Dori's Story -- An Overcomer's Health Journey
My name is Dori Smith, and I have an awesome, beautiful story I'd love to tell you. Grab some coffee and stay a little while... this gets good.
I'm a research scientist in the field of autoimmunity, immunology, and environmental toxicology. I was married with a beautiful daughter, and I worked in my field for 13 years while completing my schooling.
I was a serious science geek… During my Master’s and PhD training I won a first-place research award, I completed a prestigious two-year Doctoral Fellowship at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and I co-authored five scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals. As you can see, I was working on my Wonder Woman degree as well… the stress was not such a good thing.
I thought I took care of my and my family’s health. We took various supplements, drank green smoothies and tried to eat healthy (or what I thought was healthy). Other than chronic migraines that I attributed to genetics, I thought I was healthier than most.
But I started having different symptoms in various parts of my body, none of which seemed to link together. I developed a marked brain fog that affected my work. I went from being a straight A student with an excellent memory to being extremely forgetful, and not being able to recall normal vocabulary. I told my husband, “I feel like I acquired ADHD or Alzheimer’s… my brain is different. It’s scary.” We thought I was just burnt out.
I had just finished my fourth year as a PhD Candidate. I had half of my dissertation written and I was ready to defend and achieve my doctorate degree after so many years of hard work. Then it happened… I became really ill (can anyone say “stress-related illness?”). I went from being very energetic and even hyper to being completely exhausted continuously, to the point of barely functioning. My joints were swollen and painful, my muscles were becoming weak and sore, my feet hurt, I couldn’t swallow properly, I had a number of gastrointestinal issues, just to name a few. And my migraines became much worse. Sadly, even my own husband didn’t understand and used the “L” word… Lazy.
It took three years and about 8 different doctors to get the correct diagnosis: Systemic Sclerosis with Severe Fibromyalgia. Soon, the diagnoses multiplied to Arthritis, Addison’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Thyroid Disease, Fatty Liver, and more. It seemed like my entire body was falling apart. And it was.
As an autoimmune scientist, I knew full well the gravity of my condition. And my specialists confirmed my fears by saying, “Autoimmune disease is not curable. There’s nothing we can do to stop the progression. We can only give you medications to help with your symptoms, and these medications have severe side effects as well. Most people with your condition have a life expectancy of 10 years… 20 at the very most.”
There was no hope.
When people would ask me what my illness was and how it made me feel, I often said, “Imagine your worst flu symptoms and then some… but it never goes away”. I felt as though if I tried to tell them all my many symptoms, they would think I was a hypochondriac. I now understand that only the chronically ill could understand what I was going through…. But I didn’t know anyone like me. So most of the time I felt misunderstood and alone.
Eventually my illness took my career, my marriage, my financial stability, some friendships, and saddest of all, my ability to be a good mother. I was progressively ill for over 10 years, living on a tiny Social Security Disability benefit, while trying to raise my granddaughter.
Until I found the science of Functional Medicine, and everything started changing.
I need to back up a little and say that throughout my life I have always been a very spiritual, "big picture" person. I'm a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, and I have a strong relationship with Him. So, over time, I came to accept this illness as a learning experience to help me grow spiritually, and to prepare me for eternity.
I strongly believe that God allows us all to go through our trials and sufferings to mold us into diamonds: Strong, resilient, beautiful, and faceted--able to shine in many directions--to impart our learning, lifting others up as we go.
So, I really did have a very positive mindset about my suffering. But as the illness progressed, I admit that this became much harder.
One evening, week #2 into a terrible flare-up where I could barely get out of bed, I said to Jesus, "Lord, this really sucks! (Yes, I really said that to Him).
I said, “Lord, You know that I have accepted this illness, and I trust your path for me, You know I do. But if there is another way, please show me. I feel so very unproductive being so ill, and I HATE this feeling. I have a strong purpose to help others, but I cannot realistically accomplish this most days. This is a horrible way to live. What is my purpose, if I cannot help people? And, I have my granddaughter to raise. She needs me… I’m all she has. So, if I've missed something, please, please show me.”
Now, people often don't believe this next part of my story, but it is nonetheless true, so I just tell it like it is.
I got back into bed and turned on YouTube, and up popped a video about Systemic Sclerosis and Functional Medicine. Well, I instantly poo-poo'd it, as I was completely brain-washed into believing that true science and naturopathic medicine had no place in the same sentence (and I had never heard of functional medicine). But the video kept bothering me... and I finally said, "OK, Lord, is this from you? Do you want me to watch this? Fine. I will, but it's probably just a bunch of bunk".
Well, as you have already guessed, it wasn't a bunch of bunk at all. The video was filled with scientific data and references from peer reviewed medical journals... research from the most prestigious universities all over the world... including Harvard Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic. It was just exactly what this conventionally-trained scientist needed to see to be impressed.
“OK, Lord, this is interesting. Is this an answer to my prayer? Could it be true that I can be helped? That there is hope after all?”
The next morning, I started researching this "Functional Medicine" thing, and when I say research, I mean I totally geeked out.
What I found was nothing short of amazing. People were healing from all sorts of chronic illness and autoimmune disease. Even serious neurological illnesses like dementia, Alzheimer's, and Autism were being helped, and even healed. I found James Maskell's, "The Evolution of Medicine", and started watching all the Functional Forums with the top doctors and scientists from all over the world, showing their amazing work. When I saw Dr. Terry Wahls’ TED talk and her amazing healing from Multiple Sclerosis, I realized the truth.
The cutting-edge science, and the evidence of many thousands of people healing, was real.
But would it really work for me?
After all, I was a mess in every part of my body. I had been sick for over 10 years, and was on powerful oral steroids for 8 of those, so the damage was extensive. I had good days here and there with the help of 12 pharmaceutical medications. But most of the time, I was either in bed or on the couch due to severe pain and fatigue. I couldn’t even do a little housework without becoming exhausted and inflamed. Just getting myself ready to attend church was a hurdle and required a lot of pain medication.
But the scientist in me was curious to do some experimentation… to test the claims in my own body.
I started with my diet. One of Functional Medicine’s main principles states that the body is amazingly efficient at preventing and curing disease, if we give our cells the excellent nourishment they need, and remove the toxic junk we expose ourselves to. As a scientist, that made perfect sense. If you put gasoline in an electric engine, it’s not going to work right. I had been putting the standard American diet, loaded with high processed carbs and oils, and tons of sugar into my engine. I disliked veggies and preferred a massive amount of bread, cheese, ice cream and M&M's. Duh. This needed to change.
With the help of my friend and roommate, Kristen, I bought a dairy goat and some chickens. She helped me take care of them and feed them organically. I started making my own raw goat milk kefir and eating fresh organic eggs. I made my own kombucha and natural fermented veggies. I cleaned out my entire kitchen of any processed foods, and replaced them with all organic, real whole foods, and I started using essential oils and various supplements.
To my complete surprise, I started to feel a bit better.
Seeing the positive results of my first experiments, I found my first integrative rheumatologist (sort of a cross between conventional and functional medicine models). Comprehensive testing found a myriad of issues that needed correcting, not the least of which was a raging Mycoplasma infection that had most likely been in my system since my teens.
It makes me a little angry that I had a team of five different specialists for those 10 years that I was so ill, and none of them ever mentioned the tests that this doctor performed, nor thought to check for a chronic infection or toxicity as an underlying cause of autoimmune disease. Thank God Functional Medicine doctors know that it is often toxic or infectious exposure that precipitates chronic illness.
I went on a 14-month, grueling treatment plan that included coming off 12 pharmaceutical medications, including my steroids. The doctor told me I would be much worse for a long time before I would start feeling better, and he was right on both counts… it was a painful treatment, but my mycoplasma titers came down dramatically, and I did start feeling better.
I know now that this treatment didn't have to be so rough... had this doctor treated my gut microbiome and digestive issues prior, I probably would have handled it better.
Learning this, I changed doctors and found a Naturopathic doctor at Bastyr University Clinic who was trained by the Institute of Functional Medicine. These are the leading training facilities in the world for natural and functional medicine. This doctor did even more extensive testing, found many more nutritional and digestive deficiencies, and focused on correcting my gut microbiome, leaky gut, and adrenal/hormonal axis.
My treatment was complicated and involved a lot of supplements, tinctures and protocols, all of which did their job and helped little by little. Yet it wasn’t until I started a ketogenic diet and gave up sugar that my healing jumped another big notch. My migraines disappeared, I lost over 60 pounds, and I hadn’t felt that good in 12 years. I wasn’t healed, but I was remarkably better!
I knew I had reached a huge milestone in my healing when I was able to take my granddaughter and her friends to youth group each week… something I had never been able to do in all her 13 years of life. I can’t say how thankful I am just for this one blessing of my healing.
Then I took a serious detour, which looking back, I’m glad I did. Because it taught me that FOOD IS MEDICINE, and it is the FOUNDATION of healing.
As I was feeling well enough I was able to start doing more things out with my granddaughter, so I fell away from my healthy diet. We were stopping for fast food more often. Also, my granddaughter does bake-sales to help pay for her school trips. She bakes organic, so I thought it wouldn’t be too bad if I sampled… How could I not with all those wonderful smells in the house?
At the same time my doctors were weaning me off my steroids completely. They hoped that my adrenals would “kick in” and start functioning on their own. Well, they didn’t, and my cortisol was so low that I started having major hormonal problems, leading to multiple symptoms. It didn't help that at the same time I was going into menopause, and then, my granddaughter and I suffered a severe emotional trauma...
Within three months I was completely falling apart both physically and hormonally, and I was back to being overwhelmed with illness again.
We determined that my adrenals needed more time to heal, so rather than wait, I opted to go back on hormonal therapy while my adrenals got up to speed. This helped, but I was still very ill... because I wasn't eating properly.
It was then that some further test results came back, proving that I had the genetic deficiencies that lead to gluten intolerance. My doctor said, “Absolutely no gluten…none. Or you will continue to be ill”.
Bread was by far my favorite food.
As I was praying, I felt in my heart God say, “I gave you the answer already. You need to get really serious, and just do it.”
So, I put my “Big Girl Panties” on, and got 100% serious about my diet. All organic. A wide variety and colors of veggies and fruits every day. Organic, grass fed proteins. Small amounts of carbs in the form of organic beans or rice. No cow dairy. Organic raw nuts and berries. Only coconut and olive oils, and no cooking with olive oil. No GMOs. No sugar. No gluten. No processed anything. Nothing inflammatory… no tomatoes, peppers or white potatoes.
That meant no restaurants… no Starbucks… no fast food… no church potlucks.
Serious Big Girl Panties.
As an immunologist I already knew that inflammation was the underlying driver of all disease... so I knew that if I applied all the functional medicine principles I would eliminate my inflammation. These principles are: Detox, Nutrition, Hydration, Sleep, Stress Reduction, Movement, and Positive Mindset/Spirituality.
Within about two weeks, I noticed a huge difference. Eating properly accomplished what the hormonal therapy couldn’t. I even felt well enough to start exercising a little, and I was starting to sleep better. Within another week, I experienced another amazing jump in my health. My hormonal imbalances and brain-fog cleared to the point where I felt nearly normal emotionally, and my inflammation and pain decreased remarkably. I was even better than I was before!!
Then I decided to screwed up...again. I had some pizza and a cupcake (or two). I immediately became so ill I barely functioned for several days. It wasn’t worth it.
This time, I knew what to do to help myself. I ate even more veggies, loaded up on my ferments, and took extra probiotics and anti-inflammatory essential oils and supplements. Within a few days I felt much better again.
Hmmmm. There is a very powerful lesson here. All these years I thought the illness controlled me, and I hated it. But now, I see that I have a huge degree of power. I can choose to follow Functional Medicine Science. I can choose to give my body what it needs to heal.
Healthy, organic, whole foods definitely are medicine. And sugar, junk foods, processed foods, GMOs and non-organic food is toxic. Science is finding that gluten and cow-dairy are also major causes of autoimmune disease in many people... it's much more common that we previously realized.
Eating right is not the only answer... but it is the foundation to putting out the fire of inflammation and halting the disease process. Proper nutrition also gives us all, sick or not, the building blocks we need to remain healthy into our old age. Science now knows that most debilitating illnesses of old age are preventable. Yes, even dementia and Alzheimer's are preventable, and doctors who catch Alzheimer’s early and apply Functional Medicine principles are putting Alzheimer’s into remission.
We've truly reached a miraculous milestone in 21st century medicine. It’s very exciting!
Two and a half years into my healing journey, I am truly becoming a new person. At 55, I am becoming healthier than I’ve ever been. I am not completely healed yet, but I am on a comprehensive plan with my doctors that is working, and I understand that it does take time to undo all the damage. I see and feel the evidence of change… so much so that I am chomping at the bit to help others with what I’ve learned!!!
But don’t take my word for it. Check out the nine part docu-series “Betrayed” by Dr. Tom O’Bryan, DC, CCN, DACBN. You can watch them all on my website at www.TrueWellnessToday.net. Dr. O’Bryan has done an amazing job of bringing the truth to the masses in this video series. He is on a mission to save lives with functional medicine.
So am I.
About a year ago, God gave me a true epiphany… you know, where you see the light, bawl your eyes out, and realize that your entire life has changed?
I was praying one morning, and I said to Jesus, “So, why did I have to go through all these years of suffering, if the answer of Functional Medicine was available since the 1990’s?! Why didn’t you show me the truth sooner???”
I felt my answer come immediately, accompanied by a very powerful sense of PURPOSE.
I know now that all my life experiences have happened for a specific reason…
My voracious love of research and science since childhood…
My training and experience as an autoimmune disease scientist…
My love of teaching…
My long and intensive battle with illness…
My difficult healing journey…
My empathic nature…
My love of truth…
My love of helping others and making a difference in the world…
All have come together beautifully: I WAS BEING PREPARED FOR MY PURPOSE.
Now I know that I was created to help others to be healthy. It was the driving force in why I went to school to be a scientist in the first place, but now with the newest discoveries of Functional Medicine, it’s even more exciting.
It just makes perfect sense.
If I had not walked this difficult path, I would not have totally understood what it feels like to be chronically ill. Now, I have so much more empathy and compassion.
If you are chronically ill, I understand how you feel. You are not alone in your suffering.
I understand the physical pain. I understand the emotional turmoil… the anger… the sadness. The mourning for the loss of everything you thought you were and dreamed of becoming. The feeling of being so very alone, like no one “gets it”. I understand how difficult it is to hear, “Oh, come on honey, just buck it up”, when they don’t understand that you’ve been “bucking it up” all morning just to get to where you are, and you’re about done. I understand how it feels to go from being the “ultra-dependable” one, to losing relationships because you were too sick to meet with your friends. I understand what it feels like as a mom when you can’t even prepare dinner for your family, and your kid is cooking for you instead.
Thankfully, I also understand the 21st century medical science on a molecular level. I can take the truth in the science, and make it easy to understand. I can teach you the functional medicine protocols you need to be well, and walk with you during the “two steps forward, one step back” path to being healthy again.
I understand what it means to really miss a donut, and be angry that you can’t just go ahead and enjoy one without getting really sick. But more importantly, I understand how much more delicious a ripe strawberry is compared to a donut… something I never thought I’d experience! I understand the complete joy of starting to see real results. I understand the empowerment of having real control over my symptoms. And I can teach this to you.
Most of all, I understand the path. I can look back and help you navigate the detours and pitfalls. I can help you not to become discouraged (as I did), because there really is light at the end of the path if you just keep walking.
I want to bring this to you, and to your family and friends who may be suffering with chronic illness.
That day I prayed a year ago, I was shown my ultimate life’s purpose. There aren’t enough words to express how passionate I am about getting the truth of Functional Medicine Science out, and helping others to get their lives back.
So, I’ve joined the movement… I’ve joined thousands of doctors, scientists and other health professionals who have seen the science and the testimonies of people healing. Doctors are changing their practices to incorporate the functional medicine model. It’s a paradigm shift not dissimilar to the discovery of penicillin.
I want to help you learn the true way to health and wellness, to empower you to alleviate your own suffering, so you can be all you were created to be, without illness holding you back.
I now coach individuals and groups, and I speak (without cost) at various venues, including churches, civic organizations, corporations, doctor's offices, spas, health clubs, Lunch & Learns, etc. If you need a speaker with an inspirational and life-changing message for your group, please get in touch. All people need to know how to prevent and heal from chronic illness.
My own health journey was filled with many detours because I was ill, traveling alone, and there was a huge learning curve. Now that I’m so much better, I can see that it could have been much easier if I had a health coach to walk with me. Someone who had already walked down my path and could help to keep me on it, without all the worry.
I’d love to make your personal health journey easier for you, and help you get your life back again!! Even if, like me, you were told there’s no cure and no hope… don’t believe it. That’s old school medicine. There’s new science to help you.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Please feel free to share it with your family and friends.
Dorinda Smith, MS
Autoimmune Disease Scientist and
Functional Medicine Health Educator
Dorinda Smith, MS
Autoimmune Disease Scientist and
Functional Medicine Health Educator