“I’m much better than I was 10 years ago. Yes, life is still hard with multiple sclerosis, but I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that my quality of life has changed 100 percent.”
– Dr. Ron Girard
In his mid-30s, Dr. Ron Girard was an esteemed oral surgeon working in private practice on Park Avenue in Manhattan. He held teaching and attending positions with several area university hospitals, and lectured extensively.
He often put in 14-hour workdays, and kept up a similar pace outside the office with his wife and kids.
“I worked harder and harder, drank coffee all day and took Ibuprofen all day,” he says. “I ran myself into the ground.”
Then, his life changed overnight.
“Out of nowhere, I had double vision,” he recalls.
A Diagnosis: Multiple Sclerosis
Dr. Girard turned to a neurologist friend, who ran a full panel of tests and uncovered the cause of Dr. Girard’s sudden vision problem – multiple sclerosis (MS).
As Dr. Girard learned more about the disease, the reality of what it meant terrified him. MS is caused by an abnormal response of the body’s immune system, directed at the nervous system, which damages myelin, or the fatty substance that surrounds nerve fibers. Those with the disease experience a wide range of neurological symptoms.
“It was like a death sentence to me,” he reflects.
‘Everything Slipping Away’
Looking back, double vision wasn’t the first odd symptom, but it was the most alarming.
Over the years, Dr. Girard had experienced occasional numbness and fatigue. As far back as high school, he remembers having a numb scalp during a particularly stressful time. And in college, he would occasionally see double upon turning his head to one side.
But in the years leading up to his diagnosis, he had generally been healthy.
As a medical professional, he thoroughly researched the disease and treatments, and consulted with neurologists at top hospitals, including the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic.
“A doctor told me privately that MS drugs – the immunosuppressants and immune modulators – might work in the short term. But after a few years, it comes back with a vengeance,” he says. “They may reduce your exacerbation or flareups, but 10 years out, they don’t change the outcome. I literally cried when I first heard that.”
Still, Dr. Girard tried them anyway, in hopes of finding some short-term relief. Over time, he took every MS medication available and antidepressants – at one time, seven meds concurrently.
All the while, he worried about the side effects and high mortality rates associated with some MS medications.
Trying ‘Anything’ to Slow Multiple Sclerosis
Desperate to slow the disease, he experimented with a vegetarian diet, and alternative treatments such as bee stings and even dried cow brains in pill form.
“When you have a chronic illness, you’ll try anything,” he says.
But despite all those efforts, he could not stop the progression of the disease. As he lost mobility, he transitioned from a cane to arm canes, and finally, to a wheelchair.
“I couldn’t breathe or speak well,” he recalls. “I could think the right word, but not say it. I couldn’t roll over or sit up in bed. I was down to 130 pounds. When I woke up in the morning, I felt like I had the absolute flu.”
For a decade, he had maintained his dental practice…until it became too physically demanding. After selling his business, he fell into a deep depression.
“I had four kids at the time, and my wife was pregnant with our fifth,” he says. “I felt like I was dying. Everything was slipping away. I looked up and said to God, ‘I’m not done yet.’”
Finding the Answer in Food
It was then, at his lowest point, that Dr. Girard watched an online Tedx presentation by Dr. Terry Wahls. Dr. Wahls, a physician with MS, had effectively reversed her condition, going from a wheelchair to walking – after changing her diet.
Over the years, Dr. Girard had experimented with various diets, but never very strictly and never one like the Wahls Protocol. While there are three phases of the diet, at a minimum, it eliminates gluten, dairy and refined sugar. The second and third levels, more paleo-style diets, limit grains and legumes as well.
Instead, Wahls calls for eating nine cups of vegetables a day, as well as organ meats, fermented foods, and soaked nuts and seeds. By using nutrients to rebuild your mitochondria, you can rebuild your health, Dr. Wahls contends.
“When I heard Dr. Wahls speak from a medical background, it made so much sense to me,” says Dr. Girard.
But following the diet didn’t come easily for this Italian family. Dr. Girard began the Wahls Protocol, though not 100 percent at first. He’d still have the occasional piece of pizza or birthday cake.
But he soon learned, it wasn’t worth it.
“If I had a donut, I would immediately feel it. The next day, I would feel really horrible,” he says.
While he would rather have pasta over mustard greens and liver, he couldn’t deny the diet worked – when he stayed on it. First, he saw his abs again, with no exercise, as the tire around his middle began disappearing.
And impressively, instead of slurring, he began speaking clearly again. His brain fog dissipated, he had more energy, and he could roll over in bed again.
Given the undeniable results, Dr. Girard finds it easy to follow the key tenets of the diet, such as no sugar, dairy and gluten. But remembering to eat enough of the super-nutrient foods is not always as simple, such as bone broth, greens and liver.
Setbacks and flares, however, serve as powerful reminders to stay true to the diet, as well as to lifestyle practices such as meditation.
Regaining Movement…through Movement
A weight-lifter friend also urged Dr. Girard to add exercise, to keep his body strong and blood flowing.
He started small, simply trying to crawl on the floor, or pushing his wheelchair around – and pushing through the pain.
“Diet is necessary, but your body won’t change without stimulus,” he says. “I did anything I could to move, to get a little out of breath.”
Starting with one-pound weights, he worked his arms and shoulders. Gradually, he increased the weight, and soon, could lift his arms again.
“I went to get something off a shelf and noticed I could reach for it again. I could pour a glass of water!” he says. “I have secondary progressive MS. I’m not supposed to get better.”
Over time, he increased his workout schedule, going to the gym five days a week. The effort paid off: he can now walk around his home some of the time, without a wheelchair.
Keeping multiple sclerosis at bay is nearly a full-time job. But for Dr. Girard, it’s worth it.
“I’m much better than I was 10 years ago,” he says. “Yes, life is still hard with multiple sclerosis, but I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that my quality of life has changed 100 percent.”
For Dr. Girard, now 48, food and exercise have become his medicine. He’s off all pharmaceuticals, except for a small dose of thyroid medication for Hashitmoto’s. He takes a few supplements, but relies mostly on food for his nutrients.
He does have setbacks or flares, days when he can’t get up the stairs, or feels heightened numbness. Those days, while scary, also serve as reminders to focus on what works: diet, exercise and meditation.
With more energy and mobility, he joins in more activities with his family or helps his kids with their homework. He’s also an enthusiastic advocate for the Wahls Protocol, and mentors others with multiple sclerosis.
Nearly every day, he shares inspiring videos documenting his own efforts at staying healthy, and leads interviews with health experts on his MS Facebook page.
“I’ve tried so much stuff…I want people to know that I’m better than I was a decade ago, without the drugs. I want to give people hope again.”
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What works for one person may not work for another. Consult your health practitioner for professional health advice.