Smart Shoppers: Elizabeth DeRosa, with her son, Frankie, at their favorite market, Kimberton Whole Foods//Photo by Tessa Marie Images.
It was supposed to be the perfect family vacation. West Chester’s Elizabeth DeRosa, her husband and their three kids were vacationing at Disney World.
They were on the park’s legendary monorail when Frankie, then 7 years old, began to cough. Within minutes, Frankie’s cough spiraled into an upper respiratory attack so severe that a stranger turned to DeRosa and asked, “Why would you bring a sick kid to Disney?”
Frankie was not contagious, and it wasn’t his first coughing fit. Those attacks—along with recurrent ear infections, colds, congestion, postnasal drip and headaches—began when Frankie was a year old. So constant were his problems that DeRosa went to Disney World with a load of medical supplies, including a nebulizer, Motrin, inhalers, allergy pills and antibiotics.
None of that stopped the judgmental looks from other adults. “‘It’s asthma,’ I used to say to coaches, teachers, store clerks, whoever looked at him oddly when he was coughing,” DeRosa says.
But she didn’t really believe asthma was Frankie’s problem. The older he got, the worse his health became, with new symptoms developing each year. Eventually, DeRosa and her husband reached a place of despair.
“I was doing everything I knew how to do, but it wasn’t helping; I was scared for his life,” DeRosa says. “How long was I going to watch him deteriorate? How long was he going to suffer?”
Every time Frankie developed a new symptom, DeRosa tried a new specialist. Antibiotics, inhalers, steroids—Frankie used them all. None improved his health.
DeRosa took control, getting copies of her son’s records. In 10 years, he had 86 sick visits and 120 doses of antibiotics, inhalers and steroids. Yet he was still sick.
The turning point came in 2009. Frankie began having digestive issues. DeRosa took him to a pediatrician, who basically told both of them to deal with it and stop complaining. “Frankie, you don’t have cancer—you have asthma,” she recalls the doctor saying.
He went on to tell DeRosa that she was contributing to the nation’s healthcare crisis by asking for unnecessary tests. “That was my defining moment,” she says. “That was my ‘I’m gonna figure this out’ moment.”
DeRosa took control. She got copies of Frankie’s medical records, and what she saw shocked her. In 10 years, he had 86 sick visits and 120 doses of antibiotics, inhalers and steroids. Yet he was still sick. DeRosa decided it was time to embark on a different, non-pharmaceutical path. That journey is chronicled in her new self-published book, Finding the Way.
The first step came in 2010, when DeRosa found an ENT specialist who gave Frankie a new diagnosis: candidiasis, a fungal infection that results from an overgrowth of bad intestinal yeast in the esophagus. A gastroenterologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia confirmed the diagnosis with an endoscopy.
Candida had been the root cause of Frankie’s many symptoms—and the antibiotics made it worse. They destroyed the healthy flora in his gut, making it possible for Candida to grow unchecked.
DeRosa researched antibiotics and found that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they’re not medically needed in 50 percent of the cases for which they’re prescribed. Without a real infection to fight, they can even attack parts of the body, simulating an autoimmune disorder.
There are other harmful effects—and DeRosa discovered that candidiasis is one of them. But most doctors won’t treat it as a serious disease, partly because all of us have some yeast in our digestive tracts and also because the symptoms of candidiasis are common to other pediatric disorders. For its part, the National Candida Center has linked ADD, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, violent outbursts, lack of self-control, chronic nasal congestion, allergies, skin rashes, asthma, weight gain and learning difficulties directly to Candida overgrowth in children.
To help Frankie, DeRosa searched for a homeopathic doctor who could heal her son’s entire system, rather than treat the individual symptoms. As she read about candidiasis, she became certain Frankie’s health could improve through nutrition. She began to slowly introduce organic fruits, vegetables and whole grains into his diet, monitoring his reactions.
That was six years ago. Since his diet change—the details of which can be found in Finding the Way—Frankie hasn’t needed antibiotics, steroids, inhalers or medications. The difference was clear within the first year. Frankie no longer had respiratory symptoms, fatigue, asthma, congestion or debilitating headaches. He began to play hockey and go to sleepovers. “He could be a normal kid,” DeRosa says.
While following the advice of a homeopathic doctor, DeRosa continued her own research. She watched documentaries, took nutrition classes, and learned a lot from homeopathic practitioners. “What really got me is that kids today, in my opinion, are the most unhealthy they’ve ever been,” DeRosa says.
Major digestive issues like leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome are affecting American children, as are asthma, ADHD, diabetes and obesity. Through her research, DeRosa became convinced that the problems—and the solutions—were with food. “Organic,” “farm-raised” and “non-GMO” became the not-so-secret passwords to her son’s health—and to that of the entire DeRosa family.
DeRosa funneled all of that information into her book—and into her family’s daily routine. Frankie is now 16 years old; his sisters are 15 and 13. Do they always eat healthy? No. But they know how to make the right choices.
Frankie sometimes veers off path, but when he does, his health deteriorates. “I can see the difference in him when he eats unhealthily,” says DeRosa. “His symptoms return almost immediately.”
DeRosa’s message: Pay attention to your food and your body. She wants people to examine what’s in the food they buy and how it affects their health.
“If I can heal my son by using food, then it has to be that easy for other families, too,” she says.
Though a homeopathic approach to health helped Frankie, DeRosa knows that there’s a place for modern medicine. In 2012, after she refused to take an antibiotic to treat severe headaches, her doctor discovered that she had a brain tumor. Luckily, it was benign and could be removed surgically.
Modern medicine may have saved her life, but DeRosa credits homeopathy with helping her heal from surgery and controlling her anxiety.
During his mother’s recovery, Frankie stepped up to help care for her. “It was a role reversal,” DeRosa says. “Frankie was always by my side.”
Five facts related to the elusive condition.
- The bacteria-to-yeast ratio in a healthy person is 10:1.
- Overgrowth of Candida albicans often begins in the digestive system and spreads to other areas of the body.
- The mass use of antibiotics parallels the rise in yeast infections.
- Candida and intestinal critters feed on sugar.
- Untreated candida overgrowth can progress to ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.