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The Importance of Having a Health Advocate in Your Life

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Ever wonder why just the right person comes into your life at just the right moment sometimes? I think everybody has experienced this at one point or another; isn't it a wonderful thing when it happens?

I met Beth Maloney about two years ago when she contacted me after reading my book, "Becoming Whole" about my recovery from invasive breast cancer (after losing my leg to bone cancer). At that time she shared a copy of her own book with me "Saving Sammy" about her son's incredible odyssey to regain his health. Beth and I found that we had a lot in common and became good friends.

Beth's story in a nutshell: Her son was in fifth grade when he had a sudden onset of debilitating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and later Tourette's Syndrome. He suddenly had a debilitating mental illness, and as a result he could no longer go to school. He continued to get worse.

Beth made a deal with God at that point, promising to educate people about Sammy's illness if she could get to the bottom of it. His condition had deteriorated to the point that she no longer could care for him at home.

And then she had a breakthrough. Her mother had been told about a doctor who had some success treating children with sudden-onset OCD caused by strep, with antibiotics. Against all odds, Beth took Sammy to New Jersey to be evaluated. Travel was an arduous task in and of itself.

The doctor believed that Sammy had gotten a strep infection that went to the brain instead of the throat (this is called PANDAS), and that was the reason for the severe change in his behavior. Sammy was put on a high dose of antibiotics -- and after some trial and error -- the medication started to work. Within a year, Sammy was better and able to go back to school. Three years later, he was off the antibiotics and finishing up high school. He is now attending university.

And now Beth is keeping her promise. She chronicled the experience in her book and has been traversing the country, reaching out to doctors and others to help them understand that sudden-onset OCD and other sudden behavioral conditions can be caused by a strep infection.

Yes, strep. All it takes is a test that many doctors will not order -- mainly because they don't believe that PANDAS exists. So Beth is telling her story, advocating for others in the same position to help them in approaching their doctors -- and many times educating the doctors as well.

Similarly, I spend a lot of my life putting together events where I can help people understand the benefits of eating a plant-based diet. Improving my way of eating helped me save my life after a mastectomy, chemo and radiation. When I started eating this way almost 13 years ago, after I had read about people changing to a plant-based diet and healing from their supposedly terminal cancers, most people thought I was crazy. As time went on and I stayed cancer-free -- and eventually healed from a host of other maladies such as ulcerative colitis, sinus problems, sleep problems and a heart arrhythmia -- I started teaching others how to eat and cook this way. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops!

I encountered resistance from my doctors, but as time has gone on, research has proved that eating a plant-based diet is indeed the best way to prevent and heal the major illnesses in America today: heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Beth and I are kindred spirits. I greatly admire her for putting out a message about advocating for yourself and the people you love -- especially when it comes to health issues. With all of the doctors I've dealt with over the years, I understand the importance of this.

But even someone who has learned to trust -- and go with -- her gut needs a little nudge or boost sometimes, including me. I've had a lot of challenges over the past 20 years with getting a prosthetic leg to fit properly. Many surgeries later, I'm still on crutches. I'm considering another surgery on my residual limb ... but I want to be sure that the next surgeon doesn't just do the same thing that's been tried repeatedly already. I need something different and it doesn't seem like it's beyond the scope of possibility.

Watching Beth in action inspires me! I love hearing the stories about people she has inspired to advocate for their children. For instance, she encountered a child misdiagnosed with autism, who, in fact, had late-stage Lyme disease. The parents had not known to suggest a more advanced test that eventually led to the correct diagnosis. Because of Beth, this family found out about the test and learned how to ask for it. As a result, the child was successfully treated.

Beth Maloney is a very good person to have in my life right now because she continues to inspire me to advocate on my own behalf and get the information I need to be able to make a good decision about what comes next with my leg.

This is so important because it can be a life-or-death decision in some cases, like Sammy's. For me, it is a quality-of-life issue -- walking or not walking -- and being able to bear weight on a prosthesis without pain.

I hope you have someone like Beth in your life to keep you on track and focused!

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Do you have someone in your life that has shown up just when you needed guidance, counsel or inspiration? Please share your own story or comments here.

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