Herbie of the Week: Denise (How a Plant-Based Diet Helped With Multiple Sclerosis!)

Meet our Herbie of the Week: Denise!

At age 43, Denise was put into a nursing home due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis. As her health continued to decline, her daughter, Tracy tried to put her on a vegetarian or vegan diet after her husband came across a video from Dr. McDougall about his clinical trials on patients with MS and putting them on a low fat vegetarian diet.

Unfortunately, Denise's health got worse and she was having up to 20 seizures a day. She was also put on a bi-pap machine for a severe form of central sleep apnea, which required someone to be in the room with her 24/7.

At that time, Tracy decided to move her mom into her home and care for her. She immediately started making pureed foods using fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, whole grains for Denise and it didn't take long for her to see improvements!

Within the first year of Denise going plant-based the weight started to come off, the bi-pap went away, her medications were reduced, her cognitive ability was coming back, and her communication skills were returning.

Now, almost 4 years later, Denise is able to feed herself without choking, her memory continues to improve and she no longer requires ANY medication -- including ones for seizures.

Denise's story is truly inspiring and I'm so happy her daughter is sharing it with us today! I'll let Tracy take it away...

This is Denise, she was born near the last of her 11 siblings and grew up on farm in central Wisconsin. She got married right out of high school and soon after had a son. Two years later I was born.

Life was never easy for my mom as she divorced my biological father when I was two. She took waitress jobs and supported my brother and I until she met my dad while waitressing. She remarried the summer of 1981 just before I started kindergarten. It must have been about that time that she started to have symptoms of numbness and tingling in her hands and feet. She would see doctor after doctor for 3 years being told she was crazy and it was all in her head. Finally when I was in 2nd grade she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. At such a young age I don't think I grasped what this meant for our family. I can remember my mom living life as normal as she could, almost going blind at one point, and walking became increasingly difficult.

She was an amazing mom cooking from scratch and every night we had a great meal. Very much a meat and potatoes kind of family as she was raised on a farm. She never ventured out of the basics for vegetables and we ate a lot of carrots, beans, potatoes, peas and corn. By the time I graduated from high school she was still able to care for herself but walking with a cane. She was in her late 30s at this point and should have been in the prime of her life. It was not long after that and she started to really decline. I think with me out of the house she just did not have to keep being brave.

Denise about a year before she went into a nursing home.

By the time she was 43 a decision was made to put her in a nursing home. She was incontinent at this point and wheelchair bound. I had moved home to help care for her but we were not aware of the help available or equipment that could help. My dad was still working full time so we tried as best we could but it was so difficult. She went into a nursing home just before her birthday and then she was moved a few times to different nursing homes.

Her health continued to decline as the food at the nursing home was just disgusting. They were pumping her full of medications, aspartame sweetened products and canned mush. Once we had her moved to a nursing home in our own town we tried to get her put on a vegetarian or vegan diet. My husband has a degree in health promotion and wellness and he does a lot of research into diet and disease. He came across a video from Dr. McDougall about his clinical trials on patients with MS and putting them on a low fat vegetarian diet. I would go feed her breakfast each morning and it was just blobs of colorless food on her plate.

It is 2011 and even though she is on a vegetarian diet at the nursing home she gets worse and worse. I was called three times by the nursing home to tell me my mom was unresponsive. The first two times we went to our local emergency room but they don't have a neurologist on staff so they could not figure out what was happening. The third time I asked them to bypass the local hospital and take her to the hospital where her specialist doctor was. Once we were there they put my mom on full monitoring and we spent three days in the hospital. They found out she was having up to 20 seizures a day and some of them were lasting up to 3 minutes long. When the nursing home was finding her unresponsive it was after a seizure when she was recovering and this could last all day sometimes after such a long seizure. They got her on some high levels of Depakote to control her seizures and told us she had sleep apnea. She went back to the nursing home.

A few months later she was scheduled for a formal sleep study to accurately diagnose her sleep apnea. We went, spent the night and the next morning the doctor pulled me aside and told me that my mom had such a severe form of central sleep apnea that she needed to go on a bi-pap machine. This machine was a step below a respirator and would auto breath for my mom every few seconds. Because of her disease, her brain was not communicating with the rest of her body to start breathing when she stopped. The doctor said he was not sure how she was still alive. I was informed my mom would have to go into the hospital to be placed on the bi-pap machine until the nursing home could get one for her.

About a week after mom came to live with us and at her worst, August 2011

Because my mom was so sick at this point, as her guardian I always slept in the hospital with her. I had to stay in the room 24/7 and could only leave when a nurse or aid was in the room because of the mask my mom had to wear. She could not remove the mask herself so in an emergency someone had to be in the room at all times. One day turned to 2, then 3, then 4 and before I knew it I was being told my mom was dying. They said she had months to live and I was devastated. I remember sitting in the bathroom to my mom's room just sobbing because I could not imagine her dying like this. I was not ready and she was so young yet.

On day 10 I got a call from the nursing home that they could not take my mom back as corporate said it was too much of a liability. The fact someone had to be in the room all the time with mom was not possible in a nursing home. The staff at the hospital told me I had two options, one was to move my mom several hours away to one of two nursing homes in the state that could take her. The other was to take her home. To some this might have seemed like a hard decision but to me it was a no brainer, we brought her home. I will not lie and say it was easy, it was not. I cried myself to sleep the first month wondering if I made the right decision.

To set the stage my mom was incontinent, bed bound, non communicative, non cognitive, on 2 liters of oxygen, a bi-pap machine, had all her food pureed because she could not swallow well and even her water had to be thickened. She was obese, her face was always broke out and to put it simple she had no quality of life. I had a very fast lesson on taking care of mom and I finally got help a month later when they put mom on hospice.

Now let me share the good news as this has all been very depressing. When we brought mom home I started pureeing fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, whole grains and became quite the expert at pureeing anything. We gave her fresh thickened water all day long. The colors on her plate were so vibrant and she loved it. We would sit in her room and feed her all her meals and she seemed to enjoy them so much. It must have been about a month or 6 weeks and I had walked into my mom's room and she started telling me about what she was watching on tv. This might not seem like much but this was communication and memory... something we had not seen in years.

Mom actually was scooping cookie dough out of a bowl at a church cookie sharing event. She was so thrilled to be able to make the cookies, vegan and gluten free :)

We saw the most improvement in that first year as month after month she continued to improve. Weight was coming off, oxygen was being eliminated, the bi-pap went away, medications were dwindling as she did not need them, cognitive ability was coming back, communication skills were returning and then we hit a huge milestone.

In March of 2012 I gave mom her first meal that was not pureed. I made some pancakes for breakfast and smothered them in applesauce. Mom fed herself the whole plate and never choked! From that point on she was able to feed herself, starting with softer foods and working up to eating just about anything. To this day we have never had a problem with swallowing. It is about this time she was due for re-certification from hospice and they told me she did not qualify because she was not dying anymore. So my husband joined me in caring for mom, the state pays us through her insurance and we have seen so many improvements in her. Not as many now that we have been doing this for over 3 years but we still see improvements. We see feeling coming back in her legs and she tells me when she has to go to the bathroom at times which means she has some feeling down there. Her memory is improving and loves to work out. She will tell you very excitedly that she does 20 in this hand and 20 in the other hand demonstrating how she does her hand weights each morning.

I will tell you that it is diet that saved my mom's life. Once we put her on a plant-based diet the changes came so quickly. Today she is on no medication except a pump in her abdomen that gives her medicine for her spasms in her legs. She has maybe one seizure a month and it is a quick one that she recovers from very quickly. The no medication means no seizure meds either. She will tell you she drinks a lot of water and that is true. We have had nothing but success from going plant-based and I want the world to know it is a vegan diet that saved her life.

Doctors are amazed and we even had another success story that happened two summers ago. My mom's mattress had failed and we did not know it so by the time it was discovered she developed a couple pressure sores on her bottom. We spent over year at a wound clinic trying to heal these and she finally had to have reconstructive flap surgery. She was supposed to be in the hospital for 4 weeks laying flat on her back healing after it. The hospital could not provide vegan meals for her so I stayed in the hotel across the street and prepared three meals a day for her and would walk over to the hospital to feed her. She had to lay flat on her back so I was back to feeding her but it was ok. They wanted my mom to have 100 grams of protein a day to help heal her wounds and they said I could never do it on a vegan diet. I love proving people wrong. Quinoa became my mom's best friend having it at all three meals. I fed her lots of quinoa, peanut butter, beans and veggies. The doctor would come in to check on my mom in the morning while I was usually feeding her. When she was released from the hospital a week early the doctor pulled me aside and told me he had never seen a patient heal that quickly from this procedure and he told me he attributed to her diet. He said he saw me feeding her every day and knew it was diet related.

Amen, with each doctor I share mom's story with, each nurse that has been touched by her story and each of you reading this story I hope you all can see that diet and disease are hand in hand. My mom is living proof.

Thank you SO much Tracy for sharing your mom's incredible story!