Dr. Michael Jung, MD on Beating Bronchiectasis:
"Bronchiectasis, in my professional opinion, is a less straightforward condition to treat than most. With most other diseases, you can take a cookbook approach toward management. There's a pre-established series of steps you can take one after another. But with bronchiectasis, there’s a lot we don't know and, frankly, much of the standard treatments aren't that good. Since, we, as doctors, don't know all the answers, everyone has a little different approach to treating it. On top of that, bronchiectasis is idiosyncratic in that many possible triggers and aggravating factors are specific to the individual. It's not just the negative factors that vary. What works well for one patient may not work at all for another. So each person suffering from bronchiectasis is left to experiment to find out what works best for them personally.
For this reason, I think we can all learn from each other.
I’ve practiced medicine for 36 years. In 1980, I received my medical degree from the University of South Dakota School of Medicine. I did my residency at the University of Iowa and was board certified in family medicine. Since then, of course, I’ve been re-certified in everything.
Daniel first came to me as a patient when he was in his thirties, about 20 years before his bronchiectasis diagnosis. I’ve seen him when he was healthy and also when he was ill. In 2012, during one of our harsh Iowa winters, Daniel was definitely trending downhill. He wasn't his normal frisky self. Although he had asthma and severe allergies, he had felt well for most of his life. With that baseline, he had an instinct for how he should feel, and that winter he knew he was no longer well.
After taking a series of antibiotics and steroids to no effect, Daniel went to Mayo Clinic to see doctors who have dedicated their careers to treating chronic lung diseases. They were able to arrest his decline, but as far as what to do next, they offered no advice except to avoid getting sick.
What’s amazing about Daniel is that he did so much more than just avoid getting sick. Up until now, he had been a bystander in the process. But he could see the path he was on wasn’t working anymore. His health was severely compromised and something had to change. He realized that it would be up to him to make whatever changes necessary to regain his health. He had to be the one to find the answers.
What Daniel did was uncommon. Most people are relatively passive in their healthcare. For example, I'll often ask a patient, "What medicines are you taking?" And the patient will say, "Well, I don't know. My wife gives me my medicines in the morning and I just take them."
We, as doctors, usually don't give patients all the details of what we're doing, either. To avoid over-explaining and overwhelming patients who may lack the framework to take it all in, we tend to dumb down the explanation. We instead say, "Well, this is the treatment, do this, and I'll see you next month." And most patients are fine with that.
But Daniel is one of those rare exceptions. He is bright, persistent and resourceful. He wanted to engage with the process of his own healing, so he took on the lead role in developing and leading his own recovery support team.
Daniel used all of the resources available to him to create a customized treatment plan. He used the traditional (“allopathic”) approach to medicine with treatments such as antibiotics, antihistamines, reflux medicines, and so forth. But he also realized there were more options available for recovering his energy and health than just conventional treatments, so he explored alternative approaches.
After much effort on his part, Daniel came upon the combination that worked for him. But not only that, he stuck with the regimen, day after day, in the face of much adversity. After 18 months, he went from waking up exhausted after sleeping for 14 hours to feeling rested after just eight. He regained the energy he used to have. He used to suffer from persistent stuffiness, but now his sinuses are clear. He cleared out mucus in his lungs. He increased his lung capacity so he was able to breathe deeply once again. He improved his cardio. He went from getting winded while walking to comfortably running a 10K (6.2 miles) in about an hour.
Because Daniel’s story turned out so well, some people will naturally be skeptical. They will deny that his condition was as serious as it was or question whether his recovery was really as good as he described it. Nonetheless, I can confirm that he described everything accurately and honestly.
His condition, both before and after, was confirmed and documented by Mayo Clinic. I have personally gone over those records and his CAT scans. During his recovery, I saw Daniel quite regularly and monitored his health. I continue to see him today, and his overall health is undeniably better.
His outcome was uncommon, but it did happen. Bronchiectasis is a condition that can take on a life of its own. It usually doesn't get better just by good luck or the placebo effect. Normally, bronchiectasis is a condition that patients and doctors have to manage over a lifetime. I currently have two other patients with this chronic disease. Although, they started out pretty much the same way as Daniel, they’re not doing as well as he is. They are struggling with flareups and other complications related to the condition.
Some people may think Daniel is claiming he's cured, but that’s not the case. Although, it can be tempting to think in binary terms (black or white, good or evil, healthy or sick), that’s not how most things are in the real world. We know that most conditions are on a spectrum. People aren't either well or ill. They’re more in-between.
I would describe Daniel’s condition as managed, in remission, or under control. But to say that his lung disease days are over would be an exaggeration. Whereas he hasn’t had any issues in two years, there’s the possibility that an irritation will cause his bronchiectasis to resurface. Down the road, he may need more allopathic treatments than naturopathic therapies. But as of now, the combination of what he's doing still seems to work well for him.
I wish all my patients would take such a proactive approach to their own health. That being said, some people can take that approach too far. They search the internet and try all these alternative therapies that may delay their treatment, waste their money, or, worse, make them sicker. In the medical profession, we see that all the time. Someone who has, say, type 2 diabetes will decide to treat it solely with an unconventional diet, chiropractic adjustments, or herbal supplements. In those cases, they did take their health into their own hands, but the effort was misguided, and they jeopardized their health.
When considering whether to endorse any supplement or naturopathic treatment, my two main considerations are always 1) Is it safe? and 2) Is it effective?
The first question is relatively easy to answer. Our practice subscribes to a database where we can look up naturopathic and homeopathic treatments and get all the pros and cons of each. If it’s not harmful, then I consider if it will be effective. However, efficacy is a tricky notion. Often, these treatments lack empirical evidence to support their claims. So we won’t know whether a treatment is beneficial until afterwards. So it’s up to the patient to try out the treatment, monitor how they feel, and decide if the treatment delivers sufficient benefit to continue.
Whenever Daniel came to me with a supplement he wanted to try, I always ran it through our pharmacy department to confirm it was safe. Then I left it up to him to decide the next step.
Daniel’s treatment was safe and it appeared to be effective for him in the end. But you're going to have to be the one to decide what, if anything he did, is effective for you.
The greatest lesson of this book is that you need to take responsibility for your own health. As much as your family and medical team want you to be well, the bottom line is that you drive the process. At the same time, you should not take unnecessary risks. Always consult with your primary care physician before stopping a prescribed medication or trying alternative treatments.
When conventional medicine failed him, Daniel didn’t give up. He took charge, did the research, created a medical team, consulted with that medical team, persisted despite the many obstacles, and got better. If you’re in a similar situation, I encourage you to follow his example, take ownership of your recovery, and find treatments that work for you. As Daniel’s story shows, that can make all the difference.
Dr. Michael Jung, MD
August 29, 2016"