By Adrienne Nolan-Smith
Adrienne Nolan-Smith was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease when she was 11 years old. After a failed course of antibiotics, doctors told her she’d just have to live with the diagnosis. Her mother refused to accept that and researched integrative therapies.
I was diagnosed with Lyme disease at age 11, ironically because my younger brother was, and my mother decided to have me tested as well. He was sick with Lyme symptoms (joint pain in his knees and learning disabilities/cognitive issues) for years before any doctors figured out what was going on. When he was finally diagnosed, they looked at me, who had severe fatigue and short term memory loss and wondered if I might have it as well. Sure enough, I did. After trying antibiotics from a conventional doctor, my brother and I both still had Lyme symptoms but no other real alternatives were offered by the conventional doctors besides more antibiotics, which my mom decided wasn’t a suitable solution. She then began a journey through the world of integrative medicine to get me and my brother better.
I can remember visiting a Chinese herbalist in Flushing, a neighborhood in Queens, New York, and having to drink some disgustingly bitter herbal teas which had anti-bacterial (Lyme is a bacteria) as well as immune-boosting properties. It stunk up our whole house, and as you might imagine, put a serious damper on my popularity for playdates.
Also for my Lyme, I took supplements with breakfast and dinner and avoided (with exceptions) dairy, processed foods and gluten, although back then we just called it wheat! About a year after my Lyme diagnosis, I wasn’t getting better and my mother took me to Minnesota to see a dairy farmer who helped us do a treatment called Hyperimmune Bovine Colostrum Therapy (HBCT). Colostrum is the first few days of a mother’s milk after she gives birth (humans and cows alike!). Hyperimmune Colostrum is produced by cows that have received vaccinations against specific disease-causing organisms (in my case Lyme). The Lyme vaccination then causes the cows to develop antibodies to fight Lyme, which then pass into the colostrum, which I then drink.It’s technically still in orphan drug phase (which means the FDA believes it can be effective but needs a drug company to pay for the clinical trials and “sponsor” the treatment to come to market).
We stayed in a Motel 6 for three weeks in the stifling heat of the Minnesota summer, going back and forth to a dairy farm swarming with flies. I had my blood taken several times (by my mother in a car!) and then packed up gallons of frozen colostrum to take back to New York. I walked around school in seventh grade with a little freezer bag for my colostrum and swished a few ounces around under my tongue every few hours. Needless to say, my twelve-year-old self thought this treatment was pretty insane.
The very last summer that I was acutely sick with Lyme, I was taken to a Hyperbaric Oxygen facility in Lancaster, PA (Amish country) for another three week stay. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) uses highly pressurizedair (three times that of normal air pressure) to hyper-oxygenate your blood (via your lungs). The oxygen travels through your body and according to the Mayo Clinic, “helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing”.I remember lying in this tanning bed looking machine every day for a few hours and just breathing deeply. Finally, my health began to turn around by the time I was about 13 or 14.
My brother took longer to recover because I believe his Lyme had been untreated for longer than mine, and his symptoms seemed more severe than mine. He was taken out of his highly competitive elementary school at age nine and went through less rigorous schools and was homeschooled for the rest of his childhood. Hs joint pain subsided sometime in his mid-late teens and his brain recovered enough for him to attend and graduate from a top tier university.
There is no one kind of treatment for everyone to kill off Lyme disease because it depends on the makeup of your gut bacteria and the strength of your immune system, whether you are battling any other viruses, parasites or bacteria at the same time, how long you’ve had Lyme untreated, whether you also got co-infections in the tick bite, and many other factors. I offer my story and what I did to get better as a place to start exploring if you’re looking for ways to treat Lyme disease, but they may not work for everyone.
I recognize now that many of the treatments my mom researched and tried for us were experimental, but she had such determination to get us better that eventually one or a combination of several (we’ll never know) of them worked to kill off the Lyme and restore my immune system’s ability to keep Lyme from rearing its ugly head. I will be forever grateful for her ability to think outside the box and ferociously research at a time pre-Google (remember Altavista?!) when information about these kinds of treatments, and about Lyme Disease in general, was not readily available. She taught me these three important lessons: knowledge is power, where this is a will there’s a way, and that the world of integrative medicine, which I previously thought of as “woo woo” and full of quacks and hippies, was really full of (mostly, I can’t speak for all) practitioners and doctors willing to think, learn and treat differently from conventional healthcare, sometimes at tremendous risk to their reputation. From these practitioners I learned the power of courage and conviction.
Adrienne Nolan-Smith is a board certified patient advocate, speaker and the founder of WellBe, a media company and lifestyle brand focused on bridging the large gap between the healthcare system and the wellness movement to help people prevent and reverse chronic health issues naturally. She received her BA from Johns Hopkins University and her MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. She lives with her husband in New York City. You can follow her for daily inspiration and information @getwellbe