Everyone’s journey to functional medicine and their evolution within it is different. For me, after starting to practice family medicine, I saw patients who did not improve despite the patient and my best effort. But why? What was I missing? I went for further training in integrative medicine and obtained my Master’s in Public health to find answers. I opened an integrative practice devoted to nutrition, lifestyle and hormone replacement. This helped healthy to moderately sick patients, but I continued to struggle with severely ill patients.
After moving to Cleveland, I met Mark Hyman, MD who encouraged me to start functional medicine training. During this time, my youngest son started to struggle with his health. He was diagnosed with anaphylaxis to dairy at 9 months of age along with numerous other food allergies. He experienced two life threatening anaphylactic episodes at 2 and 3 years of age. He was so reactive to dairy that an air borne exposure from a milk spill would lead to a severe allergic reaction. He developed pneumonia, followed by severe asthma requiring monthly oral steroids, steroid inhalers, and breathing treatments to keep him functioning. He stopped eating and fell off the growth chart completely. Needless to say, I was stressed and overwhelmed (and I am a physician)!
With the help of an integrative allergist and applying functional medicine, my family began to improve. I involved the whole family because I needed their support and buy in. Together, we cleaned up our diet, used only natural household and skin care products, started a regular meditation practice and began supplements. My youngest son’s health continued to fluctuate, but his baseline improved steadily over the years. The rest of us improved faster because we were not sick. My older son’s bloating and gas resolved. He grew taller after removing gluten and dairy. My husband’s sports injuries stopped bothering him and I just felt better.
Due to my son’s health issues, I experienced common health problems faced by my functional medicine patients, such mast cell activation, food sensitivities along with food allergies, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), dysbiosis, asthma, and low weight for some time. Every new treatment I learned about, I tried on him. This process was enlightening and empowering. My youngest son is now 11 years old and healthy. His asthma resolved three years after starting functional medicine. His weight and height improved slowly, and he is finally at the 50th percentile. He is still allergic to dairy, but his reactions are now only with ingestion. He has outgrown all other food allergies and sensitivities. We continue to be a dairy free, low gluten and low sugar household. As a family, we embrace the functional medicine lifestyle every day.
While this unfolded at home, I joined Mark Hyman, MD at The Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. During my 7-year tenure, I cared for thousands of patients with various diseases and symptoms. I worked with many complicated and complex patients who had seen every specialist at The Clinic. As these patients improved, specialist began referring me their complex patients. I was also able to design and create multiple shared visits targeting children, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and moderate to severely ill Post COVID patients. I was honored to present our Post COVID group outcomes to the NIH. All of these experiences have shaped and strengthened my skills, and transformed me into an experienced functional medicine physician who can care for all ages and sickness levels.
One of the most important lessons I learned was the importance of the “team” that surrounds and supports the patient’s healthy journey. This “team” can be the patient’s family and/or friends. Repeatedly I saw patients with a supportive, stable team be more successful. This was exactly my family’s experience.
I desire to practice functional medicine honoring this “team” to improve health and well-being. For families we offer family group visits so everyone enters the journey together. For individuals, the group visit design creates an online community to support you and your journey into functional medicine. Research shows that group visits have better outcomes than individual visits and help reduce the cost of care. Sicker individuals may need additional services but when everyone has support, the greatest opportunity for success can occur.