This was my third surgery to-date — the two previous surgeries (completed at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore) had failed and the doctors told me that no one has ever failed two surgeries before. I often wonder if I should have won an award for such a dubious honor.
But this third surgery in 2015 at Mayo had to be done because my non-working esophagus had actually curved like a banana. Food was not emptying into my stomach and, in addition to the discomfort, it was fermenting and eroding my esophagus. According to my doctors, they had to straighten it out or I was on a slippery slope to esophageal cancer. Thus, I elected to have my third major surgery in 26 months. The dread was palpable, but I had no choice. I just wanted to get it over with and thrive again.
During this third surgery, the surgeon actually cut my stomach and wrapped it around my esophagus so it would stay straight and stable. I ended up losing part of my stomach and for a skinny guy like me, it was an interesting outcome. To this day my appetite is about half of what it used to be and my wife jokes that she is willing to have this surgery one day as well.
I share all of this background to state that my 2016 one year check-up at the Mayo Clinic was an awakening moment for me.
At this check up, my doctor stated that things looked stable, but this “wrap” he had created will come undone one day. It could be 5–10 years, maybe more — it all depends on how I respond. But, I’m only allowed one more repeat surgery until it gets “dicey.” Meaning, without a cure, a feeding tube is on the horizon.
My doctors told me that all I could really do was eat soft foods and take anti-heartburn medicine (during this check-up, they also found an ulcer and a yeast infection in my esophagus, so the medicine was important to its healing).
I hate medicine. It’s necessary, I understand, but for every benefit, there’s a tradeoff. With anti-heartburn medicine, there are long-term links to dementia. When you kill all the bad “acid” in your body, you also kill off the good kind that feeds your brain.
It was in that moment, sitting in the Mayo Clinic offices, that I had an epiphany. I decided right then and there — I was done being a bystander to my disease. I just couldn’t accept that a cure was impossible and that all I could do was just wait around for a feeding tube (while taking medicine that might ultimately give me dementia).
What the fuck? No way.
I’ll also let you in on a secret — I love to eat good food and drink great wine with my wife and friends. I’m insanely curious. I’m also insanely driven to succeed. So, sitting around and accepting this fate just wasn’t going to happen.
I made a decision: I had to figure out this disease. I had to take control of it. I wasn’t going to let it take control of me anymore.
In that moment, I didn’t know what that actually meant, but I was ready to start. However, it would take months for my “moonshot” of finding a cure to this disease to fully develop.
First step? Clear up my ulcer and yeast infection (reactive work) and find out the root cause of why I suffer from this disease (proactive work). I negotiated to accept ingesting medications for now (a band aid), but I also needed to find out what was causing all of my gut issues.
So I hired a functional doctor — out of pocket of course, because our healthcare system is about covering reactive outcomes rather than proactive ones — named Kyle Chavers. Dr. Chavers literally conducted over 40 different types of blood, urine and poop tests on me (If you haven’t conducted a self-poop test before, you are one of the lucky ones).
A few weeks went by and the results were in — and they were astonishing, shedding a light on how my disease could have come about in the first place. And, some big changes were about to happen.