Being a mother is seldom easy. We mothers have time and again been compelled to act with heroism and self-sacrifice for the sake of our children. In our determination to rise to a challenge and overcome it, we sometimes reach beyond all expectations, revealing hidden talents that bring blessings to others in ways we never would have imagined. Though we set out to save a child, in the process find ourselves changing the world.
Young Elaine Gottschall harbored no lofty ambitions of changing the world. Back in the 1950s living with her husband Herb and two small daughters in suburban New Jersey, she considered herself and average American housewife - "your typical 'Leave it to Beaver' mom," as she would reminisce. She thrived in her role as wife and mother, content to lead a quiet, "normal" family life in blissful obscurity.
Then calamity struck. Elaine and Herb's four-year-old daughter Judy became dreadfully ill. Diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis, she suffered acute, chronic intestinal distress and bleeding that was unresponsive to standard medical therapy. Despite Elaine's frantic attempts to find something, anything, that Judy's system could tolerate, no food would nourish her - instead it would rapidly pass right through, almost completely unabsorbed. Yet the doctor insisted that food had nothing whatsoever to do with her illness. As the sickness and malnutrition took their toll, the little girl stopped growing, and her sleep was disturbed by frightening episodes of delirium. Frustrated by the failure of one medication after another to stem the relentless course of the disease, Judy's doctor gave Elaine and Herb an ultimatum: either consent to surgery to remove their daughter's colon and attach an external bag for the collection of waste, or watch her slip into further debilitation, even death.
Overcome with helplessness and despair, Elaine broke down sobbing. Incredibly, instead of attempting to comfort the anguished mother, the doctor pointed an accusing finger at her and exclaimed, "What are you crying about? You have done this to her!" That humiliating incident left lasting scars, but it was to become Elaine Gottschall's defining moment.
Refusing to accept one doctor's opinion, Elaine and Herb desperately inquired of specialist after specialist, hoping to find one who would offer a glimmer of hope and a different approach. Yet, no matter where they turned, they were handed the same ultimatum: if the standard arsenal of drugs cannot keep the symptoms under control, surgery is the only alternative. (It was also reiterated that - despite the fact that this disease primarily involved the very organs that digested and absorbed Judy's food - the type of food she ate was irrelevant.) Just when they had become almost resigned to their fate, a chance encounter between two friends led to Elaine being given the name of then 92- year old Sidney V. Haas, MD, in New York City. Dr. Haas had developed his nutritional approach to intestinal healing over a long, illustrious career and had written a textbook, which could be found in nearly every medical library in the world. His colleagues, however - unschooled in nutrition and dismissive of its importance in maintaining health - had abandoned his work in pursuit of new versions of the same standard drugs and of increasingly complex surgical procedures. Though Herb couldn't bear to see Judy undergo even one more painful diagnostic procedure - and their doctor ridiculed Dr. Haas and his methods as outdated relics of another era - Elaine was determined to hear what the kind, old doctor had to say.
After carefully examining Judy, Dr. Haas asked Elaine simply, "What has this child been eating?" No doctor had ever asked her that question before. He then instructed Elaine in how to implement his simple nutritional approach. Within ten days of starting the regimen, the child's neurological problems diminished. Within a few months, her intestinal symptoms began to improve and she started growing again, making up for lost time. Within two years, she was symptom-free. By this time, Dr. Haas had passed away. Elaine feared that, unless someone acted to carry on his legacy, his simple but effective remedy for digestive maladies would die with him, depriving other patients of the chance to stop suffering needlessly and achieve true intestinal health. She visited a medical library and poured over journals, soon discovering that Dr. Haas's approach was well supported by sound scientific evidence. At Herb's urging that she "find out what is going on," she entered the halls of academia and the research laboratory at the age of 47 and earned degrees in biology, nutritional biochemistry, and cellular biology.
As her years of research wore on, Elaine began to experience a gnawing sense of disillusionment - fueled in part by her fellow researchers' failure to share her interest in integrating all of the evidence for the effects of food on intestinal health and translating it into clinical practice. She despaired of all her hard work ever being channeled into helping real people who were suffering - people whose doctors might never recommend Dr. Haas's approach. Elaine came perilously close to giving up, but Herb refused to let her quit. He convinced her that the only way to get Dr. Haas's message out to those who needed it most would be to begin private consulting and eventually to self-publish a book and make it accessible to the lay reader.
And that is how Breaking the Vicious Cycle, Intestinal Health through Diet was born. In print continuously since 1987 under the original title, Food and the Gut Reaction, and since 1994 as Breaking the Vicious Cycle, Intestinal Health Through Diet, the book has been translated into several languages and enjoys a worldwide following. Until her death in 2005, Elaine made herself available to counsel, encourage, share laughter with, and yes, "mother" her vast extended family -- people from all walks of life who suffered from or cared for a loved one suffering from Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, celiac, diverticulitis, autism or cystic fibrosis or other ailments rooted in the digestive tract.
Never in her wildest dreams could Elaine have imagined the many lives that would be enriched by her knowledge and selfless dedication to helping others. She truly changed the world, and it all began with a child.
"We will reach one person at a time and will keep planting seeds." Elaine Gottschall, Specific Carbohydrate Diet Pioneer
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