Goodhealth Conventional Medicine Says Multiple Sclerosis Is Incurable. This Man Insists He Beat It with Diet, Ancient Chinese Exercises And Mind Over Matter. Wishful Thinking - Or a Truly Extraordinary Breakthrough?
Daily Mail, 07-06-06
IN 1998, Dermot O'Connor, 36, from Dublin, was diagnosed with a severe form of multiple sclerosis (MS) - the 'incurable' and degenerative neurological disorder. He left his job to dedicate himself to fighting the condition. Eight years later, in perfect health and symptom-free, he has written a book telling how he achieved this through nutrition, acupuncture and forms of mind and body medicine.
AS AN international banking consultant, Dermot O'Connor was chronically stressed, short on sleep and always running late. But he was used to being in control. Imagine his horror when he made the first phone call of the day from his office in 1998 and heard himself slur: 'Hello, itsch Dermoch O'Connor, can I schpeak with Carlosh?' His colleagues laughed. 'What have you been drinking?' they joked.
'I hadn't been drinking, so I put it down to tiredness,' recalls Dermot.
But he spent the rest of the day trying not to speak, then got an early night.
'The next day I heard the words: "New Zealand had lost rugby's Tri-Nations Championship for the first time since its inception" on the radio.
'I put my speech to the test with that phrase. I certainly couldn't have said that the previous day. Now, after much sleep, I felt totally confident.
"New Zhealand losht rugbysh Trinashions championshipsh for the firsht time sinsch itsh incepshion."
My speech was even worse.
'I was terrified. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't shape my mouth correctly to pronounce the words.' The next day, Dermot flew to Germany on business, only to find his health deteriorating rapidly. At one point during a presentation he was literally struck dumb. A colleague had to step in.
Back home in Dublin, he had a series of hospital tests. At first, consultants thought he'd had a stroke, as one side of his face had dropped.
But an MRI scan showed lesions on his brain and a lumbar puncture confirmed the dreadful diagnosis: multiple sclerosis.
'I felt all the energy drain from my body,' recalls Dermot. 'I was familiar with MS. I would often say that I would take any health condition ahead of MS. And here I was at the age of 29 with exactly that.
'It seemed one of the cruellest of all illnesses. Once it got a grip on you, there was no release. You spent the rest of your life fighting a losing battle. I knew the comedian Richard Pryor had MS and was confined to a wheelchair and could barely talk.' Multiple sclerosis is an 'incurable' degenerative disorder of the nervous system. Many symptoms first appear between the ages of 20 and 40. One in 600 people in the UK has it.
Nerve fibres are normally insulated with a protective sheath of fatty tissue called myelin. In MS, there is patchy loss and scarring of this myelin sheath, so nerve messages cannot travel normally from the brain to different parts of the body, leading to numbness, fatigue, speech or swallowing difficulties, loss of balance, blurred vision, muscle spasms and unstable walking.
'By the time I left the hospital my speech was back to normal,' Dermot says, 'so I convinced myself that nothing was wrong. Then, two weeks later, on a business trip in LA, I awoke and found that I'd lost sensation all over my body, except for a feeling of a tight band around my waist.' Back in Dublin he saw a neurologist, who gave him a number of tests. One involved pushing and pulling against his arms.
'I was so determined to pass this test that I pushed him back so vigorously that he almost fell over,' says Dermot. 'To my mind I had performed all the tests admirably. But then he slowly took off his glasses, and said: "Listen, you have got MS." ' On average, an MS attack comes once a year. Two within two weeks suggested that Dermot had a very aggressive form.
'I was told to go away and cry and to come back the following week with any questions. As I sat in the waiting room, I could see the varying degrees of decline as people before me struggled on walking frames and in wheelchairs. I wondered how long it would be before I was wheeling myself in for my appointment.
'While medication can slow down the decline by 30 per cent, nothing can halt MS indefinitely and often this medication has side- effects and sometimes it doesn't work. The cause of MS is unknown, which makes it more difficult to come up with a cure.
'I thought it would be better if my life just ended.' This feeling was reinforced when he bought books about MS: 'They seemed to be just guidebooks to decline - detailing all the ghastly symptoms including being wheelchair-bound and, finally, facing death.
'I developed a morning ritual where I would test each of my faculties to confirm which had declined and by how much.
'Sure enough, as each day passed, my legs got weaker, my eyesight seemed worse and I was developing pain sensations all over my body.
'I remember when my foot fell asleep and I was stricken with fear.
Was I about to lose my ability to walk?
As feeling and movement came back into my leg, I was momentarily relieved.
But worst was the fear of the unknown.
'It was as if a giant was holding me in his palm, about to close his hand and crush the very life out of me at any point he chose.' DERMOT started to look at his lifestyle. He had been filling every minute of every day with work, lectures and study, then exercising by running or lifting weights well into the early hours of the morning, collapsing into bed around 4am.
For the previous seven years, he had worked in more than 70 countries, hopping in and out of time zones, fighting off jetlag to perform under high pressure conditions.
He frequently gorged on junk food - colleagues called him 'the human dustbin'. He also felt 'emotionally' unhealthy: whenever he felt that he had suffered an injustice, he would harbour a huge amount of resentment - just as he did after being diagnosed with MS.
'I knew I needed quickly to make myself mentally stronger,' he recalls.
So he turned to various 'alternative' disciplines, including Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which 'reprogrammes' the brain to change negative thoughts. He also studied the work of Irish hypnotherapist Dr Sean Collins.
Dr Collins was researching the effect of the mind on the body and had just completed his first book Tipping The Scales. He argued that while making one change to your life might not be enough to conquer an illness, the cumulative effect of various changes could tip the balance in your favour.
The first change Dermot made was to take up Shengong - a Chinese form of meditation. Then he changed his diet, cutting down on saturated fats and eating more whole foods and oily fish, an approach devised by American neurologist Dr Roy Swank.
'Within three weeks of changing my eating habits, I noticed some dramatic changes in my health,' says Dermot.
'My energy levels became higher, my thoughts were clearer, my memory improved and I started to sleep better at night. Critically, the numbness in my body from the previous MS attack waned and eventually disappeared.' To Dermot, it seemed the original diagnosis had been turned on its head. He went back to his neurologist six months later and was told it was a temporary remission.
Dermot never went back.
The next time he and his neurologist met, they were sharing a platform at an MS Society conference where they were clearly from opposite schools of thought.
'He came from the angle that MS sufferers can get temporary relief from drugs, but it is simply incurable,' says Dermot.
'I believe I didn't get into remission from rapid deterioration by chance. I believe I have actively created my remission.
'In just six months, I was measurably fitter, faster and stronger. My energy was higher than I had ever known it before, and I had increased mental clarity. Not only was I symptom-free, but I was in the best physical shape I'd been in for almost ten years.' Dermot continued to study alternative approaches, training as an acupuncturist, dietary therapist and NLP master practitioner.
He also studied Chi Kung, a form of exercise, at Xi Yuan hospital in Beijing, the leading Chinese medicine hospital.
'I witnessed very sick people at Xi Yuan hospital move, breathe and meditate themselves back to health,' claims Dermot.
'From all this, I put together the pieces of the jigsaw to create the foundations of what I call the Healing Code.' He has now left banking and opened clinics in Dublin and London. He claims success with illnesses ranging from serious conditions such as Parkinson's disease to chronic migraine.
It is now eight years since Dermot was diagnosed with MS.
He claims his health has improved year on year and that he remains symptom-free.
Dermot appears to have confounded the prognosis. The history of medicine is full of stories of patients who defy expectations.
As Lucy Jeanes, of the Royal College of General Practitioners, explains: 'Self-empowerment and lack of stress is almost always therapeutic in chronic conditions.' MS EXPERTS also point out that remission from the disease can last for many years.
And while Dermot himself was was not on medication, health professionals get worried when patients use alternative treatments to the detriment of conventional treatment.
Dermot's story is 'inspiring', says Matthew Trainer, spokesman for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. 'He has certainly found an approach that works for him. Every person's experience of MS is different.
'Seven out of ten people with MS have tried a complementary therapy. Some find benefits in them, but we recommend you consult your doctor to make sure these therapies are not to the detriment of any mainstream treatment.' Lucy Jeanes agrees: 'It is essential that these treatments are used with conventional medical treatments and not instead of them.'
For Dermot, the first vital step is to understand and perfect the psychology of health recovery: 'So we begin implementing the Healing Code with a question: Is your mind ready to be well?'
The Healing Code by Dermot O'Connor is published by Hodder Mobius (Pounds 10.99). See also www. healingcode.com.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society website is: www.mssociety.org.uk. Its free confidential helpline is: 0808 800 8000.