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Being a mother is seldom easy. We mothers have time and again been compelled to act with heroism and self-sacrifice for the sake of our children. In our determination to rise to a challenge and overcome it, we sometimes reach beyond all expectations; revealing hidden talents that bring blessings to others in ways we never would have imagined. Though we set out to save a child, in the process find ourselves changing the world.
Young Elaine Gottschall harbored no lofty ambitions of changing the world. Back in the 1950s living with her husband Herb and two small daughters in suburban New Jersey. She considered herself and average American housewife - "your typical 'Leave it to Beaver' mom," as she reminisces today. She thrived in her role as wife and mother, content to lead a quiet, "normal" family life in blissful obscurity.
Then calamity struck. Elaine and Herb's four-year-old daughter Judy became dreadfully ill. Diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis, she suffered acute, chronic intestinal distress and bleeding that was unresponsive to standard medical therapy. Despite Elaine's frantic attempts to find something, anything, that Judy's system could tolerate, no food would nourish her - instead it would rapidly pass right through, almost completely unabsorbed. Yet the doctor insisted that food had nothing whatsoever to do with her illness. As the sickness and malnutrition took their toll, the little girl stopped growing, and her sleep was disturbed by frightening episodes of delirium. Frustrated by the failure of one medication after another to stem the relentless course of the disease, Judy's doctor gave Elaine and Herb an ultimatum; either consent to surgery to remove their daughter's colon and attach an external bag for the collection of waste, or watch her slip into further debilitation, even death.
Overcome with helplessness and despair, Elaine broke down sobbing. Incredibly, instead of attempting to comfort the anguished mother, the doctor pointed an accusing finger at her and exclaimed, "What are you crying about? You have done this to her!" That humiliating incident left lasting scars, but it was to become Elaine Gottschall's defining moment.
Refusing to accept one doctor's opinion, Elaine and Herb desperately inquired of specialist after specialist, hoping to find one who would offer a glimmer of hope and a different approach. Yet, no matter where they turned, they were handed the same ultimatum: if the standard arsenal of drugs cannot keep the symptoms under control, surgery is the only alternative. (It was also reiterated that - despite the fact that this disease primarily involved the very organs that digested and absorbed Judy's food - the type of food she ate was irrelevant.)
Just when they had become almost resigned to their fate, a chance encounter between two friends led to Elaine being given the name of then -92 - year old Sidney V. Haas, MD, in New York City. Dr. Haas had developed his nutritional approach to intestinal healing over a long, illustrious career, and wrote a textbook, which could be found in nearly every medical library in the world. His colleagues, however - unschooled in nutrition and dismissive of its importance in maintaining health - had abandoned his work in pursuit of new versions of the same standard drugs and of increasingly complex surgical procedures. Though Herb couldn't bear to see Judy undergo even one more painful diagnostic procedure and their doctor ridiculed Dr. Haas and his methods as outdated relics of another era, Elaine was determined to hear what the kindly old doctor had to say.
After carefully examining Judy, Dr. Haas asked Elaine simply: "What has this child been eating?" No doctor had ever asked her that question before. He then instructed Elaine in how to implement his simple nutritional approach. Within ten days of starting the regimen, the child's neurological problems diminished. Within a few months, her intestinal symptoms began to improve and she started growing again, making up for lost time. Within two years, she was symptom free.
By this time, Dr. Haas had passed away. Elaine feared that, unless someone acted to carry on his legacy, his simple but effective remedy for digestive maladies would die with him, depriving other patients of the chance to stop suffering needlessly and achieve true intestinal health. She visited a medical library and poured over journals, soon discovering that Dr. Haas's approach was well supported by sound scientific evidence. At Herb's urging that she "find out what is going on," she entered the halls of academia and the research laboratory at the age of 47, and earned degrees in biology, nutritional biochemistry, and cellular biology.
As her years of research wore one, Elaine began to experience a gnawing sense of disillusionment , which was fueled in part by her fellow researcher's failure to share her interest in integrating all of the evidence for the effects of food on intestinal health and translating it into clinical practice. She despaired of all her hard work ever being channeled into helping real people who were suffering, people whose doctors might never recommend Dr. Haas's approach. Elaine came perilously close to giving up, but Herb refused to let her quit. He convinced her that the only way to get Dr. Haas's message out to those who needed it most would be to begin private consulting and to self-publish a book and make it accessible to the lay reader.
And that is how Breaking the Vicious Cycle was born.
Now in its tenth printing, Breaking the Vicious Cycle has been translated into several languages and enjoys a worldwide following. Each day, countless individuals suffering from (or caring for a loved one who suffers from) Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, celiac, diverticulitis, and other ailments rooted in the digestive tract (even autism and cystic fibrosis) consult Elaine by phone, fax and email. She unselfishly devotes much of her time, free of charge, to helping these people, patiently answering the same questions over and over, or pondering new ones. Counseling, encouraging, sharing laughter with, and yes, "mothering" her vast "extended family" of intestinal-health devotees: including people from all walks of life, of nearly every nationality and religious faith.
It's been quite a journey for Elaine Gottschall. Never in her wildest dreams could she have anticipated the many lives that would be enriched by her knowledge and selfless dedication to helping others. She truly is changing the world and it all began with a child.
It is with great sadness that I add that Elaine passed away on September 5, 2005.
The remainder of this page will be a memorial to her life and her work.
Anyone who would like to contribute may send me a brief written message and/or a photo.
Please include the message within the text of the e-mail and send photos in .jpg format, along with the appropriate caption.
Photo of my boys, Justin and Brandon, with Elaine at the DAN! Conference in Washington, D.C., April-2004.
Mom to Brandon and Justin-SCD 31 months
Elaine Gottschall invited me into her life, became my mentor and allowed me to share in her work and dreams.
And she always dreamed big!.
She honored me with her trust. She brought new meaning and purpose to my life and relative peace to my troubled innards.
Her family and I shamed her into ignoring her horoscope and attending the Washington Dan Conference where her presentation was a triumph. She shamed me into buying a food processor.
Elaine and I shared oysters, Sushi and a lot of history over many glasses of red wine (with no sugar).
Last New Year's eve we watched "Moonstruck." together at her home. She came to mine often. I can still see her waving "hello" to me as she wheeled her suitcase toward my waiting car near Toronto's Union Station for each exciting visit.
Two things were especially close to Elaine's heart--- her daughters and grandchildren and her hopes and dreams of getting SCD the recognition it so richly deserves despite the inattention of the media and mainstream medicine.
We owe it to her to carry out this resolution and wave the SCD banner high, her way!
SCD 5 years, celiac
Elaine with Lucy Rosset (Lucy's Kitchen Shop).
Thank you, Elaine. Thank you for giving me a way to help my son. Thank you for being so strong for your own daughter and for supporting all of us as we fight for our own children. Miguel is doing so wonderfully after almost 2 1/2 years on SCD. It is harder and harder for me to remember the time, before finding your beautiful diet, when he was so miserable and so unhappy. He is such a joyous, healthy, thriving little boy now, thanks to you and the other strong women who fight for your cause. I will never ever forget you and I will always cherish your memory. Someday, Miguel will know who you are and he will know what you did for us. We are so truly and eternally grateful.
Jennifer and Miguel
A photo of Elaine with her daugher Judy.
Two years ago, Elaine wrote in my copy of Breaking the Vicious Cycle:
Grow big and strong and be happy.
Love, Elaine Gottschall"
That is what she wanted for all of "her children."
We will never give up until her wish is fulfilled.
May God bless Elaine.
Photo of Elaine and Herb Gottschall.
This December my 11 year old daughter will be 100% SCD legal for 4 years. No other intervention has done so much for her and I shudder to think where we would be today without the incredible work and dedication of Elaine Gottschall. For the first two and half years or so I contacted Elaine often either through individual emails or through various listservs and she always responded with her great depth of knowledge and her great compassion. She even cheerfully took my phone calls the two times I nervously phoned her. Though I never met her in person, she meant a great deal to me and always will. I miss her.
Photo of Elaine with baby Rachel (whose mom is on SCD).
Elaine will be so missed; she touched the lives of thousands of people in so many ways. Not only did she forge through determined to help other heal their bodies she was an amazing example of getting up time and time again after being put down by the medical and scientific community.
When my family met her last summer, I was so overwhelmed by her presence. She was like a force of nature and it was impossible to keep up with her – whether it was touring through her gardens or with the conversation. Just before we left she showed me her office (where I still hold in my mind the image of her writing emails back and forth to the lists) and then her family photos – her daughters, grandchildren and her beloved husband Herb. Her faced just glowed as she spoke of them.
I just can't put into words how sad I am at her passing or how much I will miss her.
SCD 4 1/2 years