Liz’s Story: Diverticulitis

In June, 2014 I had a total knee replacement. I had been suffering with osteoarthritis for approximately 2 years and because of the constant pain and the inability to walk properly I decided to have surgery.

In the weeks after surgery I was not feeling like myself and was concerned that I was not recovering properly. I talked to my Doctor and complained about feeling tired, lethargic, lackluster, always wanting to sleep, no energy at all, and he said it was just the normal recovery process for me and was to be expected.

I pleaded with him to give me a Vitamin B shot or something and to do a blood test to find out what was wrong with me. The Vitamin B shot made no difference and the blood test results were inconclusive. Supposedly, I was “fine” and so I thought, “maybe the doctor is right” and this is just the normal process of recovery and so I just kept pushing myself.

Normal recovery time after knee replacement surgery was supposed to be 6-8 weeks but I forced myself to get back to work after 3 weeks. I took pain meds for 4 weeks following the procedure and just kept thinking, “oh well, this is what recovery feels like” but praying all the time that I would start to feel better. I also had the scary thought; “OMG, am I going to feel this way for the rest of my life?”

Then, one day in August, I had severe abdominal pain and was hospitalized. Tests were done and I was diagnosed with diverticulitis. The GI Surgeon said that if it happens a second time I would need surgery. He said if I chose elective surgery than it could be done laparoscopically but if I came into the hospital in another acute emergency situation I would receive a temporary ostomy bag which could be reversed in 6 weeks. Yikes! What was happening with my body? Other than my bum knee everything else in my body was fine just a few months ago and now this? I figured out from all the medical talk that diverticulitis had something to do with my colon and therefore my digestive system and therefore my diet but one surgeon told me to eat a high fiber diet and another surgeon suggested a low fiber diet so I was upset, overwhelmed, tired, confused and very uncomfortable.

It was suggested that I schedule myself for a colonoscopy in 4-6 weeks in order to rule out any other more serious digestive disorders. Well, we never made it to the colonoscopy. Less than 4 weeks later, I had a second attack of diverticulitis and this time it was much more painful than the first attack and I was in the hospital for four days. When I asked the surgeon why this was happening to me he said; “we don’t know” and then added “you are now a walking time bomb and we have to schedule you for surgery within the next four weeks.”

I was released from the hospital with the same level of confusion and uncertainty as after the first attack. Can you believe I was released from the hospital and I never met with a dietician or anyone to counsel me on what to eat and what to avoid leading up to my surgery?

I went back to work and discussed my situation with my CEO, a kind and thoughtful person. When he saw that I was eating a bagel with some juice he suggested that that was probably not the best diet under the circumstances. He said that I had to get to the root of the problem and that surgery was not the answer. He said if I did not get to the root of the problem, it would most likely just come back again. This made sense to me. He suggested I contact his friend Carol Patti, a Clinical Nutritionist in New York City and once Carol heard my story she said we needed to talk to Russell Mariani, a Digestive Wellness expert who lives in Massachusetts.

After almost two months of walking around totally confused and misinformed about any proper dietary suggestions for my condition, being told I was a “ticking time-bomb” and that surgery was my ONLY option and feeling on the verge of a nervous breakdown, speaking to Russell on the phone was a breath of fresh air and the first time I felt hopeful about solving my problems.

Russell took his time, was very patient and understanding, he answered all my questions (unlike the doctors!) and most importantly he had already helped many people before me in very similar situations. He had a very precise, step by step program to address the root causes of my diverticulitis. It all made a lot of sense to me. I had nothing to lose (except maybe a part of my colon) and everything to gain (mostly a pain-free belly and some peace of mind again) and so after discussing it all with my husband Bob, I decided to make a commitment to Russell’s program.

I think it is important to mention that at all times Russell insisted on keeping an open door policy with my medical doctors and surgeons. He offered to speak with the surgeons and explain his program to them. He told me that his program was both safe and effective but with acute diverticulitis there could not be any guarantees and that the actual risk of a bowel perforation was high, if not likely after already having two attacks, and therefore if in fact I had another attack of diverticulitis I would have to go to the hospital to make sure I had not suffered a bowel perforation. So, we went forward with eyes wide open and covering all of our relevant bases.

Fortunately, from the first day on Russell’s program my pain and discomfort got steadily less and less and within a few short weeks I was feeling pretty normal for the first time in a long time! I talked with Russell every day, sometimes twice a day to make sure I was following his instructions correctly.

Russell helped me to see that my health is my number one priority. I needed to make the time to prepare my food and meals and to sit down quietly and chew each mouthful thoroughly. I took specialized herbs to detox and cleanse my colon and to pull out all the “crap” (I think that is an official medical term) that was causing the diverticulitis in the first place. I took a few other supplements as well, like a superfood supplement and digestive enzymes and probiotics and he made sure I was properly hydrated and adequate sleep and rest was a top priority too.

Well, after about a month on his program I had lost over 30 pounds and I never looked or felt better in my life. I met with my surgeon at this point, who was still insisting on surgery! He was basing the surgery decision on CT scan results from August! (and now it was almost December!) I did a three way call to Russell from the surgeon’s office and I listened intently as Russell asked my surgeon to please take an abdominal X-ray to “see” if I actually needed the surgery or not! Russell made it very clear that if I needed surgery, so be it, he would support the decision. The surgeon refused to order another CT scan or X-ray. He said that his decision was based on “statistics” and that the probability that I still needed surgery was enough proof or evidence for him. I was stunned. All I was looking for was some real time evidence; based on tests taken TODAY; (especially after almost 6 weeks of colon cleansing designed to remove all that “material” from my bowel pockets) not from three months ago; to determine whether I needed the surgery or not.

I left the surgeon’s office that afternoon determined to get a second opinion. In the meantime, I was feeling energized and totally pain-free so I decided to continue with Russell’s program.

Finally in January, 2015 I found another GI doctor who listened to my story and agreed to work with me as long as I agreed to another colonoscopy to determine whether I needed the surgery or not. This “second opinion” GI surgeon told me that he could find “no evidence” that I currently had any diverticulosis or diverticulitis, and as far as he was concerned, I did NOT need the surgery.

Phew. After six months of endless uncertainty I finally had the proof and the peace of mind I was looking for. I have been able to keep the weight off as I have been enjoying my new diet and blood work from a recent physical with my Primary Care Doctor revealed that the cholesterol problem I had had for years was now resolved with my hdl and ldl numbers in the normal ranges. I think that is called a “beneficial side effect.”

Needless to say, my health crisis was resolved by working with Russell. I now feel very confident that the basic principles and practices of a healthy diet that I have learned from Russell will serve me for many years into the future. I no longer worry that I am some kind of walking ticking time bomb waiting to explode at any minute. Instead I can resume my normally frantic New York City work-life with the peace of mind that comes from having learned some very important lessons about the people and places and things that nourish me best! Thank you Russell!

Liz Berlly