A personal story about his life and multiple sclerosis
At age 18 he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis;
He started running when he was 18 years old:
At the 18th mile of the New York Marathon he knew he would be ok!
By Dr. Michael Wald
This chapter was adapted from an article that appeared in the Journal News 2011 and has been altered and expanded.
Dr. Michael Wald overcame a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis when he was 18 years old. He will be running his second New York City marathon November 2011.
Dr. Michael Wald was just 18 when he got some devastating news: He had multiple sclerosis. While in a science class at Brooklyn’s John Dewey High School, Wald was peering through a microscope when the professor asked him to describe what he saw to the class.
“I said, ‘I don’t see anything,’ thinking that the professor was playing a joke on me. He eventually came over and took a look into the scope and saw on my face that I was not joking. I realized that I had a blind spot in my right eye preventing me from seeing completely. My parents brought me to two neurologists who worked me up and gave me the diagnosis.”
“I remember very clearly going to the neurologist’s office located in Bay Ridge Brooklyn with my dad. The neurologist’s office was located directly across the street from my father’s chiropractic and nutrition practice. The two doctors were brothers and seemed nice enough. They welcomed me in and immediately escorted me into a dark room where they proceeded to give me an eye test. One of the doctors peered into my eye with an ophthalmoscope while the other was setting up a peripheral field vision test on the wall in front of me. Within a few seconds of looking into my eye the one doctor said, the optic nerve is inflamed – it’s retrobulbar neuritis. I soon found out that this condition occurred approximately 70% of the time in those with multiple sclerosis, but could occur in other conditions or all by itself. The peripheral field test showed that I have visual loss and blind areas. Many other tests were done including a thorough neurological assessment that revealed that I had muscle weakness and sensory disturbances. One of the doctors, Dr. Lombardo, prescribed prednisone at a dosage of 15 milligrams to be taken every six hours. Dr. Lombardo said to me, Michael, when you take this you will experience some side-effects. He continued by telling me that my face would get large (moon-faces) and that I might suffer from insomnia, palpitations and a bunch of other symptoms.
I filled the prescription at Friscia Pharmacy located on Mermaid Avenue and 15th Street in Coney Island. I know all of this exactly because my mother kept the bottle of steroids – I never took a single one of them! At the time I did not take them because of the side-effects. As a high school student I was not fond of the idea of developing a swollen face! With just a few months of researching and reading everything that I could on multiple sclerosis, and with the help of my dad, I began a nutritional supplement and diet plan. My father put me on a very comprehensive nutritional program that still is at the top of the list of any that I have seen even to this day. My mother, unknown to me at that time, decided to keep the container of prednisone. Years later she told me that she kept it to remind her of my diagnosis. Today, the aged plastic drug bottle reminds me of how well I have done all of these years and I will always keep it as a reminder of that time in my life.
It never slowed him down, and in fact, his diagnosis propelled him to study chiropractic, then a formalized education in nutrition and then off to medical school – all to gather knowledge from wherever he could get it. Ultimately, to apply all that he had learned to help people find a more holistic way to manage disease and stay optimally healthy.
“I really owe my holistic perspective to my father, Dr. George Joseph Wald. From a very early age he would teach me things about the body and health. When I was around 10 years old he taught me how to reduce my heart rate when I told him that my heart was racing because I almost got into a fight. He told me to apply gentle pressure to my carotid sinus, an area located approximately midway on the carotid artery on the neck; gently pressure slows the heart beat. I also knew a lot about nutrition very young mostly because I was naturally interested in it. I would ask my dad questions about foods and nutritional supplements and he would give me adult level books to read.
My father took me to a health convention in Los Vegas and we sat right in the front row…I was only 12 years old. After about an hour into the scientific seminar the instructor, Dr. James Cox, actually stopped what he was saying and started to stare at me – I was right in front of him. I had been writing down every word he said from the start of the seminar – it was all about the nervous system and I loved every second of it. Dr. Cox said to me, “excuse me, but may I ask how old you are?”. I answer, twelve years old Dr. Cox.” Then he just continued as if nothing had happened. The fact that he acknowledged me excited me even more. I read all of his books over the years and met him and reminded him of this story when I was twenty years old attending chiropractic college in Whittier California. He said that he remembered me!
Today, he’s a doctor and a holistic nutritionist. He’s the director of nutritional services at Integrated Medicine of Mount Kisco; he’s run the New York Marathon; lectures about his methods across the United States and has written more than a dozen health books.
Recently I heard a very successful entrepreneur say on television, “I believe that the secret to success is to choose one thing, and focus on this one thing with everything that you’ve got, and all else will follow. I’ve attended all sorts of healing programs because they fulfill a need and interest, really a burning desire that I have, to help others and help myself. My helping others I have help myself! By studying health I do things that forward that intention including: college, seminars (teaching and attending), running, weight lifting, karate, eating well, opening up a healing center, opening up a holistic learning school, developing health related software, and most recently, developing a comprehensive line of nutritional supplements and opening up a nutrition company – all from a single intention to learn for the love of learning and sharing what I learn. A single intention can generate an awful lot I’ve found!
The start and the finish – my motivations
“I’ve always liked to run. I have been running on and off since I was around age 18. I did not do it for fun. I think that I was just compelled to keep moving! Don’t like sitting around doing nothing. It was not until I decided to run a marathon in 2011 that I discovered that I really enjoyed running. I was asked by a friend to train for a marathon with him so I said yes. As it turns out, the man never trained a single day, but I kept training. Ran my first marathon in 4 hours and 1 minute. It was a great experienced, but hurt like heck!! The second time around I trained much smarter, adjusted my nutrition to match the stress of marathon training and completed my second marathon in 3 hours and 48 minutes! I was very happy with this especially since I badly injured my calf around two weeks before and could barely walk let along run. I rehabbed myself back and was able to run for the first time just the day before the marathon. I was prepared to finish the race in 3:30 minutes and ran with the pace group for this time. I kept up for the first 16 miles, but then my calf became to burn like it was lit on fire. I remember running up First Avenue in Manhattan and the pain was so bad I nearly hailed a taxi! I fought the urge and pushed on. Thoughts of my family kept my legs moving; my son Aaron who is a champion high diver; my daughter Maya who works hard in school and sings in the acapella group at her school; my little one Eli who is a natural runner himself and a talented artist; and of course my wife Robin who is a yoga instructor and the best person I know. Thought of them kept me going along with my running mantra, HARDER, STRONGER, STEADY. Finally, the thought that makes perhaps the most difference for me is the realization that this run I am doing at this moment could be my last.
After the marathon was over I was elated. Compared to my first marathon I was in better shape and much smarter about the science and psychology of running. I finished with a bit “left in the tank” and through my hands over my head as I crossed the finish line – knowing that a hidden camera would snap my picture as a momento of this final moment of the race. Before my heart rate even returned to normal I had decided upon a new marathon goal for myself – to finish a marathon in under 3 hours within the next two years (before I turn 48 years old). Currently I am training consistent with a 3:15 finish time and after this race my goal will be within my grasp.
Multiple sclerosis has taught me to fear very little. After all, fear stops you in your tracks. If one is present to fear they cannot be fully present to anything else; this is where joy ends as far as I am concerned. When people say that something can’t be done, or that I cannot or should not attempt something, it only drives me further. Multiple sclerosis for me started out as a terrifying perspective; I thought about it everyday until I was about 35 years old until I was able to put it into perspective for the gift that it was. Sure, I wish I had never heard of the words multiple sclerosis, but I appreciate every single step that I run and it makes me run faster. I appreciate doing the dishes, seeing the sky, having abundant energy, making love and being with my three amazing kids. Instead of having multiple sclerosis define me I “use the diagnosis” as motivation to be as fully present in the moment as I can be. Just last week I noticed that the trail that I was running on, the bridge that I ran over, and the water on either side of me was brand new each time. For me, each day is an opportunity to see and appreciate the miracle of what life has to offer.”
He also has developed the “Blood Detective,” a software program for doctors that allows them to medically and nutritionally interpret blood work and find hidden problems (Find out more at www.blooddetective.com).As for the name — when a grateful patient told him he was like a “real life blood detective,” the name stuck.
“I realized very early on that my health was, for the most part, in my own hands. Doctors could only do so much even with the best of intentions, and in the area of multiple sclerosis at the time prednisone was it. Today, it’s known that prednisone may help reduce the symptoms of exacerbations (flare-ups), but actually can hasten the neurodegenerative process. The few of the current handful of MS medications used presently (2012) do seem to potentially slow the disease process, but are often fraught with side effects. Many of patients simply cannot tolerate them and have come to me for alternatives.”
“My patients are constantly frustrated with their physicians partly because they know that their knowledge is limited to their specialty,” he says. “Others are frustrated because their doctors are not trained in nutrition and prevention and practice symptom suppression with medications.”
“MS involves, and often affects many aspects of the body. It’s considered a neuro-degenerative disorder. A condition that involves the destruction of portions of the myelin sheath, the covering around nerve cells, resulting in the formation of degenerative plaques (hard areas that may no long transmit nerve impulses normally in the brain. These areas of the brain control various areas of the body, such that depending upon the location of the plaques, different symptoms may arise. For a diagnosis of MS, the plaques generally must be located around fluid filled areas of the brain known as the lateral ventricles; the plaque(s) must be located around the ventricles (a.k.a paraventrical plaques). Neurologists, for diagnostic purposes, want to see these plaques paraventrically located and consider the diagnosis of MS “clinched” if they also find monoclonial bands in the CFS (cerebrospinal fluid). Beyond the diagnosis of MS, many people have no plaques and plaques located in areas other than around the ventricals. Many people with symptoms and signs of MS may have more plaques and get worse while others seem to have fewer or no change in plaques and get better. The plaques can form fairly quickly or over very long periods of time and may or may not produce symptoms along the way. Many other countries pay no attention to plaques as as many as 10 percent of the population have plaques and will never even know it. Never theories as to the cause of the sudden onset of MS symptoms in some; gradual formation of symptoms in others; and devastating sudden symptoms in yet others feel that there is more to this disease than plaques. Plaques, I believe, are merely the symptom of the problem, like cholesterol and heart disease, and the answer to the unlocking MS lies thinking of the condition differently than an neuro-degenerative disorder.
As a holistic provider my research and clinical investigations show that the cause of MS might be a virus (i.e., Epstein bar virus, herpes simplex virus, cytomegalovirus, parvo-virus, etc.), but could also be caused by bacterium such as mycobacterium pneumonae and chlamydia pneumonia. Fungus and even parasites, I believe, can trigger the aut immune’s destructive process against the myelin resulting in plaques seen in some people. Diet might be a cause in some people involving gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, and various vitamin deficiencies can increase one’s genetic susceptibility to multiple sclerosis. Heavy metals, vitamin D deficiency, low normal uric acid, increased need for vitamin A, essential fatty acids (i.e. omega 3 and omega 6) and ubiquinol (coQ10) may all play a role, more or less, in certain people dealing with MS. I use my blood detective computer software, consultations and careful history taking to investigate and develop personalized healing plans for my patients.
With the help of his father, who was a well-known nutritionist, chiropractor and biologist, he developed natural methods to manage his MS. ”
“Most people with MS have at least three exacerbations (flare-ups) of the disease every 10 years. I have had no exacerbations in 26 years,” he says.
Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Michael Wald:
1. His father was his greatest influence: “As a small boy he would always tell me to “persevere,” to listen to my heart and my head, to treat people as if they were my own family. He always encouraged me, and so did my mom (and she still does), but I followed in the footsteps of my dad — someone who helps others heal and search for healing solutions.”
2. He and his wife Robin — she’s a yoga instructor — have lived in Chappaqua for 17 years with their kids. Maya, 16, sings with the Quaker Notes at Greeley High School, and she’s a photographer with her own website and business; Aaron, 14, is focused on making the Olympics as a high-diver, and has a brown belt in karate. Eli Wald, age 11, is an artist and future scientist.
3. You might see him running around town: “I love to run throughout the town of Chappaqua and often up Route 117 into Bedford, but I especially love to run the biking trail beginning in Millwood.”
4. His favorite pit stop is lunch at Lefteris Gyro in Mount Kisco. “The best salads ever!”
5. Of all his published works, his favorite might be “Anti-Aging Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.”
“It is a recommended text for the largest nutritional organization in the United States, The International and American Association of Clinical Nutritionists,” he says.
6. The ultra-fit Wald ran the New York Marathon last year in 4 hours and 1 minute.
“I trained six months and a total of 633 miles,” he says, “and I did not miss a day and experienced no injuries. I thought the marathon was the goal for me, but I realized afterwards that what made it all worthwhile was that I set out to do something and kept my word to myself.”
He has since run the New York Marathon again in a time of 3:48 minutes.
7. He doesn’t reject traditional medicine:
“Integrated/holistic medicine, in the way I have developed it (and how I practice) is not a rejection of allopathic (standard medicine) methods, but simply recognizes that health is best achieved when the causes of ill health are identified, managed and potentially cured with the tools of healing: namely diet, nutritional supplements, exercise, stress management, etc.”
8. Don’t call the Wald’s health nuts:
“We eat out like everyone else, order a pizza, but we do not eat red meat. My wife and son are vegans and the rest of us avoid red meat, but eat some dairy and fish. We choose free-range animal products and purchase organic foods for home.”
9. Running the marathon is not his most impressive athletic accomplishment:
“I can do 28 pull ups in a row and I seem to need only a few hours of sleep per night.”
10. Not surprisingly, one of his favorite fictional doctors is Gregory House.
“I don’t watch much TV, but I have seen a few shows of the “House” series. This guy does not think in the conventional way and he is uncompromising in his efforts to get people well; sometimes having to be painfully honest with people.”
“I started running when I was 18 years old; I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was 18 years old; and mile 18 of my first New York Marathon served as a reminder of this and getting past mile 18 was yet another turning point in my life. Life is pretty sweet!”
Dr. Michael Wald lives and practices in Westchester New York in the town of Mount Kisco. He has three children and has been married to his childhood sweetheart for twenty-two years. He can be reached at his website at: www.intmedny.com