A short story about a long journey of overcoming disease: What drives your passion?

Since I was a child I wondered why I was restless and felt out of place because I would always prefer to sit on my knees or better yet lay down.  I explicitly remember in grade school watching a Disney film in the cafeteria and all the children had to sit quietly on the floor.  This was unbearable for me so I laid down to relieve the pain and was reprimanded and told to sit up like everyone else.  I sat up and the gnawing discomfort started again, so I sat on my knees and was then sent to the office.   I then decided to conform and not draw attention to myself anymore.

In high school I enjoyed sports and noticed physical activity would keep my mind off the pain.  This even brought about some relief.  I loved playing volleyball and running track, but my feet, shins and spine seemed to be worsening and it was getting harder to cope with the stress.  I started to self-medicate.

As a young adult I finally went to see a doctor and was quickly diagnosed with strained muscles and was given muscle relaxers and pain medication and told to get a new mattress. I went back several more times with the same result. The pain was now going from gnawing to very intense sharp pains that would limit my mobility for days.

My wife and I started our own business after my best friend was killed in an auto accident.  We opened our own fitness center. We loved it! I started training more and more clients and became very passionate and had a lot of pride in making people feel better.

Deep down though, I felt like a fraud. I noticed all my clients getting healthy and getting great results from exercise and proper nutrition. I was in fear to mention my back pain due to the stereotype that weight lifters get. I was getting clients that felt better because we were lifting. Why not me!

In my mid-twenties I had already had several trips to the ER room. Same old story; take drugs, stretch, and exercise.  This was humiliating because exercise is what I did for a living.  Desperate for relief and wanting to get fixed I spent countless hours and dollars on remedies from chiropractors to anything spine related.

My last trip to the ER was in an ambulance. I was exercising in our public gym when all of a sudden I could not move my legs and I was in the most pain of my life. Despite this episode I tried to save face and had my two training partners discretely carry me out to their vehicle. By the time they got me home I was paralyzed and in so much pain I could not be touched. I laid in the snow covered driveway for 1 hour in shorts and t-shirt.  The guys finally got me in the house and when Dawn came home she called the ambulance.  The EMT’s couldn’t move me, so Demerol was the drug of choice to get me to the hospital.

The doctors realized this was more than a strained muscle. They sent me to an orthopedic specialist who performed an MRI and came to the conclusion there was potential disc damage.  During this time my family doctor diagnosed me with hyperthyroidism and wanted to obliterate my thyroid.  My sister begged me to get a second opinion before taking such drastic measures.  Dawn booked me with an endocrinologist.  I was so stressed and in so much discomfort my adrenaline was 3xs off the chart.  They said I’ve been in pain equivalent to being struck by a truck. My blood pressure was now insanely high and I was told I was at risk of stroke at any time and this was all too familiar as every Doctor I saw told me I was a walking stroke with blood pressure readings of 220/115. My testosterone was low and my cortisol was high. My thyroid was being stressed and the endocrinologist confirmed I had hyperthyroidism.  He did however believe if my spine could be fixed all the contra-indications would normalize.

I was referred to a spine specialist for more tests and they finally found the problem.  They performed an extremely painful test called a disco gram where fluids, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and a dye were shot into my disc with the goal being to duplicate my worst pain and get it on film and let me tell you they took it to 10 on the pain scale.  My disc between the vertebrae were permanently damaged and fissured much like a steel belted tire that exploded.  I had degenerative disc disease.  I was later diagnosed with compression fractures of the shin bones; I had broken my left foot in 11 places and my right in 8.

Finally a diagnosis for the source of pain I had endured the majority of my life.  I reviewed my options with the orthopedic specialist and my future was not looking so bright.  Surgery was eminent as the damage was permanent and the pain was not bearable without strong narcotics which they would not allow me take much longer for fear of my liver eventually shutting down.  I negotiated with my Doctor to push surgery back as far as possible.  I was a self-employed painting contractor and needed to save up money for the down time from my business after surgery; the Doctor warned it could take up to a full year to recover.  I did what any good American would do; I added alcohol to the mix of narcotics.  Oddly enough I wasn’t really into alcohol since I had outgrown it in my early twenties; I only used it to intensify the effects of the narcotics for even better pain relief.   Thank goodness Dawn had insurance through her job as it was an $80,000 surgery.  I remember the day I met with the surgeon to actually plan the surgery and review what it entailed like it was yesterday.  He might as well have kicked me in the stomach because I had that same feeling of the wind being knocked right out of me when he told me I would need to find a new career as that physical of a job would not be possible, I would not be able to powerlift again as it would not be mechanically possible and I might not be able to have children and should consider banking sperm.  When I sat down and told all of this to Dawn all she could do was cry.  We were both quite overwhelmed and now looking back I realize we were in denial of the seriousness of the situation.  We were 29 years old at the time, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to young, healthy people, they had to be exaggerating everything and proposing their worst case scenario.  We were in such denial we didn’t take any action on future fertility.

The surgery was by far the worst experience of my life.  I was only the 11th person in the US at the time to have this surgery as it was so invasive.  They cut me open from the back and the front to access my spine.  They removed the disc between L4 and L5 and L5 and S2 and replaced them with titanium rods and cages.  They packed these cages with donor bone and bone they scraped off my hip.  I was fused from my tailbone up to L4; basically I had a solidly strong, yet immobile concrete block where my slinky like spine once was.  Surgery was longer than expected and lasted 6 hours due to a major complication.  They nicked my main vein during the surgery and I almost bled to death.  They had to pump a pint of my own blood (donated prior to surgery) back in me right then on the operating table.

Upon waking from the surgery I was experiencing intense pain in spite of a constant morphine drip.  Pain is obviously to be expected with this invasive of a surgery but morphine will usually give a patient some needed relief.   My body had built up such a tolerance to pain meds in the year prior they had little effect on easing my pain after surgery.  I was to receive 2 more pints of blood to replace what I had lost.  They infused one pint of blood without issue and started the next bag.  I started feeling ill, developed a rash and was going in and out of consciousness.  When the nurse came to check on me I told her my symptoms and she noticed some of the ill effects but she told me to tough it out as it was necessary.   The symptoms worsened, the rash turned into welts and I was quickly going between a fever and chills  and knowing it was not my own blood at this point, I feared I was having a severe negative reaction to the transfusion.  I begged my wife Dawn to get the nurse and stop the transfusion.  The nurse came back and immediately stopped the blood when she realized it was not my own as she thought they were still using what I had donated.  She of course brushed it off like it was nothing to avoid the negative ramifications of ignoring the possibility of an adverse reaction to donated blood.

I hated the hospital stay and could not wait to get released.  Anyone who has spent time in the hospital knows sickness lingers in the air and recovery is hindered by the constant scurry of people ‘checking’ on patients.  I felt as if the Grim Reaper had taken up residence in the hospital for it was his easiest way of collecting the souls on his list and I could almost smell his presence and feel his breath on me when I slept.  Having been opened up from the front and my guts removed to access my spine the inevitable happened; my digestion and elimination were not working properly and my belly grew so huge I looked 9 months pregnant.  A bowel movement was a requirement for release after this type of surgery.  I lied and said I had one on the 4th day just to get out of there and get home.  My brother in-law Joe came to our rescue and drove us home for it was an extremely long and painful ride as it had snowed several feet and travel was slow and cautious due to the snow.

I remember waking up several times after surgery quite disoriented and literally crying about letting them mutilate my torso and alter my mechanics forever.  Determined to heal fast and get right back into life exactly as it was before, at the two week mark my lifting partners started carrying me down to the basement so I could lift.  I still couldn’t walk without the walker at this point but I so needed to pop the endorphins that training does to still feel somewhat normal again.  I rushed recovery and jumped back into training and work as a painting contractor taking very little time off.  I was proving the doctors wrong and they were quite impressed with my rate of recovery.  The one thing I had not accomplished was being fertile again.  I had retro grade ejaculation for two years after the surgery and if you are wondering what that is, let’s just say I was the only one in our house that would be getting pregnant if you get my drift.  Even after that went away, my hormones were a wreck and I had hypogonadism.  Everything was different mechanically but I covered it well.  I learned how to modify my lifting and painting to accommodate my inability to bend my lower back and worked around the fusion.  Most people that didn’t know me had no idea I was fused and that is exactly how I wanted it to be.

Painting was very physical and quite hard on my body.  To be successful in this business I pumped out the work and never missed a deadline.  This was wearing heavily on my adrenals and now in hindsight I know the toxic exposure was wreaking havoc on my entire system as well.  I stayed quite busy as a contractor and continued to train a small group of rough and tough guys at my home gym.  I was of course on oxycontin still, as the surgery had not alleviated all my back pain, but it had fixed the 2 discs that were beyond repair.  I drank pretty heavily with my work-out group as we all had physical jobs and worked out hard and drinking helped ease the aches or so we thought.

Through her current employer, Dawn had the opportunity to put in for a managerial job in Wilmington, NC and potentially get a moving package.  We both were excited at the opportunity for a change; she wanted a warmer climate and I wanted a break from the demanding physical work.  She got the job and was to start right away so we moved in a whirlwind to a brand new city 12 hours away where we literally didn’t know a soul.  North Carolina in the summer can be quite brutal when you are not used to the amount of humidity and I of course ended up painting our house since that was my trade.

Once we were settled in to the finished house it was time for me to finally take a break from physical work and the daily ingestion of toxins that goes along with painting.  I felt pretty crappy in spite of not having to work outside of the house.   I was exhausted, didn’t have a lot of energy and literally slept 16 hours per day many days.  I immediately found a new family practitioner in Wilmington as having had major surgery and still being on heavy narcotics, I had to frequently get labs done to check my liver and I needed to continually get my scripts filled.  When I told my new doctor about feeling so lethargic and just a total lack of energy he told me I was getting older and had been through a lot and it was to be expected to feel like this.  I was 31 for crying out loud – not 60!  This answer was not acceptable to me.  I did some studying on my own and implemented some of my own protocols and worked with the doctor as best I could to try to feel my age.  For the first time ever I had taken about 5 months off from lifting and it was time to get back in it.  I ordered some equipment and worked out in my garage with Dawn and eventually some of the young guys in the neighborhood joined in.

I had the time and was getting my energy back so I had been asked to be the Strength and Conditioning coach for Topsail high school and gladly accepted.  The pay was pretty much nill, but it gave me a chance to get back into my true passion and this time work with high school age athletes and be a role model.  I took the role very seriously and put time and effort into the programs and teaching the kids how to eat properly.  The wrestlers were the ones to grab onto the info and utilize it the most, especially the proper way to lose weight for their sport.

At 35 I was reversing the aging process and getting my health back, but still infertile, I had been on strong narcotics for seven years.  It had been five years since major surgery and I’m physically much better, however I still have a crutch.  Although I’m off massive amounts of narcotics, I can’t break away from the miracle pill.  I’ve been on Oxyconton for half a decade.  This drug was introduced to the public in the 90s as a new pain management drug for severe chronic pain patients, catering especially to cancer victims, spinal injuries, and dysfunctions. Wow they were right! This was the first and only drug out of many I’ve used to actually deliver its promise.  I took 2 pills daily immediately noticing relief. I’ve lived so long in so much pain that I was flabbergasted how much the discomfort went down.   Almost immediately I noticed the pain relief only lasted 4 out of the promised 12 hours. The next couple of years was a yo-yo, 4 hours of pain freedom only in exchange for 8 hours of the reminder of the past misery.  It did not matter 8 out of 24 hours being normal was still an improvement.  Meanwhile patients and drug addicts were stealing and selling this drug and people were dying all the time.  It was now a big media topic, oxy was dangerous and very addictive. I never abused the drug. There was no way I would double the dose only to sacrifice having none later. My doctor and I discussed the short lived relief but we were both concerned about increasing the dosage only to have to increase it again once that didn’t work. I suggested 4xs daily but using the same 24 hour dosage. My doctor agreed. This worked quite nicely. I was now relieved 4 out of 6 hours. Four hours of bliss, and the last two hours left me with a one track mind, only set on getting the next pill.  This little white pill had amazing control over me. The fifth and sixth hour I could only focus on the anticipation for the six hour mark. I no longer needed a clock.  My body knew exactly what time it was by no pain, then craving, then withdraws and then repeat. It was as if oxy was a substitute for my brain.

Tired of the prisoner I had become to this narcotic I took myself off of it, which of course can’t be done according to doctors.  I put a 6 week plan together that involved wave-loading or down staggering my dose.  I strategically would lower my dose by 20mg for 2-3 days or until the withdrawal symptoms were unbearable at which point I would add 10mg back in for a few days and repeat until eventually there was no more symptoms.  The lowered days were miserable as withdrawal swiftly kicked in.  Withdrawal feels just like the flu combined with insomnia.  To combat this I quite simply crawled.  I would snail around the yard on my hands and knees pulling weeds in the middle of the night.  Through this nauseating, secretive experience there was some satisfaction: I had the best lawn in the neighborhood with no weeds to be seen.  To my own amazement, I could live without oxy.  I was not pain free, but the pain was much less than I thought it would be and I could manage without the oxy.  I’m not gonna lie and say the temptation to take it again was not there.  For at least a solid year after getting off of it, I thought about it frequently and had to make  a conscious effort to not take just 1 little pill to ease the pain.

So my last bad habit was gone, but I still was only about 60% on the health meter and as always my physician, in spite of being a different practitioner and claiming to be non-traditional, was still pushing drugs on me and not looking for causes.  This drove me to continue my studies of what caused my back pain to begin with.  I had come full circle with my career also, I was back in the Health field full time and had a gym again in NC as construction was too hazardous and the real estate market was heading south fast. 

In spite of being in the health field full time, I was 283lbs, 25.8% body fat, extremely fatigued, bloated, and had been in chronic pain for over thirty years.  A power lifter with many injuries, I had torn both of my quads at the same time-very gross, I could literally hear the muscles tear like the sound of paper ripping immediately followed by loud pops and a sensation like two rubber bands snapping; my quadriceps tore and the muscles recoiled back and balled up at the knee and hips joints.  I was front squatting 455lbs, a very heavy load but I was experienced and knowledgeable with this type of training.  Previously, I had front-squatted 515lbs, and two months before I did 635 for 2 on a box squat.  Rushed to the hospital to no avail, doctors were not very familiar with quad tears, but they called a specialist who told them it would be very unlikely he could repair it because it tore in the middle of the muscle belly and it would be like trying to sew together wet toilet paper!!

That was a brutal recovery to say the least and then a year and a half later I had a pectoral tear-that permanently disfigured me.  Of course I started to train a lot lighter but to no avail I went on to tear both hamstrings several times even though I was using 80% less load. Eighteen months after rehabbing the quadriceps I was finally able to do split squats (stationary lunge) and as I descended down performing one; a very nasty but all too familiar snap! WTF! I just had a very grotesque C-section.  My abs tore across the pubic bone and sadly left me with a double hernia.

Extremely daunted but far from down and out I persevered studying health, complied diligently to eating healthy and organic and supplemented as best I knew how at the time and was elated to find out Charles Poliquin was offering a course called the BioSignature method.  I had attended several of Charles’s courses back in the 90’s which were geared toward training but always touched on health and the BioSignature method  solely geared toward improving heath.  I signed up 8 months ahead of time and created excitement at my gym about it as I knew the information would be cutting edge.

Attending the BioSignature course would prove to be the BEST decision I ever made.  Charles did not disappoint and I was blown away by the information he provided at the course. As I stood at the seminar in my skivvy’s getting checked by the greatest coach in the world I learned that gluten intolerance and leaky gut were not allowing my body to absorb nutrients like magnesium.  He told me to quit eating gluten immediately and I stopped that very day.  When I consulted with Charles at an Internship course about 6 months later he suspected heavy metal poisoning after hearing more about me.  He told me to get checked for heavy metals immediately.  He told me to fly to Arizona to see Dr. Cronin, a functional osteopath.  I told Charles I had already been tested for heavy metals and the test was negative.  He confidently said retest with Dr. Cronin in Arizona.  Charles mentioned quad tears, although rare are a sign of gluten intolerance and the pectoral tear is a red flag for hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) deficiency.  He never once treated the symptoms, but felt they were major clues that something was not in balance. 

Although financially struggling, we scrounged up the funds and I flew to AZ and performed a heavy metal challenge, a food allergy panel and other tests that Dr. Cronin recommended.  I was left with no money and only faith that the best strength coach in the world could finally guide me to some much needed relief.  I was confused because for twenty years I had been using Doctors that ran massive amounts of labs and handed me enough drugs to open my own pharmacy.   This time it was different and the tests revealed useful information and the diet changes had a big impact.  I knew I was on the road to recovery and I had found a purpose for all the pain I had endured.  My purpose is to help others improve their health and avoid the intense struggles I endured through functional labs, the BioSignature method and skilled lab interpretations.

I anxiously had a new spark.  I now increased my studying to 40 plus hours per week on all things alternative or functional relating to health.  I started doing protocols on myself that I learned from Charles Poliquin.  They worked so I of course started applying them to my athletes and wow!  My athletes were losing body fat and gaining muscle stat.  I picked up my studying even more and became a Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist which enabled me to now run functional labs and look for the causes of disease and fat loss hurdles.  I loved the alternative, functional, BioSignature, holistic health information as they didn’t look at just symptom relief but would look for dysfunctions that were causing the body to be imbalanced.  I spent a year honing my skills further and added lab interpretations taught by one of my favorites Dr. Mark Schauss.  FDN lab interpretations combined with what I had learned from Mark and I could now efficiently read this new lab language and the amazing stories that functional labs can tell about an individual.  It took me another year to design a systematic approach to offer this unique and individualized method to Wilmington, NC in an organized and effective manner.  I was not in this for a quick buck; I was in for the long haul as I myself had felt the sting of spending countess dollars with no answers.  I vowed to myself, IF a client was willing to put in the effort, I would do the same myself and help guide them back to optimum health!

I knew it was working; I was feeling better, my concentration and memory were improved, my back pain was completely gone and I was consistently helping others improve their health.  It has not been easy or quick or cheap for that matter but it has all been well worth it.  The crowning jewel for me is a beautiful, perfect baby girl named Chelsea at the age of 42 and thanks to everything I have learned my wife handled the pregnancy and birth like someone half her age.   My diligence and hard work have recently been rewarded with the highest honor I can imagine – Charles Poliquin, the world’s best coach and my mentor for years recommended me as one of the top BioSignature practitioners!

This is most of my story and now you know what drives my passion.   I’m asking “What motivates you?”