From Tragedy to Triumph: My Personal
Journey From Sickness to Health
Most of us enter this world with great fanfare, few
problems, and no serious health problems. Unfortunately, disease
catches many of us later on in life. I was an unlikely candidate
for debilitating disease. My father is a naturopathic physician and
a chiropractor who made every effort to help his family live the healthy
lifestyle he advocated in his practice.
My mother gave birth to me at home with the assistance of four
naturopathic students in Portland, Oregon, and I was given no potentially
hazardous immunizations. We ate all of the "healthy foods"
known at the time. When one of my friends came to our house, he said
that he wished he had visited the store on the corner first to get some
food he "recognized." He just wasn't too sure about rice milk, soy cheese,
or tofu burgers.
I also grew up with a good understanding of the Bible because of the
devotion of my parents, who attended a messianic Jewish (Jewish people
who believe Jesus is the Messiah) congregation outside of Atlanta,
where my family moved after my second birthday.
Throughout childhood and in high school, I was rarely ill-I took
antibiotics less than five times. Since I had never been hospitalized, I
had no idea what it was like to be in a hospital. I was happy, a good student,
and very involved in my local messianic and church ministries.
At the age of seventeen, I went to Florida State University in
Tallahassee, Florida, on an academic and athletic scholarship. My
extracurricular activities included a spot on the FSU cheerleading
squad, campus ministry, singing in a traveling vocal group, and serving
as chaplain of my fraternity.
Disease can arrest your fondest dreams and place your life on hold-sometimes
permanently. The first signs that my health was failing were
periodic feelings of extreme exhaustion, which occurred during my stint
as a summer camp counselor. I had always enjoyed an abundant energy
level, but I actually fell asleep while riding the bus with some of my camp
kids, who kept calling, "Jordan! Wake up!" It was embarrassing to say the
least, and it soon became a regular occurrence.
My energy never returned, and without warning I faced an
onslaught of other health problems, including nausea, stomach cramps,
painful mouth sores, and recurring diarrhea. Believing these were temporary
symptoms, I committed to attending a weeklong overnight camp
four hours from home.
Up Close and Personal With Primitive Bathrooms
Most healthy people consider it difficult to camp out in Florida's simmering
summer heat, and my unending nausea made it virtually impossible.
The usual "camp chow" wasn't helping. I gulped down quarts of sugary
iced tea and became well acquainted with the camp's primitive outdoor
bathrooms. I literally ran to the bathroom fifteen or twenty times daily;
as a result, I lost twenty pounds in seven days!
I had an "iron stomach" until that time. When TV commercials
played for digestive products, I used to wonder what it felt like to have
heartburn or diarrhea. Suddenly I "knew the feeling." These symptoms of
extreme sickness and fatigue finally forced me to abruptly leave the camp.
A friend had to drive me home because I was too sick to drive myself.
To spare my mom and dad concern, I delivered an Academy Award
performance to hide my illness. I didn't want them to block my return
to college, scheduled for ten days later. If I can just hang on until school
starts, everything will be fine, I thought to myself. I just need to get back
into the swing of things. I visited a local family doctor and told him about
my nausea, constant diarrhea, weight loss, "cottonmouth," and fatigue.
He immediately tested for viruses (including AIDS). The tests were all
negative, which made sense, considering I had never had a blood transfusion
or been sexually active. Finally, the doctor prescribed antibiotics
and sent me home.
Lean and Mean-but Back in School
Back at Florida State University, the severe gastrointestinal problems
continued although I took the antibiotics faithfully. I tried to ignore what
was happening to my body, but the symptoms forced me to discontinue
my extracurricular activities. I was still active in my local college church
ministry, but I quit the cheerleading squad and the fraternity, and I
stopped studying for my American College of Sports Medicine exam.
I dropped to 145 pounds from my normal 180 pounds, and I felt as if
I was falling apart. Each night I suffered a 104-degree fever and got little
sleep between endless trips to the bathroom.
My Father's Dietary Supplements
When I finally explored the nutritional collection my father had packed
for me, I found acidophilus, aloe juice, digestive enzymes, fiber supplements,
and many other herbal and nutritional products. I made myself
believe those products would help me get well.
That was my introduction to what I like to call the "hamster wheel
of alternative medicine." Through the years of searching for ways to
restore my health, I have come to believe that, while alternative medicine
and dietary treatments can sometimes be better alternatives to
certain medications, most diets and supplements tend to "over-promise
In spite of the natural supplements I was taking, my symptoms
grew worse, and I was continually hungry. Food just seemed to go right
through me. I usually stuck to my "healthy" diet until my friend who
worked at a sorority kitchen would bring home leftovers. That sent the
diet right out the window.
I lived with seven other guys, and we never missed an opportunity
to give each other a hard time. We had a central message board used for
jokes, harassing messages, and sometimes "constructive and hilarious
criticism" for one another. One of my best friends wrote me a message
that accurately reflected my changing physical appearance: "Hey,
Jordan, Pee Wee Herman called. He wants his body back!" That may
sound cruel, but I laughed, determined to keep a good sense of humor.
I struggled to attend classes, but I avoided telling my parents how ill I
was because I didn't want to leave school. One day as I walked to my
music class, my hip cracked as if it had dislocated. I started to realize that
something was seriously wrong.
My gastrointestinal problems had become "systemic," which means
the pain spread to my joints and other parts of my body. My hip constantly
popped out of its socket. I even suffered minor dislocations getting
in and out of cars.
I tried different diets along with nutritional supplements after
I learned the "cottonmouth" sensation in my mouth indicated oral
"thrush," which is caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. My
father put me on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to help alleviate the
thrush and the diarrhea.
Desperation and a Difficult Diet
Although the diet has reportedly helped some people relieve symptoms,
it was difficult for me to follow-especially at college. Unfortunately, I
didn't have the self-discipline to stay on such a rigorous diet for very
long, and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet didn't relieve my symptoms.
Bathrooms became my obsession. Every life decision hinged on the
question, where's the nearest bathroom? My friends stopped inviting me
on long drives or to activities in isolated locations. Although I prayed
constantly and kept a positive attitude as much as I could, the symptoms
refused to cooperate, and relentless misery began to overwhelm me.
Dad Took One Look and .
Finally I admitted to my parents how sick I was, and they arranged a
flight home for me the very next day. When I walked in, Doctor Dad
took one look at me and strode into action. He took my temperature (it
read 105 degrees) and put me into a bathtub packed with ice cubes. As I
shivered in the ice water, confused and delirious, I didn't know what was
happening, but I remember hearing my dad cry out, "My God, I don't
want my son to die."
The next morning I made my first ever visit to a hospital, hoping to
receive a "cure-all" prescription so I could get back to school. Instead,
the "visit" lasted two full weeks! Depression set in as I lay in bed with
intravenous fluids and antibiotics going into each arm. It didn't help that
the incessant news coverage on TV was the Federal Building bombing
in Oklahoma City.
My body was so overridden by infection that inflammation had set
in. Doctors prescribed two highly toxic intravenous steroid medications
and put me through every test imaginable. I received more x-rays in two
weeks than most people receive in a lifetime. The radiologists scanned
my upper and lower gastrointestinal tracts; I felt as if they conducted
deluxe tours of my gut with a full-sized TV camera!
The results weren't encouraging. The doctor diagnosed Crohn's disease
(actually, it was Crohn's colitis), an abnormal inflammation of the
small bowel and colon that causes the intestinal wall to thicken. As this
disease progresses, eventually the bowel channel narrows and blocks
the intestinal tract, robbing it of its ability to absorb nutrients.
One of the "Chosen Few"-Victims
As an added complication, I also had marked duodenitis, an inflammation
of the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) that afflicts
less than 1 percent of Crohn's disease patients. As a result, I was literally
starving to death, so I was put on "total parenteral nutrition" (TPN) to
put nutrients directly into my bloodstream.
Infection and pain raged through my body while emotional chaos
gripped my mind as I tried to cope with this incurable diagnosis of
Crohn's disease. Little did I know that my nightmare was just beginning.
My doctor said I could expect to live a "normal life," except for the
lifelong need for medication and "a few surgeries." I would be able to
father children, but only if I "switched medications" during the process
Facing the Facts
Though I was not familiar with Crohn's disease, I soon learned that,
according to the disease's pattern, my future looked bleak. Crohn's
victims experience progressive symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea,
extreme weight loss, and perhaps premature death. I was told that
medications would keep me alive, but I quickly discovered that their side
effects were nearly as bad as the disease itself. Science knew of no cause
or cure for Crohn's at the time, and my prognosis was very poor.
Dr. Burrill Crohn discovered Crohn's disease in the early 1900s; one
of the most famous persons to be diagnosed with the disease was former
President Dwight Eisenhower. No one knows for sure, but doctors estimate
between 400,000 to 1,000,000 people suffer from Crohn's disease,
with 20,000 or more new cases each year. At this writing, diagnoses
of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis)
have increased dramatically-less than a decade after my diagnosis.
According to some literature, an incredible 85 percent of Americans
have suffered from some kind of digestive problem. About two out of
every ten Americans have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome,
the sales of heartburn medications are booming, and some experts predict
Crohn's disease may eventually surpass ulcers as the number one
digestive problem in the United States.
Embarrassed by my symptoms, I simply told my friends I was sick
and avoided details. I desperately hoped to return to school. Naively, I
thought the doctor's "magic bullet" prescriptions would make me well,
but health by medication wasn't working. I graduated from intravenous
drugs in the hospital to oral medications such as prednisone at home.
The first day I took the oral form of prednisone at home, the steroid
triggered hallucinations and I began crying uncontrollably. (I also took
mesalamine for ulcerative colitis and the antimicrobials Flagyl and
Diflucan for the chronic thrush.)
For good measure, the doctors also put me on ciprofloxacin (Cipro),
the drug of choice for nonspecific bacterial infections. I topped off this
medical cocktail with regular doses of Zantac for the searing heartburn
caused by the other medications!
Nighttime Became My Worst Nightmare
Despite all the medications, my condition failed to improve. I still rushed
to the bathroom up to thirty times a day. Most of my stools were now
bloody, and the severity of the cramps made me want to pull my hair out
or bang my head against the wall. But if my days were rough, my nights
The persistent nocturnal diarrhea produced chronic sleep deprivation.
My bathroom visits continued 2417, occurring every forty-five
minutes to an hour. Only rarely did I get more than an hour of unbroken
sleep per night. For more than a year, I existed in a state of fatigue and
exhaustion-and for good reason. I had an almost unheard of serum iron
level of 0 despite my daily iron injections.
Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying
protein in the blood. My low serum levels of albumin indicated I was
suffering from a severe wasting disease (cachexia) as well as low immunity
and rapid deterioration of all body tissues. My body just wasn't
absorbing nutrition, which contributed to my starvation!
Creating More Problems!
My digestive system wasn't absorbing nutrients, a condition called
"malabsorption syndrome." And so many toxic drugs were prescribed
that their chemical interactions created even more problems than my
disease. Taken together, it was quite a shock for a nineteen-year-old
who had never been hospitalized before.
Like so many Americans, I did not understand how important the
gastrointestinal tract or gut is for optimum health. The gastrointestinal
system is an engineering marvel and a creative wonder. It is home to a
host of bacteria and other microorganisms, some that are good for the
body and some that are pathogenic or "bad."
Scientific and medical research has shown that a proper balance
between these intestinal bacteria is key to long-term health.
Unfortunately, the modern American diet is literally a candy store for
the bad bacteria in the human gut. These bad bacteria love the same
sugars, high-carbohydrates, and refined foods that we do.
The final blow to my health was caused by this bacterial imbalance
in my digestive system (dysbiosis), which led to the breakdown of my
body's immune barrier.
A Walking Medical Encyclopedia
Cutting-edge medical researchers now believe that life and death begin in
the digestive tract. If your digestive system breaks down, you will likely
encounter a host of seemingly unrelated but debilitating illnesses. In the
following chart I have listed the disease conditions that were working in
my body, with the hope that if you see yourself or a loved one in this profile,
you will take courage that your health can be restored as mine has been.
MY PERSONAL DISEASE PROFILE
Chronic candidiasis (or yeast overgrowth): I had the
highest level possible.
Entamoeba histolytica, a parasite that causes
Cryptosporidiosis, a protozoan infection that
causes severe intestinal illness
Incipient diabetes (with extremely poor circulation):
My lower leg was purple.
Jaundice (besides other liver and gallbladder problems)
InsomniaHair lossEndocarditis, a heart infection
Eye inflammationProstate and bladder infectionsExtreme anemia: My serum ferritin [iron] level was
0 for over twelve consecutive months.
Chronic electrolyte imbalance due to dehydration
Elevated C-reactive protein indicates chronic
inflammation and bacterial infection, pointing to
increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Anemia indicates a shortage of red blood cells in
the bloodstream. Only red blood cells carry oxygen
to muscle tissues and organs.
Chronic fatigue is a mysterious ailment that
includes symptoms of unceasing fatigue,
headaches, weakness, aching muscles and joints,
and the inability to concentrate.
Arthritis is marked by joint inflammation, stiffness,
and pain. My immune system was mistakenly
attacking itself. (Crohn's disease is thought by
some to be autoimmune in origin. Perhaps my
body had begun attacking my own joints.)
Leukocytosis is an abnormal increase in white
blood cells-especially immature cells.
Malabsorption syndrome: My body was unable to
absorb sufficient nutrients from food, so no matter
how much I ate, I was still starving.
Things just got worse despite the treatments I had received in the hospital.
I wasn't able to participate in any of life's activities. I was used to being
the ringleader who gathered people together, instead, now I told my friends,
"No, I can't come." "No, I really can't do that." I felt bad for my friends who
called and wanted to visit. I felt I was disappointing them, along with my
parents, my sister, and my grandparents. They were all suffering as a result
of my illness, and realizing that filled me with feelings of guilt.