I was in my mid-twenties, and I was practically bedridden. My legs were swollen, my muscles hurt, my belly was a balloon, and despite what had once been a healthy appetite, I weighed only ninety-eight pounds. My gut was a mess, my immune system trashed, and my once exuberant energy nonexistent.
My life had come to a complete halt. I was so sick I had to quit my job and spend all of my time and money going from doctor to doctor and hospital to hospital, trying to figure out what was wrong with me.
I thought I was doing all the right things. So why had this happened to me?
A Life-Changing Diagnosis
I was a twenty-five-year-old marketing professional in Manhattan when I noticed something odd: my legs were swelling up.
I’m not talking about a little premenstrual water weight. I’m talking forty pounds of water in my legs. I’d wake up in the morning and be fine, but as the day wore on, the water would collect to the point where I could barely bend my knees or even take my pants off.
Freaked out, I finally went to the emergency room. They took my vitals. Turns out my white blood cell count was 1.1 (normal is 4.0). As you can imagine, this diagnosis was very concerning, but because I seemed completely fine for the most part, they let me go home to wait for the rest of the test results.
I was eating lunch at my desk the next day when the doctor called and said I needed to leave work immediately. He gave me an address downtown. I showed up and found myself at a Manhattan cancer hospital. I called the doctor and told him he must have sent me to the wrong place.
“No,” he said, “that’s where you’re going. You have leukemia.”
I was shocked, to say the least. I thought I ate well and lived well, and now what? I had cancer? It couldn’t be.
Without so much as a how-do-you-do, the medical staff had me bend over so they could administer a bone marrow biopsy. It was one of the most painful procedures I’ve ever experienced. (Imagine taking a corkscrew to the tailbone.) The whole time, I kept telling myself, “Amie, you know your body best. You know this isn’t right. Just hang in there and we’ll get through this.”
Turns out it was a false scare. Upon further testing, they determined that I did not have leukemia. Something was wrong with my bone marrow, though. It was gel-like, which is normally a sign of malnutrition. Basically, my body wasn’t absorbing anything I was eating—healthy or not. Moreover, my cells couldn’t hold onto fluid, which is why it was running through me and collecting in my legs.
I was relieved I didn’t have leukemia. The problem was, I was still sick, and no one knew why.
Western Medicine Makes Me a Lab Rat
Because I was so thin, the professionals at the Mayo Clinic and the New York hospitals assumed I was anorexic, or bulimic, or both. Of course, I wasn’t! I was eating what most people consider a healthy American diet, and I’d always had a very hearty appetite. The nutritionist told me to drink more milk (dairy), eat more whole wheat bread (gluten), and get more conventional red meat in my diet (linked with inflammation), and that it didn’t matter if it was all organic or not.
Meanwhile, my white blood cells remained chronically low. Over the course of the next two years, I had twenty-four vials of blood drawn every other week, to monitor my blood levels. I felt like I was living at the hospital.
I was also sent to a host of physicians: Liver doctors. Kidney doctors. Vascular surgeons. Rheumatologists. Hematologists. I saw every GI (gastrointestinal) doc up and down the eastern seaboard. They didn’t have answers; they had guesses. And all of them turned out to be wrong.
I was told I had hypothyroidism, so they put me on Synthroid, a thyroid-regulating drug. No change. In the meantime, my immune system had been severely damaged, and as a result, I had no good bacteria in my gut—only way too much “bad” bacteria. My belly swelled to the size of a pregnant woman’s. People honestly thought I was pregnant and asked when my due date was!
The doctors put me on the strongest antibiotic available to help combat the bacterial overgrowth. This further taxed my immune system, because it wiped out everything. When I asked if I should be taking probiotics to help rebalance and support my good gut flora, they said “no.”
These were doctors at one of the best hospitals in the country—who was I to question them?
I Started to Figure It Out—But My Doctors Laughed
Feeling more sick and tired than I had ever felt, I did what any girl would do: I Googled. I started reading about my symptoms. The more I researched, the more I learned. Eventually, I was able to surmise that I had—in addition to my other maladies—developed leaky gut syndrome, a condition in which the intestinal walls become so compromised they let bacteria and pieces of undigested food leak out into the rest of the body. This, in turn, causes a host of autoimmune issues, inflammation, and more. I had also developed candida, a yeast overgrowth in my gut.
I received no help from my slew of doctors. Leaky gut and candida? They literally laughed at me. I might as well have told them I had fairies living in my large intestine.
Meanwhile, I developed myositis (inflammation in my leg muscles), which gave me cramps that hurt so badly I could barely walk. The rheumatologist put me on steroids. Sure, they took the pain away, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that there was a price to pay: they affected my cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and increased my symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
The Crazy Hypochondriac
Eventually, I became so sick that life as I knew it stopped. I couldn’t work and had to go on disability. My social life went out the window. Even worse, my friends and the other people in my life who I thought supported me started to think I was crazy. Surely if a doctor couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong, there must not be anything amiss, right? As far as anyone could tell, it was all in my head.
But I knew better. I wasn’t faking it. By the time I checked myself into a hospital in Philadelphia, I had developed what’s called C. diff colitis, a deadly condition in which a form of bacteria called C. difficile proliferates in the colon.
It’s particularly dangerous when your immunity is weakened, as mine was. Without any other bacteria to compete with, C. diff essentially takes over and destroys anything in its path. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that the condition is linked to 14,000 American deaths each year.
I was given twenty-four hours to live.
Insurance Denied Coverage, Time to Go
What does one do when given that kind of grim prognosis? Eat one last amazing meal? Say her goodbyes? Pray or meditate?
All I could do was lie in bed and moan. The morphine barely relieved what felt like being repeatedly stabbed in the belly. My parents looked on in shock—they couldn’t believe this was all that remained of their once bubbly, full-of-life daughter.
I was in the hospital for five days. Amazingly, after intense treatment, my chronic stomach pain and diarrhea eased. The C. difficile was cured. Tests showed the bacteria was no longer destroying my intestines. There was hope!
Yet my legs were still swollen up, I was still suffering from chronic fatigue, and I was only 95 pounds. That might not seem surprising after such an ordeal, but as the days went by, I couldn’t gain weight. The bacteria was gone, but my bloodwork still looked terrible. Lab tests showed that everything from my platelets, hemoglobin, white blood cells, liver, and kidney were still incredibly inflamed.
My doctors kept trying, but after multiple CT scans, MRIs, X-rays, and more and more bloodwork, they still didn’t have any answers. They told me: “We’ve run every test imaginable, Ms. Valpone. We can’t find anything else wrong with you. There’s nothing we can do.”
With no official diagnosis, my insurance had no reason to continue covering hospital care. I was told I had to go home.
I got into the car with my mother. It was the lowest point in my life. What was left but a future full of sickness and pain?
Finding People Who Could Really Help
I’m sharing my story with you because I have a feeling you may have gone through a similar experience. Maybe you didn’t get as sick as I did—or maybe you suffered something even worse—but chances are, you found yourself at the end of your rope, failed by Western medicine, with nowhere left to turn.
I was raised like most Americans. I revered doctors and prayed at the altar of conventional medicine. But after years of suffering, I came to realize something: they couldn’t help me. I’d been in and out of some of the country’s best hospitals, and I was actually worse off than when I started.
After three years of this insanity, I found someone who found numerous parasites, chronic fatigue, significant bacterial overgrowth, and countless pathogens that traditional testing hadn’t identified. In addition to candida, I had heavy metal accumulation.
All this time, I hadn’t been suffering from a disease, per se; rather, my body was overrun with toxins, made worse by the conventional medical approach, which kept dumping in more and more prescription drugs.
I started working with a detox expert in Manhattan, who put me through a full-scale detoxification, including I.V. chelation, which removed metals from my body over the course of several treatments that spanned two years. Even my mercury fillings had to be removed by a specialist, as any mercury I might have inhaled during the procedure could have caused brain and liver failure.
Another doctor determined I also had Lyme disease, even though I had tested negative for it for over a decade. (Turns out they were false negatives from Western medicine labs.) He determined that because I didn’t have a bulls-eye rash, I possibly got the Lyme disease from a tick when I was a child.
Two months after that diagnosis, another M.D. found my ovaries were covered with black cysts. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition that had been overlooked at every hospital and doctor’s office, even after numerous ultrasounds.
All the medications I’d been taking did nothing for any of these conditions. In fact, they most likely made them worse.
Bottom line: I didn’t need more meds. I needed exactly the opposite—a complete and total detox.
Finally the Right Diagnosis
It was time for another blood test. I’d had tons of them up to that point, but integrative physicians don’t only test the blood, they test your tissues and conduct a more detailed analysis to get an accurate picture of what’s going on. This includes testing for a gene mutation that makes you more susceptible to toxins in your environment, particularly any heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and growth hormones in your food. As a result, these substances, which bind to fat receptors, have more of a toxic effect on you than someone without the mutation. This also means chemicals in tap water, household cleaning solutions, and beauty products can pose a greater threat.
I most certainly was suffering toxic effects on a grand scale—mainly from heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium. My levels were off the charts, and it was contributing to my hypothyroidism, leaky gut, candida, polycystic ovarian syndrome, Lyme disease, and severely suppressed immune system.
Meanwhile, I did my own homework, and soon took measures to clean up my lifestyle, from my food and water to my cleaning products and skin care, which are all outlined step-by-step in my book. Most importantly, the food I ate changed dramatically.
Mine is probably the most extreme tale you’ve ever heard, but I have to be honest: these adjustments changed my body and my life for the better.
People asked me how I did it. I tell them I had to. There was no choice. But it wasn’t a burden. In fact, I was fascinated by it. Who knew there was so much that could put you at risk, or that could have such an effect on you? I was so intrigued, I went back to school to study integrative nutrition and to learn more about how food can heal the body.
I made it my life.
In the end, my illness was a blessing in disguise.
This Happened to Me for a Reason—I Was Meant to Help You!
It turns out that thousands of people are living just like I did, suffering as a result of toxins, autoimmune disease, and unexplained symptoms. I’m guessing you may be one of them, or you know someone who is. Unfortunately, few people have access to information that explains how they can get off the medical hamster wheel and truly help themselves.
When I started to feel better, it occurred to me that I could help. I’m not a doctor and I’m not a scientist, but I’ve experienced firsthand the effects of toxicity and the resulting helplessness and hopelessness. No one told me what toxins were, why I should care, or how to reduce my exposure to them. No one told me the items we see on shelves are not as safe as we think.
Truth is, you could eat and drink and be exposed to the same things I was and not experience what I did. For you, it could be something else in your food or environment that is causing your symptoms. But no matter what your own personal struggle looks like, I’m telling you, you can feel so unbelievably better when you start making changes today.
Click HERE to purchase Amie’s book that came out of this journey.
Click HERE to book a private session with Amie.
The above is an excerpt from Amie’s best-selling book Eating Clean: The 21-Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation, and Reset Your Body.