Beautiful, bold and brilliant Dutch-American model and actress Yolanda Hadid, star of the American reality-television show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, is more than just a famous supermodel and television personality. She is a tenacious survivor of chronic Lyme disease and passionate advocate for the many millions of people who are battling this serious worldwide pandemic disease.
Those who follow Yolanda in the media know that her journey with Lyme disease over the past five years has been anything but smooth. In addition to being misdiagnosed and mistreated by many doctors, Yolanda has had to contend with ridicule from Hollywood, a recent divorce from her husband David Foster, and incredibly, two of her children also being diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease—all of this while fighting to reclaim her life amidst a debilitating array of symptoms.
Yolanda shares her healing journey on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, as well as in other media such as Twitter. She has also participated in several charity organization events for Lyme disease, including Lyme Research Alliance’s 2015 gala event and Stand4Lyme Foundation's recent Catalyst 4 The Cure Concert. She has supported others in the battle, such as Ally Hilfiger, author of the recently released biography entitled: Bite Me: How Lyme Disease Stole My Childhood, Made Me Crazy and Almost Killed Me.
Yolanda, who has courageously gone public with her story, is becoming a light and a voice for millions of people with Lyme who don’t have one. By sharing her story, many more will become educated about and aware of this debilitating disease. This could lead to more funding for research, and ultimately, a shift in the current flawed diagnostic and treatment guidelines set by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and Centers for Disease Control.
It is ProHealth’s honor and privilege to award Yolanda with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her efforts to spread awareness about chronic Lyme disease, and for her boldness, courage and willingness to share her story publicly, as she also battles to recover from Lyme. ProHealth's founder and CEO, Rich Carson, said, "I've been wowed by her incredible courage and the amazing success she has had as an advocate for Lyme disease."
I had the honor of interviewing Yolanda for this award, and as a fellow Lyme disease survivor and author of four Lyme disease books, I realized that her battle is similar in some ways to that of many thousands of others who have been diagnosed with this illness. For instance, many people are misdiagnosed and improperly treated by their doctors. Many have multiple family members infected with Lyme; incur disbelief from friends, family and society about the seriousness of the illness, and often end up losing important relationships because of it.
However, what amazed me about Yolanda was her lack of anger or bitterness toward those who may have mistreated, diagnosed or misunderstood her. I admired her tenacious, matter-of-fact attitude about Lyme disease, and determination to beat it and advocate for others by sharing her story publicly and researching to find a cure.
Chronic Lyme disease is a devastating pandemic, with over 300,000 new cases every year in the United States alone. Because symptoms of Lyme mimic many dozens of other diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, ALS and Parkinson’s—to name a few—it can be difficult to diagnose. What’s more, tests miss many cases of Lyme, either because they aren’t sensitive or specific enough, or simply don’t exist for all of the strains of organisms involved in Lyme. This means that most doctors are not equipped to recognize and adequately treat it.
Following is my interview with Yolanda for ProHealth, where you will learn more about her journey.
Connie Strasheim: What was your life like before Lyme disease? When did you you discover you had it, what were your symptoms, and how many doctors did you see before you got a proper diagnosis?
Yolanda Hadid: Before I got sick, I was a hardworking multi-tasking butterfly that could do anything. Nothing was ever too much for me! I was a single mom raising three kids in Santa Barbara. I was a busy bee, always going, 24-7.
Then, I started to have flu-like symptoms that were cyclical; I would have severe joint pain, and it was as if I would get a bad flu every two weeks. But when you are such a high functioning person, as I was, you always find an excuse for the symptoms. I told myself that I was working too hard, or that I was driving too much, or that I wasn’t getting enough sleep—things like that. So I went through a whole denial stage at first.
I went to Germany and tried lamb stem cell therapy, which ended up helping me remarkably. Literally overnight, the joint pain disappeared. But I continued to have severe fatigue, as neurological and brain symptoms started to set in. For instance, I started to not recognize people, was suddenly bothered by noise and began to have memory issues—that sort of thing. I saw many doctors, all of whom tried to treat the symptoms rather than get to the root cause of what was wrong with me.
I did that for maybe a year before moving to Malibu in 2011, right before I got married. Then, I remember being in the gym one day, getting ready for my wedding, and all of a sudden I realized that I couldn’t do one more push-up. I looked at my husband-to-be (David Foster) and said, “You know what? I’m done. I can’t work out one more day.” Five years have passed, and I haven’t been to the gym or worked out like that since.
In the meantime, while I was in Malibu, I continued to see doctors but everyone around me was saying things like, “You are (feeling badly because) you’re doing too much; between getting ready for your wedding, doing your show in Holland, and so on…you are overworked.” But I knew this wasn’t true, because I used to thrive on that kind of lifestyle. I told them, “That’s not what is wrong with me.”
The doctors at that time gave me a whole rundown of antidepressants and medications; things like Ritalin and Adderal, to try to speed up and improve my brain function, but none of their treatments resonated with me or made me feel better. Yet I knew something was really wrong, because I would get circles, or rings, under my eyes every 3-4 weeks that would come and go. I would tell the doctors that it was as if something like a bacteria, was growing in my brain. But the doctors would tell me that I was wrong.
At times, I would go to the hospital with severe migraines, but the doctors would always just send me back home and tell me that I had chronic fatigue syndrome. However, I knew that because of the cyclical symptoms that I had, that it wasn’t chronic fatigue syndrome; that there was something in my brain that was causing symptoms to come and go.
Then I went to Belgium to see one of the top chronic fatigue syndrome specialists in Europe, and he ran some tests on me. Six weeks later, he called me and said, “You have chronic neurological Lyme disease. You need to get a port and start intravenous antibiotic therapy.” And that’s where my healing journey really began. This was in 2012.
At the time, I didn’t know much about the difficult detoxification reactions that could happen with intravenous antibiotic treatment. These reactions occur when microbes die in the body and release neurotoxins into the bloodstream. If I had known then what I know now, I’m sure it would have been a totally different experience for me (because I could have prepared for those reactions).
Once I started the antibiotics though, it was as if my body just shut down. I would be sweating on bathroom floor, feverish, sick, and in the end, the medications didn’t really get me much better. And, as I started researching—and I’m a pretty matter of fact kind of person—I realized that there is no cure for Lyme.
Once I really started educating myself about it, I thought, okay (the research shows that) they can’t kill Lyme in a test tube, which means that popping antibiotics for long periods of time doesn’t make sense. Doing antibiotic therapy never really felt right to me, anyway.
Connie: As a Lyme disease researcher, book author and Lyme disease survivor myself, I’ve been amazed at how many people with chronic Lyme disease are abandoned or not supported by friends, family, colleagues and the medical community. Most people with Lyme disease look healthy, so others don’t believe they are that sick, even though they may be deathly ill. In fact, it’s common for Lyme sufferers to be told that their symptoms are “all in their head.”
How have the people in your life reacted to your diagnosis? Do they believe that you are truly sick, and/or has anyone abandoned you?
Yolanda: It’s hard for people to understand, why, with this disease, you look so good and yet you feel so bad. Like with any disease, in the beginning, everyone is very caring and understanding, and even though people might not know anything about Lyme disease, they tolerate it at first. Then everyone gets on with their own lives, because in today’s world, everyone is busy and focused on their own problems. But I would not say I was abandoned by anyone.
Connie: How are you feeling now?
Yolanda: I’ve pretty much traveled the world and exhausted every possibility of being able to figure this disease out. In the end, I took the road of “underground medicine” and studied and tried just about any and every (treatment) out there outside of conventional medicine that I thought could rebuild my body and make my immune system better. Those were a crazy five years, but now, I’m pretty stable compared to where I once was.
I continue to see a renowned integrative Lyme specialist, Dietrich Klinghardt, MD, PhD, every six weeks, for treatment. I also have a health advocate who works with me daily. I do a variety of treatments to eliminate the infections and rebuild my body; drips, shots, homeopathy, low-dose immunotherapy—many different things. I feel that if I keep hitting the infections from different angles that it will be beneficial and I hope and pray that one day, I will just wake up and be ready to get on with my life.
Lyme disease is so multi-faceted though. It’s not just Lyme disease (or Borrelia) infections that all of us with Lyme deal with, as you know. It’s all of the co-infections that come along with it, such as Babesia and Bartonella. I also have had to treat severe parasite infections and heavy metal toxicity in my body, because the mercury amalgams in my teeth were leeching heavy metals into my body. I had my breast implants removed, as well. It’s like there are so many chapters, or pieces to this pie; it’s not just Lyme and co-infections that people with Lyme disease deal with.
Connie: Yes, and I’ve found that the Lyme disease infections cause the immune system to be susceptible to so many other conditions, or all of these problems just pile up in the body over time. We are all becoming poisoned and toxic from the environment. Some of the things you describe here—like parasites and heavy metal toxicity—are common Lyme co-conditions that doctors see almost universally in people with Lyme.
Yolanda: I am writing a book right now about my healing journey. This book is backed up with facts, research, lab tests, DNA testing, etc.—proving the existence of chronic Lyme disease. I continue to travel a very smart and intelligent journey because I’m neurotic about keeping records, test results, etc.
It’s hard to wrap your mind around how big this disease is, though. Fortunately, I think I am about 70% of the way in my healing journey. What that means is that I have good and bad days. On the good days, I have maybe 4-5 hours where I can function, and the rest of the day I rest. I just keep on with my treatments, hoping that one day I will wake up and be better.
Connie: I have interviewed over 100 integrative Lyme disease and cancer doctors and those who treat both conditions will sometimes tell me that Lyme is just as serious and damaging to the body as cancer (sometimes even more so), and that the treatment regimens for Lyme can be even more complex. What do you think, based on the treatments you’ve received?
Yolanda: I think that all of these diseases are bad. I never like to compare though; this is not a race, and I’m not in this to say that Lyme is worse than cancer, and I can’t give an opinion about it because I’ve never had cancer. But Lyme disease is definitely a struggle. This is not an illness for “pussies,” that’s for sure.
On my worst days, I sometimes think, I wish I had cancer because at least then I would understand it. I would know what to do. I would treat the cancer and then rebuild and rejuvenate my organs, and it would have an end. With this disease, there seems to be no end. It’s a trial and error disease. I pray every day that one day things will all just fall into place. But it’s not as clear of a journey as being diagnosed with cancer. That’s just a fact.
Connie: One of the most frustrating things about this disease is that you think you are making progress and moving forward, but then you continually have setbacks; it’s a forward and backward process.
Yolanda: Yes, and I’ve had relapses. Last year, or two years ago, I thought, I’m better so I’m going to get off all of my medications. So I got off my meds for three months, and had a terrible relapse. Now, it’s been sixteen months since I’ve been on them again and I still have to take them.
Connie: What is the single most difficult challenge that you have faced, having Lyme disease?
Yolanda: For me, it has just been staying focused on the end result, which is to be back in a healthy body. Trying to stay focused on something that’s not a clear path for anybody, is one of the hardest things to do, because there is no magic potion, single pill, or antibiotic, that will work for everyone. I’ve taken every antibiotic out there and all have failed me.
So many of us with Lyme disease are kind of maneuvering in what I call the “underground medical world” –where we have to do treatments that aren’t approved by the FDA, and that’s hard. And we have to do this because the medical establishment does not recognize chronic Lyme disease or fund treatment for it.
The first case of Lyme disease was diagnosed in 1972, so I can’t help but get a bit angry when I hear that the government has awarded 1.5 billion in research for the Zika virus, yet they will not fund research for Lyme disease, which has been around for 40 years now and is a worldwide pandemic. That is the frustrating part of it all for me.
But I keep refocusing and try not to let these things get to me. I know that I have a higher purpose in this journey, and that God allowed this trial in my life for a reason. Once my brain is 100% healed, I hope to really be able to make a positive change in this world, as I continue to search for a cure and make sure that everyone gets the treatment that they deserve. This is probably going to be my life’s mission and journey.
Connie: Your vulnerability and willingness to share your journey is helping to educate thousands, maybe millions of people about Lyme disease. Not only that, but you’ve become the voice and advocate for millions of others with Lyme disease whose voices can’t be heard. So what would you say are your most meaningful experiences in advocating for those with Lyme disease?
Yolanda: Honestly, I don’t really know. I live under a rock. I’ve tried to keep my job these last four years, but besides that, I don’t really have a normal, functional social life or anything. So I’m not really “out there.” But when I do get out—for instance, last night I went to the book signing for Ally Hilfiger’s new book—I realize how much impact I make on people. Because people who are crying and desperate will come up to me and thank me for sharing my story, so those are the moments when I will say to myself, Okay, I know why I’m doing this, so I need to stay focused and take this journey until the end. I have the power to take it to the finish line.
So it’s in those moments that I realize the impact that I can make upon the lives of others with Lyme disease. Last night at the book signing, a young girl came up to me, and hugged me and said, “You know, because of watching you on TV, I now know what’s wrong with me, and I have been able to get the right diagnosis and treatment. I’ve been sick for half my life, but it hadn’t been for you, I would not have known I had Lyme.” These are inspiring moments for me, along with the thousands of emails and letters that I receive daily. When I look at all of these things, I realize that I need to keep going to get well, to be able to help others.
Connie: Your beautiful children, Bella and Anwar, are also battling Lyme disease. How are they doing?
Yolanda: They are doing good. They are also under the care of Dr. Klinghardt. Looking at them keeps me extra motivated every day. They are young, and much more resilient than I am, fortunately.
Connie: That’s great to hear. You know, it is often said that adversity will make you “better” or “bitter”. You have definitely made “limeade” out of “Lyme” by sharing your heart and knowledge about Lyme with others. What message of hope would you like to give to those with Lyme disease and their families?
Yolanda: It’s very important for all of us with Lyme disease to stick together as a community, because there is so much doubt and so many unknowns with this disease. We’ve got to stick together and focus on one thing, and that’s finding a cure that’s affordable for all of us. So we need to keep making noise and stick together.
When I get words of ignorance from the world, it makes me stronger and just creates in me a desire to fight harder. I feel very strongly that God gave me the gift of being able to deal with all of the adversity, criticism and nonsense around me. It doesn’t make me angry. Somehow, I have the ability to just let it roll of my back and keep trekking forward.
Connie: If you could be known for anything, what would that be? What kind of legacy would you like to leave for the generations to come?
Yolanda: If I could be remembered for anything, it would be that I was able to help find a cure for Lyme. I also want to be known as someone who gives hope to others.
Yes, this disease is terrible, but in most cases, it’s not a death sentence, and you’ve got to keep fighting and getting up, every day. We owe that to the next generation. You know, I have so much respect for Elton John, and his work in AIDS research, and all that came along with that. He helped to dispel many myths about the disease. AIDS was kind of an awakening to the truth of life in this country today. Thirty years ago, people were shunned by their families and ridiculed and made to believe that AIDS was just a gay people’s disease, and how wrong were we about that?
The same kind of ignorance is happening with Lyme disease, in a sense, because it’s not a disease that is effectively treated with 28 days of antibiotics, contrary to the contention of most doctors, the Centers for Disease Control and the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Treatment is not as simple as that, and it’s a chronic disease; one of the most debilitating diseases in the world. It’s a disease where you look good on the outside, but you feel like you want to die on the inside. That’s one of the greatest challenges with it. But with persistence and perseverance, and by creating awareness, I believe we can find a cure, and that there is hope for recovery.
Connie Strasheim is the author, co-author or ghostwriter of 10 wellness books, including four on Lyme disease, and the upcoming New Paradigms in Lyme Disease Treatment: 10 Top Doctors Share Treatments that Work. She is also a medical copywriter and Editor of Pro Health’s Lyme disease page, as well as Editor of the Alternative Cancer Research Institute. In addition to Lyme disease, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. You can learn more about her work at:www.ConnieStrasheim.org