holistic lifestyle, herbalists, and medical professionals who are dedicated to finding answers for healing with rare, atypical health issues. Paramedics who give their all to bring your child back to life reminding me that in the end, this life is all about love. They were doing all they could to bring her back to life, but they reminded that she needed to feel all my love with her to bring her back. We are all here on this journey in life to love and support each other, to lift each other up. Our souls are all interconnected. The journey of this life is about the growth of our souls and growing closer to God.
It is true that within our traumas lie our greatest gifts and joys if we use our love and inner strength to rise above our struggles. Every step along our journey through life has a purpose, so we must embrace, accept, and learn from each step or struggle. I am grateful for learning to trust my intuition that God blessed me with in all aspects of life as well as embracing and accepting the struggles along my journey. Through all our struggles and triumphs, I am blessed with the gift of sharing the knowledge and skills I have learned to help others on their journeys to achieving their goals, feeling fantastic again, finding a healthy balance in their life, and improving their health and well being. It is my privilege and honor to join each client as their partner on their journey to become the master of their fate and the captain of their soul.