In the latest interview in my Meet a Mom series, we chat to Renee, who’s undergone a huge health transformation over the past few months. I’m sure you’ll find her story as interesting as I did.
- Tell us about yourself
My husband Alex and I live in Newlands with our 5-year old son and 3-year old daughter. I work from home as a bookkeeper/PA to a Joburg businessman and I work flexible hours so I can spend time with my kids.
- How would you describe Crohn’s disease to someone who knows nothing about it?
Crohn’s disease is an auto-immune disease, which affects the digestive tract – mine is in my small intestine. The intestine is constantly inflamed, which triggers the immune system to attack it. It’s sort of like sticking a plaster over a plaster over a plaster…eventually there are so many plasters on there that it constricts the bowel completely. This causes extreme abdominal pain and in the worst case, it ends up in surgery.
- When did you realise you had it and how has it affected your life?
My brother was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 1999, just as I was moving to London. To say the least, I lived pretty unhealthily while I was there! The state of my tummy got worse and worse but I was in complete denial that I may have the same disease as my brother.
I came home from London in 2005 and continued to live the same sort of lifestyle – I was no stranger to KFC and I always liked wine way too much! I’d occasionally do a detox and feel better for a while, but it never lasted.
Towards the end of 2010, I had the most terrible abdominal pain and was rushed to the nearest emergency room. They assumed it was appendicitis and I was sent straight off to theatre. When I woke up, I was told that there was nothing wrong with my appendix, but that it was a very advanced case of Crohn’s. I was devastated.
My new gastroenterologist explained that I would be taking immunosuppressants to stop the immune system from attacking my bowel. It didn’t work fast enough and by January 2011, I was back in hospital – this time they removed 30cm of my small intestine via a 20cm vertical cut across my bellybutton…goodbye bikini days!
In 2012, I got married and fell pregnant (not quite in that order;). Halfway through my pregnancy, as my baby was growing in my belly, he squashed an adhesion caused by the previous surgery and I ended back in hospital again – they had to remove another 25cm of my small intestine! It was the most stressful few days of my life, but thanks to my rockstar surgeon, it turned out okay.
I was unmedicated until my son was about 5 months old and then put back on the immunosuppressants. The immunosuppressants certainly kept the Crohn’s disease at bay, but I was sick all the time, since I had no immune system to speak of. Everyone else would get a cold, I would nearly die of the flu.
Last year was probably my worst year of health. I had a chest infection and took a total of 4 courses of antibiotics and 2 courses of cortisone over 6 months, but by September I was still coughing and beyond fed-up. Being constantly sick makes you a grumpy mom and wife and generally no fun to be around.
I was then given a book called “The Autoimmune Solution” by Dr Amy Myers. Much of it was like reading my own story but Dr Myers suggests that in fact autoimmune diseases ARE reversible, merely by cutting inflammatory foods from your diet – no medication required. I had nothing to lose, so I dumped my meds and tried the diet. Two weeks later, my chest infection was finally a thing of the past. Another two weeks later and I felt 10 years younger.
- I know there has been a complete transformation in the way you’ve treated your condition recently. Tell us more about these changes.
The major changes are dietary – I only eat meat, fish, vegetables (excluding the nightshades – potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, chillies) and fruit. No gluten, dairy, sugar, grains, beans, eggs, nuts, seeds, corn or soy – and no alcohol or caffeine! It’s a long list of nos. After doing it very strictly for a couple of months, I occasionally try one of the foods from the “no” list, but they generally make me feel unwell and it’s not worth it. Apparently once my gut is completely healed, I should be able to have some of these foods again occasionally (but gluten and dairy are never to be reintroduced).
- How has this impacted on your health?
Overall, I feel fantastic. I’ve lost weight and my skin has improved dramatically (I’ve always been prone to extreme dry skin and that’s no longer an issue). Since I’ve been feeling SO MUCH better and have much more energy, I’ve really gotten into my fitness again too.
My new diet has impacted on how I feed my family as well – read those labels! I try to avoid processed foods and I buy organic fruits and veggies where I can. I’ve cut dairy down so that my family only uses one 750ml bottle of farm fresh milk per week. My daughter, who’s had a runny nose since I can remember, is now snot-free! I’ve also cut back on gluten wherever I can, but I certainly find it challenging – especially for their lunchboxes.
- Any advice to those who may be experiencing the same thing?
The book I mention by Dr Myers was an eye-opener for me. I’ve always been a great believer in Western medicine and, to be honest, I didn’t think her diet strategy was going to work. After it became clear that it was in fact working, I found a GP who also practices homeopathy to guide me along. I needed a “real” doctor to tell me that it was okay to dump my medicine and eat my way to health instead. I’m certainly very loathe to give any health advice, but it’s been such a huge turnaround for me that I’d strongly recommend for other Crohn’s sufferers to at least start by reading the book. Hopefully it will help you as much as it helped me.
*Material in this interview is not intended as medical advice – you should always consult a doctor if you need guidance on a medical condition.