My name is Basha Gerstenfeld.
I am a student doctor of natural medicine and a board certified holistic health practitioner. I study the amazing field of Psychoneuroimmunology. This field, first emerging in 1970, looks at the effect of the mind on health and resistance to disease. Having a better outlook on life with stress management profoundly influences health and illness. I have my bachelor's degree in Psychology, as well as in Holistic Health Science. I hold a Masters in Natural Medicine, and a certification in keto health coaching.
My goal is to provide innovative, research-backed technology and herbal medicine to the public to better their health. I hope to graduate with my DNM and PhD upon the completion of my clinic hours which I provide to you!
My Health & Career Journey
Short story long...
I was every doctor's worst nightmare; symptomatic and subclinical. In my journey, I have learned that 75% of people are functional (lacking obvious diseases but are not quite healthy), 20% are healthy, and roughly 5% or so are sick. I was part of the majority of people who felt not quite right. Illness, and disease are very different. Illness is how we feel, and disease is an organic, physical manifestation like a tumor, a pathogen, or arthritis. It is measurable. Health is not the absence of disease, which is really important for doctors to understand as well as patients who have beaten themselves up for a problem that is not yet visible. Medical science, humans, and diagnostic criteria are very far from perfect. To attest to this fact, I have a friend with neuroendocrine tumors who was mistreated for lupus for 8 years before they realized it was cancer.
I first felt very out of my skin when I was about 11 or 12. I was super athletic and was always involved in a sport. I practiced gymnastics since I was 8 and felt that my body was suddenly being taken over by someone else who might not have ever touched a balance beam before, gone running, or spent hours in the gym. I also experienced a complete lack of stamina at age 14 that is unable to be improved through any amount or pattern of exercise. It was at 16 when I had to quit gymnastics. The problem persists to this day, a decade or so later, still undetected by modern science, as incredible as it is. I first started experiencing palpitations at random times, exercise intolerance/ dyspnea (not being able to catch my breath, quick exhaustion, tachycardia), and chest pain. It got so bad that it felt like my heart would explode out of my chest if I climbed 2 flights of stairs without a pause. As years went on, I also experienced odd rashes that made my face feel like sandpaper, stomach upset, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, heat intolerance, hypermobile and subluxating (partially dislocating) of many joints, severe burning in my stomach, muscle and joint aches, constant colds, melancholy, bruising legs, allergies to everything, brain fog...you name it.
The two most devastating consequences of my dyspnea have been the forced cessation of practicing martial arts, which I had done passionately for 4 years, and a near-death experience. I was at the beach one day and wanted to swim out to the sandbar not too far ahead. There were about 20 people there already. Within 20 seconds of swimming, I suddenly lost my breath, got very tired, and started breathing very heavily because my body wasn't getting enough air. I felt my heart beating out of my chest. I realized I was exactly half way between the shore and the sandbar. I had to make a decision that would instantly change my life. Or I would drown. I had no energy to swim in either direction for even a second longer, but realized if I swam to the sandbar, I might get stuck there without help, in the middle of the ocean. The thought was terrifying. I knew I couldn't rely on anyone. I was actually with my cousin at this time who failed to realize how much I was struggling, offering help if I needed it. I suddenly said I was in trouble and had to go back. No help was given.
The more my lungs begged for air and made me breathe, the less air I seemed to get. It wasn't helping. I forced myself, against human nature, against my own body, to slow my breathing. I was getting lightheaded. I realized if I were to hold my arm up to signal the lifeguard for help, I would sink quickly. I heard my mom's voice in my head and remembered her telling me that if I was ever drowning to float on my pack and paddle gently with my arms along the coastline. I did just that. (Thank you, mom). I asked my cousin a few times if the shore was near. I couldn't look back. All my efforts went into surviving. I couldn't die like this. Miraculously, I made it to the shore, very nauseous. I sat on the sand, looking at the water, and pondered my own weakness when I was tested against nature. If I were anyone else but me, without the insane will (and just enough strength) to survive, I wouldn't have. It was more than near-death. It was happening. I felt what it was like to decide between life and death- and nearly missing. That level of consciousness remained as a permanent mark on my personality.
In many efforts to solve the very unusual dyspnea problem, I have had heart monitors, ultrasounds, and stress tests- all revealing nothing. Beta blockers did nothing to help calm my erratic heart. I also had an exploratory ablation surgery/ electrophysiology study, where the cardiologist put a catheter through my leg and up to my heart, stimulated it with a bunch of adrenalin (my actual worst nightmare), and still found nothing wrong with my heart. I was put out and actually felt a severe stabbing pain in my leg from the catheter, and woke up during surgery and felt every last bit like Frankenstein as they electrified my heart to the point of severe tachycardia. (Not to mention it was Halloween). I was a modern-day Frankenstein. I was really afraid for my safety then as well, feeling like if the intense pounding didn't slow down, I would have a heart attack right there on the cold slab of a surgical table. They found no hyperactive part of my heart to ablate (burn). I was woken up, told they couldn't help me, and I just remember being really upset and screaming; "Everyone is getting help but me!" It was a really dark time in my life. My cardiologist sees me the following week, and despairingly states, "Maybe you have dysautonomia. That is my last guess." The term was so elusive, that those words held little meaning for me. I left this part of my life on the back burner, exiting with no treatments.
Since then, I've seen an immunologist who actually discovered I had mild asthma, as revealed on a routine lung function report. I had to blow out the imaginary candles on the monitor with all my strength with the goal of blowing out all the candles. I did as I was instructed, but the nurse repeated the instructions, thinking my subpar results were from insufficient efforts. "Blow them out with all your strength!" I did so again, and I still barely blew out 4 of 10 candles. My immunologist reviewed the report and took it seriously. Once he heard my cardiology journey, he and I both felt there was something more going on, and he sent me to get a pulmonary function test (PFT). I thought I'd finally get answers. BUT, it came back normal, showing only mild asthma. The immunologist agreed that my results did not explain the severity of my symptoms. I refused to take steroids and found herbs that were even more effective than the best mast-cell stabilizers. I was after having less symptoms, not more.
I was then sent to get a higher tier test- a metabolic stress test (MST). That test results came back normal as well, only suggesting that I was "deconditioned," AKA unfit. The new doctor asked if I worked out, and I said not much these days. He tried to pass that off as an explanation for my windedness. I said it made no sense, seeing as I only stopped martial arts because of the problem-which always worsened upon exercise. Needless to say, he had no good explanations, but told me about a test I should take- the master of all tests: the invasive cardiopulmonary exercise test (iCPET). The invasive form of this test is the highest tier test that detects issues that no other test does, and it tests other, more common problems in a much more efficient way. To this day, I have yet to take it. Two years ago, the test at Massachusetts General Hospital without insurance was $38,000. The one in town is $63,000, as they don't take my insurance (which is crazy). Very fortunately, I now have good insurance and asked Mass Gen for the price estimate again. IT IS FREE!!!! Just the other day, in 2021, I discovered this and feel like I really won the lottery. The medical test I desperately need to live a normal life with normal breathing and exercise capacity is free. This journey is to be continued! I hope to complete the test within 2021.
Going back, when I was 16, I remember sitting in bed thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I looked on my bookshelf and saw a manual for craniosacral therapy that was given to me by a healthcare practitioner. The idea struck me. I want to be a holistic doctor! Why hadn't I seen it before? I loved all kinds of alternative healing modalities. That year, I became certified in reiki level 1. I also learned about crystal healing- a method that may seem more magical than scientific, but when you delve into it, you will find out all the ways which humans use crystals for their natural energetic properties. Think of Swiss watches, lasers, and how atoms are shifted around in quartz rocks to strike a fire for camping purposes. Most watches today use what is called 'quarts movement,' where the watch's battery sends electrical currents through the crystal component creating electricity within the crystal and creating 33 vibrations per second. This drives oscillating movement which powers the motor to move the watch hands. In terms of health, a crystal's vibrational energy mingles with our own, and we can manifest healing. I used this to rekindle a broken family bond and find forgiveness. It was no small feat.
In my last year of high school, I kept busy, applying to colleges that would get me on the path of becoming a naturopathic doctor (ND). I had gone through a lot of family troubles by then and was living with one of my parents in a trailer. I didn't let anything phase me. I actually first lived in the trailer at 15, and for a third time at 21. I had the knee surgery at that point, and recovered in that trailer.
Looking back on high school for a moment, a silver lining of all my struggles as a young person was that I won the True Grit Award during graduation. The principal had previously announced that there would be a surprise winner. It was a beautiful moment that made my struggles feel so rectified. It was something I truly earned. Something funny was that I felt that I might win this, but during graduation, the announcer first accidentally announced someone else's name. I totally waited for them to hurriedly announce the right name. And they did!
The day after high school, I got my drivers license, and the day after that, I moved across the country by myself and began a Biology major. I felt that naturopathy was the path for me. Due to stress and life events, I was discouraged from this path and quit college for the first time after one year. I felt that it sucked my creativity (and soul) dry. I also had little emotional support or peers because it is not a common field or one that people often know about. I needed guidance. I took a year off, thinking I would never go back. During that year, I completed massage therapy school, which I loved. I was still unhappy with life in general and moved back to my hometown. I got a job at a spa, but the clientele was sparse. I then cooked and prepped food in my father's restaurant for the next year. I had the idea of studying for my bachelors in alternative medicine to use to get into grad school for my ND. I signed up and paid for classes, and then quit almost immediately due to family and life events. I was so discouraged. I had wanted to be a naturopathic doctor and study that in grad school, but with all of these struggles and lack of support in this obscure field, I let the notion go. I quit college for the second time. The year progressed, and I continued to work for my Dad. In my mind, college was dead and over. I learned a lot about life then. And about other people.
After having arthroscopic knee surgery (one of the most difficult experiences of my life) and physical therapy at age 21, I decided I wanted to be a physical therapist more than anything in the world, and spent the next 8 years working rigorously at this goal, working on my BS in Athletic Training (AT-which is like rehab and sports medicine for athletes). Not all my credits transfered, so I was technically a freshman twice...and only a junior for 1 semester. After a very stressful year in AT, I switched majors. Again. I couldn't burn out before grad school. I thought about Biology again, but remembered how un-gifted I was at math. I was lost and about to quit college for the THIRD time. I spoke to a school counselor and family friend, and was lead on the path of Psychology. I had no idea this was the right path for me. But it was.
Throughout my 4.5 years of undergrad (excluding the intermission), I was on a separate (but not so separate) journey to discovering what was wrong with my health. I was gaining a bit of weight slowly and steadily without any diet or major lifestyle changes. After healing from surgery, I maintained the gym and martial arts, sometimes exercising rigorously for 4 hours, 3 times a week. And once more if I felt energetic. I got my red belt in Krav Maga! This was around the time when I began my whole cardiovascular exploration and had to wear a heart monitor on for a week, even while in bootcamp class at the dojo. That story ended with no conclusions. I also saw a myriad of other specialists. I saw an endocrinologist who misdiagnosed me with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Two out of three criteria need to be met for this diagnosis, and I only had one. I only had mildly elevated testosterone. I realized my endocrinologist was wrong and begged her to help me find an answer for my symptoms. She said she could find nothing wrong and that maybe I needed therapy. I basically tore her a new one for being so heartless and naive.
I knew from that point on that just because something is unknown, doesn't make it nonexistent
Or as some say, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
During these undergrad years, I also saw holistic-minded PAs. Although having somewhat of a thorough model for medicine, it was still too mainstream and didn't test for insulin resistance properly. I suspected it for a while now, but showed up as normal on almost every test. I went to a reproductive endocrinologist and found no answers, but gained a bit of medical knowledge along the way. I went to gastroenterologists and GI-focused PA's- all excellent in their field. But it wasn't them who was wrong. It was the model of medicine. More on this when I mention Dr. Berg. I even got an endoscopy for $25 while I was briefly living in Ukraine in 2018. Everything was normal. There was no explanation for nausea, and I wasn't somehow absorbing more nutrients than I was supposed to. My medical knowledge was still developing.
I had gone through a near-death experience at 14 because I was unknowingly starving myself. I got some kind of food poisoning then-at the worst time ever, and it felt like everything including my very life-force was expelled from my body. I consider this to be the worst day of my life... I was 14. I did not understand my body and didn't know I had certain conditions. I started not eating very much at all. Maybe I'd have a few cheerios a day. Then once, when I decided to have a prepared meal elsewhere, I got violently sick. To this day, I don't know what happened. Either I had become anorexic without knowing it (It's impossible to decipher anorexia when you have lipedema. Google "lipedema anorexia")- and then I suddenly ate a normal amount of food, which is dangerous, OR I had some kind of severe food poisoning to the packaged food. Or both. It just compounds whatever problem was there with the food. Nobody where I was believed me when I told them I wasn't feeling well and that I was about to get sick. I wasn't home. I was left alone for hours. I got very very sick. I was vomiting, and worse. It was a disaster that wouldn't end. My body doesn't always know when enough is enough, and will react strongly or even violently to toxins. I learned just recently though genetic testing that I have less superoxide dismutase (SOD) and capacity to handle toxins. Even awful canola oil makes me nauseous. There was one other girl who saw what was happening to me. She knew I was desperately dehydrated and on the verge of death, and she brought me water. She was the only one who cared. She saved my life with that cup of water. I think she was the one who told the others that I really was sick. So, after hours of being ignored by everyone and violently ill, someone finally took me seriously and called 911. It doesn't matter what age you are; when you are about to die, you just know it. As I slowly sipped on the cup of water in her hand from where I lay, I promised I would name my kid after her. She saved my life and was the only one around who cared. Although I will not be having kids, I will honor her here by mentioning her name; Venus. She taught me the value of listening to those who aren't listened to by anyone else.
I was NOT rushed to the ER (and should have been) for severe dehydration and poisoning. These people made me walk outside the building and all the way around to another building to a stretcher. It wasn't even brought to the front of the building I was in. There was zero excuse for this other than cruelty. I remember they were not able to give me any good explanation for why I they couldn't bring the stretcher to where I laid. I had zero energy to walk, but I somehow did. I never thought I would make it. That was the single most painful and horrible day of my life.
I almost died at 14. But here I am.
At this time, I was mid-bachelor's . I was well on my way to self discovery via this incredible world of medicine that I loved long before I needed it myself. I was never a great math student, so I needed to take things a bit slower and focus very hard. I remember my very first time struggling with math in 4th grade. I understood everything that was going on, took a test, and my teacher sullenly and gently told me I got every question wrong. I've struggled tremendously and worked too hard at it ever since. I remember a 7th grade math teacher told me I couldn't do anything except add and subtract. Ouch! I was pushed back to the lowest level math, and somehow managed to progress in school. I was pretty good at everything else, especially creative subjects and writing. In college, the struggle continued. I would study in the math lab up to 8 hours every day (night) after regular classes. When the math tutors went home, I went home. Sometimes I would have to work out on the soccer field or in the athletic training clinic until midnight. I would then take a bus home- if I was even able to catch the last bus. Sometimes I couldn't. I was also waking up at 5:50 AM to catch the morning bus to make it to my Emergency Response class at 8. Not fun times. But I always loved medicine. I tried twice and failed miserably at Chemistry, a prerequisite for almost any kind of medical school.
Also during this time, I had a nutritionists, horrible appetite suppressants, and self-hate (along with blame coming from others), only to find that the efforts to exercise more and eat less made me gain weight and lose muscle mass!!! Turns out increased cortisol from exercising makes people gain weight and it eats up muscle. I was never very big, but I was still not in my own body. I WAS AN ATHLETE. I loved veggies, and was obsessed with health by the time I was 12. This is so sad. I believe that one of the worst and most painful diseases in the world is anorexia. I didn't look anorexic, but that was because of 2 underlying health conditions that I will reveal below. So at age 20, after medical science failed my own physiology, my nutritionist accused me of cheating on my diet. And from then on, I learned even more to only deeply trust myself. Even if no answers were present yet.
A year or two after graduation when I was in my mid 20's, I was back online, searching for an explanation as to why I was gaining weight, especially in my legs- not my stomach like in PCOS. For whatever reason, I must have finally typed in the right phrases in regards to weight and legs, because the answer appeared in front of me. It was never suggested before, and I never heard of it in my entire life.
An adipose tissue disease almost exclusively affecting women, where there is a proliferation of fat cells in the legs, depositing bilaterally and evenly. It gives a very nodular, cellulite texture and can be very painful, even with light touch. It can create 'column legs' and ankle cuffs for some. It happens in stages, and in the worst case can turn into lipo-lymphedema. It clinically differs from all other diseases including obesity and lymphedema. Lymphedema involves stagnant fluid-lymph in the extracellular matrix. Lipedema is fluid and fat built up in the fat cells themselves, and growing exponentially. It is a truly devastating and demoralizing disease. I almost starved and died from this disease.
A sensation washed over me. I knew this was me. The feeling of getting my first answer was unparalleled and unimaginably gratifying. I read articles furiously that week and told nobody of my discovery. I had to make sure. It took a few months to find the right kind of doctor who knew about and could diagnose lipedema. I saw a great vascular doctor, Dr. Carmel Celestin at Cleveland Clinic. I said nothing about my new discovery, wanting an objective opinion. I told her my symptoms; bilateral and increasing leg adiposity, easy bruising and leg pain. She did a full evaluation and then looked at me. She said "Have you ever heard of Lipedema?" And I got my first official diagnosis. My oldest brother, being a lawyer, encouraged verification. I went for a second opinion and got the same objective answer. Lipedema. I went to see America's best lipedema specialist, Dr. Karen Louise Herbst in Arizona- a place I vowed, for other reasons, I would never return to. She gave me two full hours of her undivided attention, and I learned an incredible amount from her. She diagnosed me with lipedema and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) on the same day. Revolutionary. Dr. Herbst was the first person to suggest I also and POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), which was the kind of dysautonomia (dysfunctional nervous system) that I would later be diagnosed with. This was the third puzzle piece. I was finally able to go for testing a few years later.
Ehlers Danlos Syndrome:
This a genetic condition involving a collagen mutation. To oversimplify this, EDSers are very hypermobile with slow wound healing. Anything with collagen is affected (ligaments, bone, stomach lining, and skin). This even explained my other GI symptoms. Looking back, this was why I tore my ACL in the first place and had knee surgery. I could barely walk for 3 years, and then had a very difficult time healing after knee surgery. My grandfather also got knee surgery at the same exact time as me, and he healed 6 months faster than me. It took me 12 months to heal and walk normally again. The PTs never understood why I still needed crutches a few weeks after surgery, and I never knew I wasn't supposed to need them anymore. I did physical exercises meant for others in the same healing timeframe I was in, only my body wasn't healing fast enough and wasn't ready. So some of the PT actually set me back to the beginning of the healing process. It was very painful but eventually helped so much. I was inspired by the profession and understood that it was also holistic in nature. A side note about how serious these conditions are, they have each, individually almost killed me, as I previously mentioned the worst day of my life, and other aforementioned instances.
Back to being in my mid 20's, I watched some of Dr. Berg's videos on keto and insulin resistance. I thought of how simple life would be if that were my problem. To just know... I called his radio talkshow and told him my symptoms; constant inflammation and my new lipedema diagnosis. He told me that any time there is inflammation, consider that there is insulin resistance (IR). I said I was checked so many times for that but it came back normal. I learned about the Home-IR test and how to test it properly. It can take up to 13 years to detect an insulin problem, and by then, one could be in serious danger of having diabetes. Doctors always test fasting glucose (blood sugar), but the body learns to spike insulin to clear the glucose from the blood, therefore making everything seem normal. Eventually, the body gets tired of pumping out so much insulin, and the cells become immune to it, that excess glucose is left in the blood-which happens only after so many years of exposure. Glucose is not the best way to test. The fist sign of IR will be INSULIN. Fasting insulin should be tested.
Shortly after, I found the most incredible and brilliant doctor who I truly credit for saving my life- Dr. Gloria Moreira. She happened to test everything all in the right way, and we discovered I had insulin resistance. Not only that, but she evaluated my genetics and discovered genetic predispositions for diabetes and heart disease. Immediate action ensued, and as per her recommendations, I began keto and intermittent fasting (IF). For the very first time in my entire life, I cracked the code of my own physiology, learned how insulin works, what and when to eat, and lost weight! 15 pounds is a lot for someone who never lost a single pound in their entire life- even with misconstrued attempts at self-deprecation and starvation.
I highly encourage others to follow Dr. Berg, Thomas Delauer, and Dr. Jason Fung on YouTube.
After (F-I-N-A-L-L-Y) graduating Magna Cum Laude with my BS in Psychology during my mid 20's, (and after other prerequisites in the previous years), I prepared all summer and took a physics course. During this time, I was informed that all my prerequisites and course credits had expired!!! It felt like 8 years wasted. But that's not what made me quit. If I needed to re-take some courses, I would. I was seriously relentless in accomplishing my goals. There was only one PT school in the whole country that might accept me and that didn't require Chemistry, just Physics. So I went for it. What made me quit was a realization I got from a feeling. A month into Physics 101, I felt the familiar and uncomfortable feeling that I was a freshman again for the third time, starting my college experience from scratch like everyone around me. The last 8 years flashed before me, and I thought about everything that has happened, everything I did to get this far. It was too much for such little reward. I was miserable, sitting in this classroom as I would have 8 years ago. I needed creativity and passion back in my life. I realized I no longer cared about being a DPT. I wasn't willing to spend another second being miserable for the minute chances of being accepted into a school that would further beat me into a pulp.
I stood up and walked out of that classroom, acknowledging that I was changing my life by doing so, and that the future was completely uncertain. The whole process made me really trust in my intuition and accept that it was okay not to know the future- I would be the person I was meant to be, regardless. I would find a way to help others how I wanted to. I just didn't really know...how.
Short story long...
This begins the journey to a new self-REdiscovery. After stopping college and beating myself into the ground, I figured I would try something new in the meantime while I waited for my big epiphany to happen. I took a year, during which I decided to become a private investigator (PI). I finished the course and completed the exam with a perfect score. After a lot of job hunting, I couldn't get hired, thus preventing me from completing the 2 year required internship for licensure. I had to put that job aside as well. It was actually only at this point that I went through the pulmonary testing with no answers and essentially quit my whole life. If college taught me anything, it is that it's okay to stop one path to find another. Actually, a beautiful soul I met on the first day of junior college, Raina, taught me that. I guess the lesson came full circle. She said, "If you ever find yourself on one path but need to start a different one, don't be afraid to change directions. Ever." Change is a good thing. Not all 'quitting' is bad. It liberates me so much to say that I quit my whole life and started a new one. Thank you for those wise words and confirmation, Raina. I quit school, had to quit martial arts due to extreme fatigue and dyspnea, quit PI, quit being a pescatarian which I was for 10 years and started keto, quit my painfully failing long-term relationship, and quit even the very place I lived. I packed up my life and drove 13 hours in one shot to a new and beautiful destination. I chose to live in the place where I feel I became an adult at the age of 16. This was a place where I attended wilderness camp, where I learned about myself, others, and the world. Maybe even a bit about the universe and how I fit into it. (But that's a whole other story).
25 days after moving here, I made a major decision that begins a new book. Not a new chapter, but a whole other story within my life. It was a clear break. The moment of my epiphany was to arrive. I was still working with Dr. Gloria Moreira, as she held more answers and solutions than anyone I've ever met, (alongside Dr. Herbst). She inspired me to redirect my efforts back to my original plan and passion- holistic medicine. It didn't matter than I had no idea how to achieve this goal. I was already liberated from all other career paths. I wrote up a list of all possible things I could do, and the thing I circled about 10 times that I wanted to do the most was
I had to do it. I also saw absolutely no way to do it, seeing as all ND schools were not available to me. It just so happened that when I moved, I moved in with a cousin of mine who was close friends with one of the CEOs of a school called Quantum University. Being the skeptic I was, I researched for hours every day for about 2 weeks. My initial conclusions are far from the conclusions I have today. I am so incredibly grateful for being able to attend this school and that someone had the courage and wisdom to start it 20 years ago (as I write this in 2021). I'm so grateful that there exists a school not exclusively for people who are severely left-brained. It is a place where I can learn medicine, and also think outside the box for creative healing. Since medical solutions are not 1 size fits all, creativity is absolutely needed. When this doesn't happen, you get people who fall outside the criteria for conditions (and are limited to what conditions those might be), and get discharged still being unwell. Or perhaps discharged for the 10th time for the same problem. I want to decrease this problem. This school is a school that offers a dual degree program in natural medicine: DNM- Doctor of Natural Medicine, and a Phd in Natural Medicine. I am completing both.
I never thought there was a form of medicine that could get deeper, more root-cause than naturopathic medicine. But as it turns out, this model, as amazing as it is, and as much as it offers a very wide variety of holistic modalities, is still based on a western medical model which deals only with the physical-and in 30 minutes or less. But what about the physical? Like...actual PHYSICS? And at the same time, something completely un-physical, but energetic? Even electric? This is when I discovered quantum physics. What I'm learning in quantum medicine is tying together all forms of medicine in a beautifully eloquent scientific model that is redefining the way people are healing. The quantum doctor's philosophies are based on the quantum model, where we are very much more than just our physical bodies, and those fields, those forms of energy that flow through us, connect to the physical in ways that can be empirically seen and tested. Please read my blog titled 'Quantum Medicine' to learn more about this high-tech, innovative, and ancient medical field. Without getting too specific, there are well-documented physical and philosophical theories behind the notion of consciousness and energy and how that relates to our bodies and selves. I never realized until recently how relevant and useful my degree in Psychology is! It's all coming together. I've been using my medical and physics knowledge to self-heal. Every new discovery adds to my tool belt to benefit my future healees. I am now learning how to blend traditional Chinese medicine with Ayurveda, indigenous Hawaiian medicine, energy medicine, and current medical knowledge into a special field called natural medicine and psychoneuroimmunology.
Sometimes, the root cause is not something one can see,
and that is deep.
A little PS, from Einstein;
"Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics".
But wait! I can hardly call this an epilogue. The course of my life will indeed be long, and this is merely the amuse bouche.
You're probably wondering what happened with my exercise intolerance (heart) journey.
At least, if you've made it this far, you are. As I complete this bio with my epilogue on September, 2021, there have been new developments. About half a year into my medical studies, I was reading a chapter in my textbook on heart rate variability. That's when I had a major eureka moment and realized it was my nervous system that was functioning improperly! Of course! I learned all of this in Anatomy in undergrad. The brain controls everything. I then sought a neurologist right away. I was given a massive, several-hour-long test called the full Autonomic Function Test. This has been the most difficult medical test so far.
This definitely had to be my golden answer!!
An explanation for why it is I have no stamina whatsoever and get severe chest pain.
This includes a tilt table test to see what my brain and neurotransmitters (brain hormones) are doing when my position shifts. In POTS, the brain can accidentally signal too much stimulatory hormones to secrete while doing simple tasks. I was seeking a POTS diagnosis, as it was suggested by Dr. Herbst. This was much more specific than simply dysautonomia, although how correct it was. Those with POTS have orthostatic intolerance and can get dizzy or faint upon getting up. There are too many other symptoms to list. So, this tilt table test also incorporated a blood draw to test epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenalin, noradrenalin). Then there was a valsalva test to measure heart rate variability, an EEG to see brain waves, a nerve conduction test, and an EMG (electromyograph), which is the most painful thing EVER. And guess what?
EVERYTHING CAME BACK NORMAL. UUGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
My doctor reluctantly wrote,
"...However there is evidence for orthostatic tachycardia
in the context of hypermobility syndrome, the former process
frequently associated with the latter condition."
How elusive is that? He had a bad attitude from the start. The very first thing that came out of his mouth when we met was that everyone thinks they have dysautonomia. You probably don't have it. I didn't even say a word to him yet.
You know what? I just went back in my online patient portal and he must have edited the notes after some time! He probably realized what a massive jerk he was. It now reads,
"There is evidence for POTS which is well known to be associated
with hypermobility syndromes."
Still, no treatment has been offered to me. I'm not entirely surprised, as the general stuff does nothing to me, and nobody has concrete evidence of the specific physiological abnormality. At this point in my medical journey, I have developed quite a thick skin, so as usual, I gave my search for answers a rest, knowing that there is still one out there to be discovered. I discovered that many people like me, labeled with POTS, also got negative results back. Astounding. Even such advanced technology caught nothing. And my symptoms are severe! I knew there was still a problem, even though it was not yet detectible by the means I had tried. That just means there must be another way.
Shortly after that, I discovered one of the most incredible pieces of medical technology:
The vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) implant
The Vagus Nerve Stimulator is implanted in the chest and neck, and coils wrap around the vagus nerve to electrically stimulate it. This INCREDIBLE cranial nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which does everything in the body related to rest, relaxation, and recovery. It calms things down. The PNS helps suppress heart rate, while the sympathetic nervous system increases it. The two nervous systems work together throughout the body to regulate how fast the heart beats. The PNS also relaxes sphincters, decreases sweating, reduces inflammation, promotes sleep, digestion, salivation, encourages healing, especially of the gut, relaxes the adrenal glands and cortisol production, and is generally fan-freakin-tastic.
There is some evidence to suggest it helps POTS, tachycardia, and even heart failure. It has since been my mission right now to seek the VNS implant. After so many failed attempts at getting help, I knew this was the answer. Regardless of any tests or evidence of what it definitively is I suffer from. This method is pretty extreme, but hey, my story is pretty extreme.
It has the potential to heal every one of my symptoms, including my struggling stomach. My leaky gut has been really bad this year. Because of EDS, my gut mucosal lining (made of collagen) is extremely thin. I don't make much stomach acid, but whatever I do make can easily penetrate my stomach and leech out (along with food) into my bloodstream, causing a super painful autoimmune response. My face puffs up like a marshmallow, and my MCAS can flare. Rashes everywhere. I've had several dozen stomach ulcers in 2019-2021. Too many to count. POTS and EDS are the things that make me feel like I won't live very long. It might be 5 years before I can't get out of bed, and 10 years (which is a stretch) before I die. I'm not afraid to say it. It's what I feel inside. I'm exhausted. Tired of the hospital trips, narcotics, years of emotional and physical pain. Whatever can end my suffering, I will do, and the VNS implant is it. It will allow me to continue with a more normal life so I can complete my mission to heal thy self and others.
I recently met a lady who got the implant in a trial for her severe Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis. She said she was sick for 15 years and was dying. Her GI tract was scarred and in pain, and her knees were so swollen from rheumatic inflammation that she couldn't walk. She loved to a different country to be part of the trial for 6 months and got the implant. She informed me that after her first VNS stimulation session, she didn't need to take her usual pain meds. How astounding is that?! It is very true that many diseases stem from inflammation. The implant was shown to reduce TNF-a, a very inflammatory cytokine in the body.
I asked my neurologist for a script to see a neurosurgeon. He refused to help me any further, but told me to seek a doctor dealing with neuromodulation. This is very elusive. It can by a psychiatrist, neurologist, or neurosurgeon. VERY FEW doctors in the USA deal specifically with this and are able to approve the VNS implant. I saw a neurosurgeon at the same facility, and he basically told me he was just a surgeon and not someone who can approve the implant for POTS. The first neurologist here refused to give me a script to seea specialist for this. Not for surgery approval, just to see another doc who deals with approval. No matter how I asked, he refused to help. I got fantastic, detailed referral letters from literally every other doctor of mine. One good thing that neurologist did for me was give me a list of places to seek the implant at. Then I started my hunt. I will tell you that Mayo Clinic does not currently give VNS to anyone except epilepsy patients. They rejected me right away. Langone Medical Center does do them, but there were coverage issues (this surgery is at least $20,000). They said that the way to do it is through Northwell Health. They said CMS will cover it if I'm a research participant. I was interested in helping further this area of medical science, but I was drawn to a different location:
I saw a presentation on YouTube by Dr. Andre Diedrich of VU about VNS implant research and its effects on POTS. There seemed to be hope. So much promising early research. I was inspired to become a research participant. He urged those with POTS to participate through the university. I did as was suggested in this recent 2019 video. In 2021, I contacted their autonomic clinic to start the lengthy, grueling referral process. It involved getting a detailed referral letter from my GP, getting my orthostatic vitals professionally taken by them and documented 3 times, and I had to bring all my diagnostic paperwork, tests, and medical records to my GP. She didn't play. So whilst flaring with POTS and being very weak and dizzy, I rushed around to the printer store several times in between eating to organize and print my life's history. I'll spare you the details. It was a lot. I sure as hell got it done on time for my appointment. I ended up in the hospital! From such exhaustion, dizziness, dehydration and stomach pain, I was taken by ambulance the next day to the ER where I spent 10 hours.
I would do anything to get this VNS...clearly.
Lesson learned though.
Chronic illness can not be pushed.
After several failed attempts, my doc and her staff finally faxed all the dozens of papers and referral letters to the Vanderbilt autonomic dysfunction clinic. It would then take 9 weeks to hear back from them for an appointment that would take place in 1.5 years!!!!!!!!! Gotta do what you gotta do. I waited. I heard back from them. It turned out that they don't do the VNS implant for POTS.
Deep breath. I know how things go by now. I made a list of 10 alternative solutions in case I couldn't get approval for surgery this way. There was another way I could get approved. I knew by this point that this device is only FDA approved for epilepsy and depression. Not POTS. I needed to go the depression route. Who wouldn't have depression after all this? In truth, I've been struggling on and off for years. I'd say life has a melancholic undertone, sprinkled with sporadic moments of happiness. During my 9 weeks of waiting, I had already been in communication with VU's neurosurgeon in a different department; Neuroscience. Dr. Sarah Bick. I saw her professional profile on the Vanderbilt website and just had such a good, calm feeling. I told myself, "She will be the one to give me the implant." She told me she does the implantation, and if I've tried many meds and therapies for depression without success, theres a chance I can get approved for the VNS. She said to come see her in Tennessee for consultation.
So I took my crazy ass to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee!
On 08/19/2021, I saw Dr. Bick. What a sweet, brilliant lady. We reviewed my depression history and she explained the surgery. She knew I was seeking VNS for POTS, but she saw no reason not to help me. FINALLY. Finally. Yes. But... I still didn't get a final answer for approval because, as usual, there were bumps in the road. I wasn't able to see her esteemed colleague and team member that day as was intended. Dr. William Petrie, another brilliant doctor would give the final word about approval. So, a few weeks later, I flew myself back to TN for a crazy day trip to see this psychiatrist. We reviewed my entire life and I told stories I never thought I'd re-tell. He told me that "1%, of people, maybe even less, who went through what I went through would be standing here today." I was astounded. It seemed very true. Most people who went through the amount of fuckery that I went through in life would have killed themselves. I showed him a lot of determination to get better and a lot of resilience. Somehow, I had this. This is why he approved surgery for me. They want to make sure they're not messing with anyones nervous system if they are suicidal, and that no matter the effects of neuromodulation, I will be okay. He told me and I could barely contain my joy! As the session ended, he told me that I was a very motivated individual. I had tears in my eyes. I feel like he really understood me.
After the appointment, the following day, Dr. Bick messaged me and announced that she had also approved the surgery for me and felt it was right. Words can not describe my happy feelings. I made a video labeled "I did it!" on YouTube. It is short and portrays my feelings well. Now, I wait. 2 months. I can't believe it!!! I will finally be getting the treatment of all treatments! It will help my brain, and therefore so many things. Even if my future tests reveal I have heart failure, chronic fatigue syndrome, or mitochondrial myopathy, I know it will help.
I will no longer suffer under a grey cloud.
My relative asked me why I have such intense neurological symptoms.
I replied, "Nobody gets off scott-free (from a lifetime of stress)."
This is why my practice will be dedicated to reversing the devastating effects of stress. I'm surprised I never got cancer. Dodged that bullet!
The connection between Stress and Cancer:
"...CG-GR (glucocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptor) binding normally signals homeostasis, but the HPA axis may become GR-resistant during chronic stress.
The GR facilitates a healthy immune response.
Thus, a blunted GR-sensitivity leads to weak immune responses,
suppresses proinflammatory responses, and prevents Th1 cytokine levels
from reaching the levels necessary for disease fighting.
Natural killer cells that normally prevent tumors and microbial infections
are less cytotoxic than Th1-cells, which may explain, at least in part,
the observed susceptibility to cancer during chronic stress."
(Chopra, Househam, & Peterson, 2017. The Effects of Stress and Meditation on the Immune System, Human Microbiota, & Epigenetics).
Stress switches on genes for diseases that would otherwise remain dormant. I am an extreme example of what can happen to someone from intense, long-term stress in early life. It never switches off. You have to go in there and switch it off yourself. Meditation, music, relaxation, vacation, massage, acupuncture, supplementation, or even surgery... You do whatever it takes to have a normal life.
Sometimes, we have to re-wire our brains through neuroplasticity to create a new reality.
"What fires together wires together"
~Donald Hebb & Joe Dispenza
Neurons associated with stress that are continuously firing, end up staying connected in these learned pathways. Neuroplasticity is an incredible thing to understand and take seriously. My DUTCH hormone test (something I highly recommend elusive patients like me to take) kept saying "HPA axis dysfunction" all over the place. This is the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis in the body that works as a cascade of physiological events. The 'H' signals the 'P' signals the 'A' to make hormones like adrenalin and cortisol in times of wakefullness and stress. Mine was stuck on ON. No matter what I would try to remedy the problem, no matter how relaxed I felt, my physical brain was molded and wired to be in stress mode. This, Dr. Petrie said, is what makes me a perfect candidate for the VNS implant.
As I wait for this incredible life-changing surgery, I was approved for the best test to see exactly what's wrong with my cardiopulmonary system. What weird timing, right???! After everything, medical science has finally found a way to properly evaluate me. This is the invasive cardiopulmonary exercise test (iCPET). It, I firmly believe, is the last (major) test available & the last diagnostic test I will ever need! It is scheduled 2 weeks after surgery. Yikes. But it's the end of the year, insurance policies don't last forever, and this is the first time I'm able to take it! I never had good insurance like I do now. I also had to fight tooth and nail for this, going through an appeal process, accidentally being put on a plan I never signed up for, and a bunch of other mishaps. This, I believe, was the test my first immunologist had in mind for me to take. Unfortunately, patients have to go through a process of taking lower-tier tests first. It makes sense. The cardiopulmonologist who oversaw my metabolic stress test informed me about this test and where to take it. I will say, some of the most asshole doctors I've ever had sure know how to refer patients to the best places. This test in the town next to me would cost $63,000 today, as they don't take this insurance. In Massachusetts General Hospital, this would cost $40,000 without insurance. Im extremely fortunate that my price quote is $0 with this insurance! They accept it in-network.
I will have the iCPET test done at Massachusetts General Hospital!
This is the birthplace of the iCPET, created by Dr. David Systrom. This test knows how to differentiate deconditioning (not being in shape) VS genuine diseases. It measures how much oxygen and carbon dioxide is flowing through the arteries and heart in real-time as you exercise on a stationary bike- which turns out to give more accurate answers about the heart than a moving treadmill by excluding variables. It's extraordinary. If this test doesn't capture the issue, I need to return to my home planet where others have similar anatomy as me and an explanation! Luckily, the catheter they will insert into my neck to go down to my heart will be on the right, opposite of where my implant will be in my neck. Plus, the VNS won't be turned on by that point yet, so nothing will interfere with results.
Everything is working out so well. I will have to keep very busy the next 7 weeks
until my VNS surgery and iCPET test. I'm just so excited. I can't wait to update this bio
after I finish my health journey once and for all,
and my new life begins.
It has been about two years and things have happened quite differently than planned.
I have had 2 iCPETs and no VNS surgery! I have been through a massively long process throughout these two years to try to get insurance approval for coverage for the VNS. I have appealed about 5 times, having gone through the process so many times over, and have gone through the other steps to try to get it. I hired a lawyer to draft up my appeal papers and provide evidence that this works for treatment -resistant depression (the only way this is approved if you don't have epilepsy), unfortunately), which has been proven effective through a multitude of large studies. What is crazy is that it is FDA cleared for those 2 conditions, it is just that insurance doesn't want to pay. Mental health is egregiously disregarded in the United States, and is shameful. As soon as it was FDA approved for depression, most insurance companies began to immediately report that it was not proven useful enough for depression, and failed to update their policy since 2005- exactly when it was FDA approved!
Regardless of the stellar appeal, 5 doctor recommendations for surgery from different specialties including the neurosurgeon and her team of psychiatrists (it is considered neurosurgery after all), the external reviewer who is independent of the insurance company-or supposed to be, denied coverage. They were found to have gross negligence on 6 accounts, one being that their objective is not simply to uphold the decision of the insurance company. They also didn't acknowledge the provided research. Their response was unwavering and further disregarding. They could only made another excuse for refusal, saying I hadn't gone through more mild modalities for treatment first (for depression), like TMS - transcranial magnetic stimulation or ECT- electroconvulsive therapy. ECT will for sure be outlawed in the next couple decades. It is barbaric, requires anesthesia, puts your brain through epileptic seizures while you're under, and has the very real potential of causing significant memory loss. A friend of mine did ECT and has large chunks-years of his life missing. Family has to show him pictures of events to remind him.
I chose to do TMS to please these bastards. It was very difficult, having to go in every single day without fail except weekends, and having painful snaps of energy pick at my brain like a little, but very sharp icepick.
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