“Functional medicine saved my life. My body was slowly but surely being consumed by the toxic burden and illness that I could not shed without the intervention of skilled functional medicine providers.”
Shelley Bitzer was a dynamic mom of four. She rode and kept horses, gardened and took care of her family tirelessly.
“I was the Energizer bunny,” she says.
Until her batteries began wearing out.
She grew tired easily and couldn’t exercise with the same intensity. Doctors chalked it up to aging, too much coffee or not enough sleep.
But as more serious symptoms emerged over several years, none of those explanations made sense.
She began losing her hair and suffering from heart palpitations, deteriorating vision, incontinence, difficulty breathing, debilitating migraines, gall bladder issues, kidney stones and depression. It seemed no part of her was spared.
“I was barely able to feed my family,” she says. “I was getting lost driving home and searching for words to complete a sentence. I literally felt like I was going crazy.”
The most frightening moment came on a vacation in the Caribbean, when Shelley had to be MedEvac’d back because of symptoms mimicking a heart attack or stroke.
In what Shelley calls “Doctor Hopscotch,” she consulted numerous conventional physicians, none of which found a cause for the sudden onset of serious health issues. She walked out after the highest-ranking neurologist at her local university hospital told her she was just experiencing menopause – despite having cleared menopause years earlier.
Rather than look for root causes for the sudden onset of symptoms, physicians got out their prescription pads.
“They prescribed multiple medications to suppress symptoms or re-routed me to another specialist,” she says. “I was prescribed Topiramate for migraines (to the maximum allowable dose). If used long term, it has serious, permanent side effects. They gave me prescription-strength Ibuprofen for the mysterious joint and muscle pain and fatigue that was consuming me. I took anti-depressants and thyroid medications. And I had a prescription inhaler to help me breathe.”
She also went through multiple surgeries, including gall bladder removal.
Shelley wanted to know why it was all happening.
“It felt like a dead-end diagnosis,” she says. “That was a horrible, scary feeling – that I was never going to truly understand what was wrong with me. My family didn’t understand what was ‘wrong’ with me and doctors kept passing me on to the next ‘specialist.’ I honestly thought I was going to feel this way for the rest of my life.”
Finally Finding Answers
Through relentless determination, she would uncover and treat multiple causes for her mix of symptoms.
Tired of pat answers, Shelley began seeing functional medicine doctors, who took the time to dig into her case. Functional medicine seeks to find and address the root causes of disease.
“Functional medicine practitioners examined all of my symptoms, timeline and treatments, and immediately diagnosed the multiple toxic burdens and autoimmune reactions that had resulted in years of chronic illness,” she says.
Through testing, they found several causes for Shelley’s mental and physical decline: Hashimoto’s disease; Lyme disease and associated co-infections; and mold toxicity. Each one can bring on numerous symptoms on its own. Shelley faced the compounded effects of all three.
The pieces were coming together. In 2003, she recalls being bitten by a tick, and again in 2012.
With a team of practitioners, she began treating her conditions and weaning off prescription medications one by one.
Instead of a pharmaceutical thyroid medication, she keeps her thyroid within optimal range with a natural alternative, Armour, after trying synthetic thyroid medications.
“The natural hormone replacement has worked wonderfully with my fluctuating hormone levels,” she says. “Your thyroid levels may fall in the biometric ranges but the goal should always be optimizing. Where do you feel your best?”
About 25 percent of the population has a genetic predisposition that makes them potentially unable to detox toxins such as mold. That’s why a moldy home may affect some family members but not others. Such was the case for Shelley.
“It’s critical to understand if you are part of this population before initiating a random binder (detox) protocol,” she says. “Partner with an experienced physician.”
Mold toxicity can cause many of the symptoms Shelley experienced, including psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
Once she discovered a high mold burden in her body, she embarked on a number of steps to clear it. She took Cholestyramine and Ultra Binder by Quicksilver Scientific. For additional detox, she sweated in infrared saunas, received lymphatic massage, took Epsom salt baths in the evenings and drank lemon water once a day as a natural way to flush toxins from organs.
Throwing Everything at Lyme
For Lyme and other tick-borne co-infections, including Bartonella and Babesia, Shelley tried what felt like everything, including Doxycycline, Malarone and Byron White herbal products. But they only worked while she was on them.
“Once I stopped the Lyme treatment, the symptoms seemed to return with a vengeance in the fall of 2016,” she says.
Again, doctors wondered if mold was the culprit for the return of symptoms. “My body and home were mold-free; it had to be the Lyme and co-infectors,” she says.
In the spring of 2017, she started the “Dapsone protocol” to once again go after the residual Lyme and other co-infectors. The protocol called for taking antibiotics for a minimum of six months, but after three months, her body had had enough.
“The antibiotics were making me sick and wearing me down,” she says. “I stopped the treatment. Once again, the symptoms began to creep their way back and were in full force by the holidays.”
In June of 2018, she began a modified Buhner protocol, which uses herbs for Lyme and co-infections. She took the Beyond Balance line of antimicrobials; Pekana Homeopathic remedies for liver, lymph and kidney drainage; and an immune booster regimen of supplements.
“Through all of this, I made sure to move on the days when I felt well, followed a diet of no/low sugar and a gluten- and dairy-free lifestyle,” she says. “I added more leafy greens and vegetables. Those continue to be critical components to successful healing.”
Recharging Her Batteries
Shelley also recognized the role that stress played in exacerbating her illness. In 2007, when her symptoms peaked, she had lost both her parents within a three-month period.
After her diagnoses, she began practicing self-care in a way she never had before – slowing down, sleeping more, walking, riding her bike and practicing yoga.
Shelley stresses it’s just as critical to get emotional support from friends and family for conditions such as mold toxicity and Lyme, which may be hard for others to understand – especially if mold remediation requires moving or a hefty investment.
The same goes for Lyme. “People think, ‘So you have Lyme disease. Take antibiotics and you will be okay.’ It’s not that simple,” she says. “Lyme disease is grossly misunderstood and I often felt like I wasn’t feeling heard or validated.”
Getting Herself Back
While Shelley’s journey back to health continues, she’s already come a long way. She no longer carries toxic mold levels. She’s free of urinary incontinence, kidney stones and vision problems. The twitching, facial tics, muscle pain and cramping have also disappeared.
“My lab results indicate improvement, however I’m remaining acutely attuned to my body,” she says. “I know I am healing and rebuilding my immune system. I’m stronger, have regained my mental clarity, sleep better, and the pathogen-induced depression has lifted.”
Shelley’s Lyme disease and toxic mold burdens were life-crippling conditions – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and even financially. Emerging from all that, Shelley has gained a true appreciation for a functional approach to health – one that seeks to resolve root causes rather than symptoms.
The knowledge she’s gained helped her support two of her daughters, who were also diagnosed with Lyme and had their gall bladders removed. It’s also led to a new career as a health coach at www.thrivewithinreach.com.
“Functional medicine saved my life,” she says. “My body was slowly but surely being consumed by the toxic burden and illness that I could not shed without the intervention of skilled functional medicine providers. The path that I have taken led me to become a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach, FMCHC, which I am passionate about. I truly want to provide the support to others that was missing on my own journey.”
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