For the purposes of this website, my life was pretty boring until 2005. And then out of nowhere, at the age of 24, I had a stroke.
2005 – a few months after the stroke
I had always considered myself to be pretty healthy, and had no major health issues prior to that day. The stroke occurred when some loose tissue entered the right side of my pons (part of the brain stem), causing me to lose fine motor function on my left side. Luckily, my young brain quickly recovered, and after six months of physical therapy I returned to a normal life – once I had I re-learned to walk, drive, and write (I’m left-handed).
2006 – hospitalized for a month for autoimmune diagnosis
The following year I found that I was having a hard time exercising; I remember thinking I was simply out of shape. Eventually my shortness of breath got so bad that I was winded while walking. I then spent the next month or so living in a hospital, and after many tests, the doctors agreed that I was experiencing a narrowing of my pulmonary arteries, which was causing my shortness of breath.
I was diagnosed with the rare autoimmune disease Takayasu’s Arteritis, characterized by the narrowing of arteries due to inflammation (but only rarely in the pulmonary arteries). The cause of this disease, like most autoimmune diseases, is not known. The doctors who treated me eventually concluded that my stroke was a result of inflamed tissue breaking off from my artery and entering the brain.
I spent the following year on immunosuppressant therapy; we tried a combination of steroids and other heavy-duty drugs, and they mostly worked. I would still get winded upon exertion, but I was able to make it through each day without major issues. But things were still far from good; my therapy was causing side effects, which in turn required other medications – a very frustrating experience. So I started looking for other options.
2007 – the day after pulmonary resectioning surgery
In the fall of 2007 I volunteered to undergo a pulmonary resectioning surgery. The doctors removed the inflamed tissue surrounding my pulmonary arteries and enlarged the arteries using bovine heart tissue. The procedure is called a standstill operation — in order to get to the arteries, they had to perform a full cardiopulmonary bypass, deep hypothermia, and full cardiac arrest. In layman’s terms, that means they rerouted my vital organs through a machine, drained a lot of blood out of my body in order to reach my pulmonary arteries, and lowered my body temperature to about 60 degrees to keep my brain alive.
2007 – a week after surgery
I had a 10% chance of not making it off the table alive due to the inherent complications associated with the surgery. It lasted about ten hours — and no, I didn’t see a bright light at the end of any tunnel, or my childhood dog, Davey (miss you, buddy). I did make it out okay, and now I have a killer scar and some crazy stories. Unfortunately, the surgery didn’t fix my issues; I was on the same amount of medication and saw no improvement in my symptoms.
2007 – immunosuppressant steroids caused weight gain and other side effects
So life went on. My continuous steroid and immunosuppressant medication therapy was starting to take its toll. I felt constantly tired and weak, and worse still was the fact that I couldn’t foresee it getting any better. I had gained 40 pounds, was osteoporotic, developed shingles and kidney stones, and was starting to experience memory issues. In order to conceive our first son, I had to temporarily wean off one of my medications, and the effect it had on my weak body was nearly fatal.
In short, I felt elderly at the age of 28.
2008 – about a year after surgery
By coincidence, in 2010 I happened across an article that mentioned this crazy diet modeled after cavemen that eliminated grains, and it could reverse autoimmune symptoms. Up until that moment, I had never really considered the connection between food and health. Within a week I had devoured all the research I could find on the Paleo diet, and decided to change the way I approach food.
2011 – about six months after adopting the Paleo diet
My inflammation markers decreased significantly within a month, and my doctors were impressed. So I decided to keep going with this new crazy diet, with some tweaks here and there. I went from a cocktail of about 15 meds a day down to just one. Thanks to the fact that I weaned off the most harmful of my medications, my wife and I were able to try again for a second child, and we welcomed Elliott into the world in 2015. I lost the extra weight, and was able to start exercising again; in 2016 I passed the Navy’s physical readiness test, the first time in nearly 12 years.
I’m not cured – there’s no mistaking that I still have a serious autoimmune condition – but changing my diet empowered me in a time when I thought I was out of options. In late 2010 I started blogging about the food I was eating, and documenting the recipes I developed; everything else just took off from there.
2014 – photo shoot for my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table