AIP Stories of Recovery: Laurane’s Recovery from Ankylosing Spondylitis

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AIP Stories of Recovery is a success story series about regular people from the Autoimmune Protocol community who are changing their lives using the protocol. Each month a new person is featured and readers have the opportunity to discover all the different health challenges that are being overcome by folks just like themselves on the same path. At Autoimmune Paleo we hope you’ll be inspired by, empathize with, and learn from these stories. If you are interested in sharing your story, please let us know by filling out our interest form.

Despite six months of intense back pain, Laurane’s MRIs and blood markers came out normal, according to her doctors. When the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis finally came, she was relieved to know the answer but disheartened when she was told that it “could only get worse.” As you can imagine, Laurane not only proved those doctors wrong, but has all but reversed her symptoms after 18 months of AIP and other holistic treatments. 

What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis in November 2016 at the age of 25. I had spent 6 months with intense pain in my lower back, making me bedridden. Walking, siting up and even lying down was painful. At first, I had no explanations for my plain. I was given a myriad of NSAIDs that didn’t change anything, and different painkillers that helped just slightly. My MRIs came out perfectly fine and my blood markers were also normal. It came to a point where doctors were not believing me and would lose empathy as I would come back over and over. I can’t tell you how many times I came out of a doctors office crying.

After 6 months and going to see multiple doctors, I finally found one that suspected Ankylosing Spondylitis. He had me do specific tests, including the genetic marker HLA B27 that led to my diagnosis. It was such a relief. In my mind, once I had my diagnosis, I could be healed. Little did I know that was going to be told that this was a lifelong disease that it could only get worse; that I had a chance of being in a wheelchair when I’m older and that the only way to slow the progression was to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of my life!

Describe what the lowest point on your health journey was like.

The fully 1st year of being sick was the lowest of my lows. It came so suddenly, I literally woke up one morning with pain in my SI joint, making it difficult to walk. As the days went by, the pain grew until it became unbearable. I was 25, I was finishing my master’s degree in Business & Marketing, and I was full of life, dreams and ambitions. I was doing my final internship before getting my diploma. All of a sudden, I was in too much pain to be able to sit up all day at my desk, working on my computer. I had to leave my internship (thankfully I only had a month left and managed to convince my university to validate it for my diploma). My whole identity because: I am in pain, I am sick.

I fought so hard to get a diagnosis that didn’t really change much in my life, except take on a new identity: I have AS. “I will never be able to stroll around town with my boyfriend ever again, I will never be able to go out dancing like I used to, I will never be able to play with my children, walk with them to school or travel with them around the world.” I would think to myself. In fact, my doctor had said that as long as I was taking immunosuppressant drugs, I could not get pregnant. This was a bombshell for me. The drugs helped a little, but I was still spending most of my days in bed or on the sofa. I had to grieve the life I thought I would have, the life I had dream of for myself.

Being so young, it was hard. I felt isolated from my friends because, even if they were supportive, no one could understand what I was going through. No one could see me cry all night from crippling sciatic pain, no one would see me waking up in the morning, not being able to get out of bed, no one would realize the true despair I was in. I would try to keep a brave face and a big smile to not make anyone too uncomfortable. I think I had never felt so alone, desperate and discouraged that first year.

What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?

I was one year into my illness and being bedridden, my boyfriend’s grandmother sent me a link to an online documentary about autoimmune diseases from a functional medicine standpoint. This is where I fell into the world of functional medicine & nutrition. One of the doctors that was being interviewed had really impressed me, his name was Dr Peter Osborne. I immediately looked for him online and booked a consultation with him. His initial consultation was $300, then there were tests to do and many follow-up consultations. It totaled up to about $6000. At the time, that was ALL my savings! This was the investment of my life, and I went for it.

My goal was to get better, to get off the immunosuppressant drugs and get pregnant. We started a protocol together, and he told me, “Give me 18 months to get you back on your feet — this takes time, but we will get there.” I fully trusted him and followed his recommendations religiously. As I was working with him, I dove into every book about autoimmune diseases, watched every documentary and read every article. Naturally I came across Dr Sarah Ballantyne’s book. I started following her Autoimmune Protocol at the same time as I was working with Dr Osborne (his protocol overlapped a lot with Dr Sarah Ballantyne’s findings).

It took me about 3 months to start seeing improvements, after that I skyrocketed!

When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?

After 3 months I could walk more than 5 minutes without pain, after a few weeks it would go up to 10 minutes, then 20 minutes and so on. This was my indication of progress. I remember this one time, I was with my boyfriend at the time (now husband) and we were crossing the street. The light was blinking indicating that it was going to go red for pedestrians, instinctively I started running (more like jogging), and so did my boyfriend. After a few seconds we both realized that I was running, we looked at each other with big round eyes full of excitement. My husband shouted out “You’re running?!” and I was like “YEAH!”. I think we stopped in the middle of the street for a celebration hug. IT was such a milestone for me.

What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?

Dr Sarah Ballantyne and Dr Peter Osborne became my references. I read all of Dr Sarah Ballantyne’s books, I had scoured her whole website and listened to all her podcasts. Dr Osborne’s book “No Grain, No Pain” was great too, but we had more of a doctor/client relationship since he was the doctor that I was working with on my protocol, so I had a lot of 1:1 support from him.

I tried joining a few facebook groups, but they ended up being very negative, and I was trying to include on positivity in my life.

I think that what truly helped boost my healing was when I explored more of the wellness side of things. I was doing everything I could nutrition wise but didn’t quite grasp the importance of sleep, stress management and mindfulness as much. So I started practicing QI-Qong, Meditation, acupuncture, doing red light therapy, doing saunas, lymph movement massages, breath work and using the Pranamat daily. This boosted times 10 anything I was doing supplement and nutrition wise.

Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?

After a while, working with Dr Osborne and following the AIP, I was seeing how it was improving my general health and my symptoms. I shared this news with my rheumatologist, but she practically laughed at my face. Keeping in mind that when I first got diagnosed, she handed me a booklet with FAQs about AS. One of the questions was: “Can food make a difference?” The answer was “No, but you have to make sure you do not lose too much weight, so refer to the high-calorie recipes in the appendix.” These recipes included pasta dishes, scalloped potatoes and many other dishes, all of which included gluten and dairy. So after being laughed at, I told myself that there is no point in trying to convince anyone that doesn’t want to be convinced. What was important was my health and what I was doing was working for me. So I continued following the AIP, taking my supplements, doing acupuncture, red-light therapy, the pranamat, my saunas and practicing Qi-Qong.

It can seem like our lives are consumed by a chronic illness, but there is so much beyond those struggles. What brings you true joy right now?

It took me exactly 18 months to completely reverse my symptoms. This was 3 years ago. Ever since, I have been medication free, pain free and symptoms free. After getting off the immunosuppressant drugs, I got pregnant. I am now a mom of a beautiful little girl. I have never felt so empowered, optimistic and happy! I am still following a version of the AIP (stage 4) and I am very happy with that. I got so passionate about nutrition that I decided to become a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and an AIP certified coach. I now help people who suffer from autoimmune diseases and digestive issues with passion and true compassion, having been through these struggles myself.

I feel so grateful to have crossed paths with Dr Osborne and Dr Sarah Ballantyne (I got to meet her once and was a total fan girl haha). They changed my life, and now I have the keys to my own health.

You can follow Laurane’s journey on her website and Instagram.

Would you like to share your Story of Recovery? Let us know by filling out our interest form.

About Grace Heerman

Grace Heerman is a writer and website designer based in New York City. Through her business Said with Grace, she helps coaches clarify their message and create authentic websites that actually bring in business. Here at Autoimmune Wellness, Grace writes book reviews, manages blog content, and organizes Facebook publishing. She is an avid traveler and loves spending winters in Asia. You can connect with Grace and learn more about her writing and design work on her website, Said with Grace.

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