As I look back and reflect, I realize life was pretty normal for me as a kid. I lived in a quiet suburb of New York with my parents and brother. I was a competitive figure skater and, when I wasn`t in school, I was at the ice rink. Pizza and chocolate were my diet staples and landing a double axel and avoiding my brother`s friends were my biggest problems. Then, the nightmare started.

I was fifteen-years-old when I first heard the words Crohn`s Disease. My life turned upside down. Instead of making new friends, meeting cute boys, worrying about pimples and pop quizzes and homecoming dates—the normal stuff that is stressful enough for a high school sophomore—I entered a world of doctor visits and colonoscopies.

"He said two words that would change my life"

It started with a stomachache. Then came the diarrhea and the cramps. The pain was so bad I resorted to sleeping on the bathroom floor because it was just easier than climbing in and out of my bed. My parents took me to my pediatrician, who was as helpless as the rest of us. He sent us to a GI (Gastroenterologist).

We did every scope imaginable. One worse than the next. A colonoscopy. Then, an endoscopy, a procedure where a nurse with lipstick smeared on her teeth shoved an endoscope down my throat while I gagged. And last, but not least, the barium enema. I`ll spare you the details, but let`s just say, I still have PTSD from that experience.

After months of tests and torture, the results were in. My parents and I drove to the Bronx to meet with a highly regarded pediatric GI. I remember very vividly sitting in the room thinking he was just going to give me some meds and send me home to go back to my normal life. I couldn`t have been more wrong.

He said two words that would change my life: Crohn`s Disease. Twenty-two years ago, nobody knew Crohn`s Disease. The name had no meaning. All I heard was that there was no cure. No cure.

I was fifteen-years-old and just diagnosed with a disease that had no cure. How was I supposed to live? The doctor kept talking, ticking off the parts of my life - my absolutely normal, teenage girl life that would need to change, which medications I`d have to start taking, which activities I`d have to stop.

I remember crying. I remember shaking, and being afraid and powerless. It was obvious that my parents felt the same way. My mother`s eyes were tight, her forehead creased with worry as she tried to understand my diagnosis. My father sat beside her, his hands curled into helpless fists.

And the worst part, worse than the diagnosis and the medical terms flying at me as if I was supposed to understand any of it, was the fact that I had no idea how my life would change. I learned very soon.
"You`re back. I thought you died".
Thanks, random boy from social studies. Real helpful.

Despite all the tests and doctors, the original Crohn`s flare-up that sent me to the GI didn`t subside. The symptoms kept getting worse. And twenty-four hours before homecoming, I was drowning in pain. So, rather than putting on a dress, painting on blush and eye shadow, and going to my first homecoming dance, I walked into the hospital and became a patient.
The day before homecoming, I called my date and cancelled. I didn`t tell him I was calling from a payphone in the hallway of a hospital, or that I was wearing a ratty robe, or that I`d wheeled an IV stand with three fluid bags hanging from it. He didn`t need to know.
For five days, I was unable to eat, unable to control my bowels, and attached to dozens of wires. I spent much of that hospital experience either crying or yelling. I was so angry and in so much pain and felt so sorry for myself. I knew everyone else was dancing and having the time of their lives at homecoming while I was laid up in a hospital bed in severe pain.

After a few days of steroids, fluids, and nourishment, the doctors sent me home. I was apparently healthy enough to go back to school and I didn`t feel sick anymore. But, by then, I`d missed about two weeks of class, otherwise known as a lifetime in teenage world, and I was nervous about going back. Not only was I far behind on schoolwork, but the steroids the doctors prescribed came with some pretty nasty side effects: chipmunk cheeks, also known as moonface; acne; and a pissy attitude some might call "roid rage."
Even still, I was determined not to let any of that get to me. I was going to blend in and go back to normal. And then I walked into my first class, sat at my desk, and the boy next to me, who I didn`t know, promptly leaned over and said, "You`re back. I thought you died". Thanks, random boy from social studies. Real helpful

While there were plenty more hospital visits and flare-ups, the next fifteen years of my life were fairly normal. I went to college (of course not a dorm, I would never share a bathroom with that many people); I worked in the fashion industry; I married an amazing guy. With each flare-up, the doctors merely changed my meds or increased the dosage of my current meds. I did whatever they told me to do, accepting that this was my only choice, my only life. Enjoy the time between episodes because the flare-ups were inevitable, the cramps and diarrhea and meds were inevitable. In 2008, I was hospitalized with yet another flare-up of Crohn`s Disease. I was three months pregnant with my first child. This hospital experience was different. I was different.

I realized I was about to have a child who I`d need to take care of. Someone who would rely on me 100% for everything. I didn`t have the luxury of lying in bed all day if I got sick. And I didn`t want to. I was sick of the doctors being in control. I was sick of the side effects that inevitably followed from the cocktail of drugs I took (reactions that were almost as bad as the flare up, including infections, illnesses, skin irritations, and the fear of an increased cancer risk).

In short, I was sick of being sick. That`s when I started doing research. Reading about diets, success stories, supplements, non-traditional ways of thinking. I was inspired enough to cut gluten out of my diet.

"That was my big first step"

That was my big first step. I have been gluten free since 2008. It was probably the best thing I did for my Crohn`s and it opened my eyes. I realized I could take charge of my health through nutrition. As the years went on I played with dozens of different diets and supplements. I tried fermented foods, drinking bone broth, juicing, detoxing with candida cleanses and elimination diets. I have tried it all. People used to tease me and say, "I never know what you`re eating these days." To all those people: Thanks for your support! (And let me introduce you to the boy from social studies.)

With the information, I learned I have been able to get control of my Crohn`s, a feat that twenty years of doctors and medications couldn`t accomplish. I am on a healing path. I don`t live in fear of the side effects of my medications. My body gets healthier and stronger every day and that gives me the energy and motivation to continue learning, growing and helping others.

I no longer rely on heavy immunosuppressive medications or chemotherapy class drugs. Instead, I control my disease through diet, exercise, meditation, detoxes, and supplements. The only prescription I take is a low dose Naltrexone, a mild side-effect-free medicine that works to keep down any residual inflammation. As I continue my wellness journey, I`m working to wean myself off this medication, too. But I`ve learned that the path to wellness isn`t traveled in sprints, rather in slow and steady strides. For the first time in twenty-two years, I see a light in the darkness that is Crohn`s, something I never thought would be possible.

When you learn how to take control of your own health, after so long being a slave to people in lab coats, your perspective changes. The world of fashion and selling clothes, what was once my passion, didn`t excite me anymore. I realized I wanted to devote myself to nutrition, and fully commit to taking my knowledge to the next level. After I had my second child, I turned my back on a fifteen-year career and started all over. I went back to school. In July 2016, I graduated with honors from Bauman College with a certification in nutrition consulting.

There are moments in my life I can`t get back. I`ll never get to be fifteen and dance the night away at my first homecoming or eighteen and moving into a college dorm, but I can help others have those experiences. My goal is to share what I have learned and help others suffering from autoimmune diseases. I don`t want another child or family to miss out on a life experience because of a disease that can be controlled.

This is why I created Get Real Health. My mission is to educate people who are struggling with autoimmune disease and give them tools they can use in everyday life to get real health through nutrition.