Patient, Heal Thyself

Health advocate Julia Schopick and Hollywood heavyweight Jim Abrahams encourage taking a good look at “alternative” treatments.

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Click photo to download. Left: Health advocate Julia Schopick. Credits: Courtesy Julia Schopick. 

While bringing laughter to millions with films like Airplane! and Naked Gun, famed director Jim Abrahams’ own life was not filled with such joy. His 20-month-old son Charlie stricken with epilepsy, Abrahams put creative life aside to save the life of his son.

“All available medicines as well as a brain surgery had failed to control his epilepsy,” Abrahams recalls of Charlie’s condition in 1993, describing that he had “dozens, frequently as many as 100 seizures per day.”

When doctors failed to provide Abrahams with answers, he went himself to the medical library at UCLA and found studies proving the effectiveness of the ketogenic diet, a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet used to control seizures that was developed in the 1920s at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Mayo Clinic. Today, Charlie lives seizure, drug and diet-free.

Abrahams has committed himself to raising awareness about the ketogenic diet, most notably starting The Charlie Foundation to Help Cure Pediatric Epilepsy in his son’s honor and mirroring his 1997 television film …First Do No Harm after how the diet helped save Charlie’s life, but also writing the foreword for Jewish author and health advocate Julia Schopick’s recently released Honest Medicine: Effective, Time-tested, Inexpensive Treatments for Life-Threatening Diseases.

The ketogenic diet is among the alternative treatments for diseases like multiple sclerosis, lupus and epilepsy discussed in Schopick’s book, which reached Amazon.com’s “Top 50.” Schopick, who like Abrahams grew frustrated with doctors and credits the diet with helping improving her husband Tim Fisher’s condition before he died in November 2005, is well aware of how to get the word out to the Jewish community—she’s the granddaughter of one of the founders of The Jewish Daily Forward, Morris Turitz.

“I decided to use my public relations skills, and my ability to write, to start spreading the word,” Schopick explains. “That’s why I decided to write my book—to tell the world about treatments…that, frankly, patients are not likely to hear about from their doctors.”

Besides the ketogenic diet, Schopick reviewes options such as low-dose naltrexone and intravenous alpha lipoic acid. Naltrexone has been used since the 1980s to treat autoimmune diseases, some cancers, and more recently multiple sclerosis, among other conditions. Alpha lipoic acid is used most often for liver disease, and also for some forms of cancer. Though they differ from what most doctors prescribe (at least initially), all of the treatments in Schopick’s book have this in common: They have been around for at least 25 years, are natural and often inexpensive, have benefited hundreds or thousands of patients, and have found champions within the medical establishment.

Schopick says contributors to her book faced similar obstacles—each of them was forced go their own way after their doctors failed to recommend or support their own findings about alternative treatments.

“In no case did their doctors recommend the treatments that helped them,” she says.

Abrahams says he “found that since 1925, the [ketogenic] diet was well documented by esteemed hospitals miles and decades apart to have cured one-third of the thousands of children who had tried it,” noting that more recent studies have also shown the diet’s dramatic effect on Alzheimer’s, ALS, and other conditions. However, “not one of the doctors Charlie had seen mentioned a word about [it],” he says.

The more people he talked to, Abrahams says he realized the problem might have been a lack of incentive.

“It’s a money thing,” Abrahams observes. “There is no financial incentive for a hospital to have a diet therapy program. Despite the fact that the ketogenic diet is the safest, most effective, least expensive treatment for most children with difficult to control epilepsy, it’s a money loser for hospitals.”

Even so, Abrahams continued to reach out about the diet, eventually connecting with Schopick.

“I have known about Jim and his work for nearly 20 years,” Schopick says, noting that when she contacted Abrahams to get information about his story and his findings, the two quickly became friends, with the Hollywood heavyweight agreeing to contribute the foreword to her book.

When her husband Tim was dealing with crippling seizures, Schopick recalls that, “Based on what I read about Jim and the ketogenic diet, I fed Tim hardly any carbohydrates. I really think it helped keep Tim from having as many seizures as he would have had on a regular diet.”

The diet remains a minority option in the medical world, perhaps because it focuses on fat. However, Schopick credits Abrahams with bringing it back into the public consciousness—and the medical discussion table—by bringing his son Charlie’s story to light in … First Do No Harm, which starred Meryl Streep.

“Thanks to Jim, there are now hundreds of hospitals worldwide that administer the [ketogenic diet],” she says.

Schopick recalls that, “Tim and I were to experience the medical system at both its technological best and its chaotic, uncaring worst.” Their trials began on September 15, 1990, when Tim experienced his first grand mal seizure. Two weeks later, he underwent surgery for a brain tumor that Schopick says was “the size of an orange.” After multiple radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Tim continued to suffer through additional seizures as well as strokes, and other conditions that were determined to require further surgeries and treatments.

Once, Schopick says her husband’s doctors “allowed” him to use an alternative treatment for a side effect of their treatments and, when it proved successful, they refused to pursue it further.

“All the treatments the doctors had tried…had not only failed, but had made [my husband, Tim] worse,” she says, adding that “I was shocked when his doctors weren’t at all interested in learning about this treatment that had healed Tim.”

Since Tim’s her husband’s death, Schopick has dedicated herself to helping people in ways she was unable to help him, namely researching and informing others about options that might have improved and extended his life.

“Our odyssey through the medical system is what led me to my mission to change the way people interact with this [medical] system,” she says.

Schopick was also inspired by her bubbe Julia, who returned to Eastern Europe for what was one of the world’s first radiation treatments. She explains that Julia was forced to try the pioneering procedure after Dr. Charles Mayo (of the eponymous clinic) told her that her cancer was “inoperable” and that she only had “months to live.”

“Thanks to a then-experimental treatment,” Schopick recalls, “Grandma…lived 11 more years, outliving Dr. Mayo himself by a few months.”

When it comes to treatments, Schopick advises people “to follow their guts.”

“If your doctor successfully treats your condition or disease with the standard treatments, that’s terrific,” she says. “I would never tell someone to look outside the box if what their doctor is doing is working for them. But there are many instances where this isn’t the case.”

Abrahams agrees that it is up to the patient, or those who have the patient’s best interests in mind, to choose what treatment is best.

“Each of us is largely responsible for both our personal and our children’s medical destiny,” he says. “To think otherwise can be dangerous.”

Posted on November 26, 2011 and filed under Features.