Sara Wener, IIN Content Editor
Learning to listen to your intuition
In 2015, I received a phone call from a functional medicine doctor that transformed my life in ways I could never have anticipated. This call confirmed that my intuition about my son’s medical condition was spot on, and by not giving up for years and continuing to fight for answers, I could have possibly saved his life.
There were many prior moments I did not listen to my intuition, regardless of how loudly it communicated with me. At sixteen years old, I was dancing professionally and training with world-renowned dance companies. Injury after injury, my intuition told me it was time to move on and explore alternative passions. I was attached to my identity as a dancer and so fearful of speaking my truth, I continued to push myself into a box and ignored my own spirit.
By the time I was twenty, my intuition manifested itself into an autoimmune disease and suddenly, at the peak of my career, I had to stop dancing. I had developed Graves’ disease, a thyroid gland condition marked by many symptoms caused by producing too much thyroid hormone. Years later, I learned when one shuts down an energy portal or chakra, it can and will present itself in illness. I was unable to activate my throat chakra and communicate what I knew to be true, and consequently became ill in that area.
Years later, when my son became ill, I knew to roar loudly. I did not take a passive back seat when everyone around me tried telling me what to do. My gut knew otherwise, and although I could not put my finger on it yet, I never gave up on finding answers and digging deeply for what I knew would eventually be found.
How my son’s health journey began
In my gut, I knew for over a year my son had pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections (PANDAS), but all the pediatric specialists I consulted brushed my concerns aside and told me PANDAS was a controversial diagnosis. None of them would entertain my persistence that this was not other conditions, such as OCD, ADHD, or autism.
For years, I watched my healthy and happy child slowly disappear. By the time he turned eight, he developed such a severe motor tic that I was afraid for him to walk up and down stairs. His handwriting deteriorated to illegible, and most disturbingly, he slipped into a deep depression. He wore a hoodie over his head to block out sound and stimulation and became increasingly more challenging to engage with. His executive functioning skills were nonexistent – my son could not sit still; his social cues were off; swallowing food was too scary for him, and he was sensitive to sound, taste, and touch. At home, he could not be left alone and required company at all times, but he could not be held or hugged. My son was slipping away from me, and I had no idea what to do.
For years, I drove my son from one specialist to another, and each one wanted to simply write a prescription. Not willing to accept any of the standard diagnoses, one day I resorted to casting the widest net possible: doing an Internet search. I threw all my son’s symptoms into the search bar, and just like that, PANDAS appeared on the screen. Within seconds, my intuition confirmed this was what my son had. Why hadn’t my son’s doctors even explored this as a possibility?
PANDAS is a serious and sudden autoimmune reaction that causes a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier and attacks the host’s basal ganglia, the part of the brain primarily responsible for motor control, as well as other roles, such as motor learning, executive functions and behaviors, and emotions. The abrupt onset of symptoms (psychiatric and/or movement) is triggered by a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. The symptoms mirrored those the specialists had diagnosed my son with; however, the treatment was very different and very much curable.
The following day, I visited the neurologist’s clinic. I demanded they draw blood to test my son for everything under the sun. I also demanded he receive a referral to a specialty clinic as I wanted to understand what the underlying causes were for his multiple symptoms. I believed he had been exposed to a virus or bacteria and his body was spiraling out of control trying to fight it. I refused to leave the doctor’s office without a lab slip. For the first time in my life, I stood with courage and did not back down.
Long road to recovery
It occurred to me that not once in six years had any doctor looked at my child’s blood for possible infections or IgG (autoimmune) markers, evaluated his gut health, explored the possibility of allergies or toxic environmental exposures, or requested an MRI. All the diagnoses were based on multiple-choice questionnaires and short in-person exams.
My child did not need stimulants and psychiatric meds. He needed prophylactic antibiotics to keep the strep bacteria at bay; a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy to remove any large lymphatic tissues the strep could imbed itself in; a few cycles of steroids to reduce inflammation in his brain; and multiple rounds of intravenous immunoglobulin therapy to boost his immunity. But what my son really needed was a long-term lifestyle plan to heal his leaky gut, strengthen his immunity, and get his body back to a healthy baseline.
Image via Sara Wener
Food (and medicine) as medicine
The first thing we did was change my son’s diet. We eliminated all inflammatory foods, such as gluten, dairy, and sugar. I hired a personal chef to teach me how to nourish my family and cook foods that my child could consume safely. He was on a strict regimen of antibiotics, steroids, and eleven other naturopathic medications and supplements, so I made sure to give him both probiotics and prebiotics to help support his gut health. We used essential oils, practiced mindfulness and yoga, and integrated other healing modalities, such as cranial sacral therapy, acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy, and neurofeedback therapy.
After just a few months of treatment, my son started to come back to me. The initial recovery was almost immediate, but it still took over two years of neuropathic medications and other treatments in total. Today my son is 14, and I am happy to report he is healthy, vital, symptom-free, and not on a single medication. Our lifestyle changed dramatically because of his condition, and we have never looked back once.
My intuition eventually led me to IIN
PANDAS has been a controversial diagnosis for many years. However, an increasing number of medical professionals and insurance companies are starting to understand this syndrome, and it has become globally accepted.
The day I received the phone call confirming my suspicions, I realized how powerful intuition is and how it should never be ignored. I looked back on my life and recalled multiple times I refused to listen to myself. I understood how that lack of trust in my knowing led me astray and off my true path.
My son’s illness was not in vain. Everything I do today is because of my son’s diagnosis and what it took to get it. It woke me up and reconnected me to my essence. Because of what we went through and how functional medicine, integrative health, and nutrition saved my son’s life and brought him back to me, I am compelled to bring this experience and all the information I gathered to others who are struggling with autoimmune disease, chronic pain, and other disorders.
I am not a medical expert nor do I claim to be, but through my perseverance in learning what I needed to help my son, his story has since saved multiple lives and given many parents hope. I never anticipated I would eventually pivot my business and attend the Institute for Integrative Nutrition – I am graduating in September 2021 – but I am by no means surprised! I found IIN at a time I was ready to receive what was next for my life. Everything started to fall into place after I started to listen to my intuition. The Universe showed up, and continues to show up, for me in ways I can only describe as magical.
I believe my son’s story was divinely orchestrated to put me on my true path to support and heal others. I also hope my son’s story validates that the power of intuition is real and the answers already exist within us. Trust in your feelings and turn toward inner wisdom. When it’s combined with knowledge, you’ll have everything you need.
Sara Wener has worked in the fashion industry for over 20 years as an accomplished designer and stylist. She is currently enrolled in IIN’s Health Coach Training Program, set to graduate in September 2021. Sara is passionate about healthy living, aligning with truth and sustainability, and integrating these passions into her work as a life stylist and transformation coach. Sara's desire is to empower her clients, and communities at large, to heal from the inside out, guiding them to take care of their whole self and ultimately our planet one small step at a time. Sara is also a certified yoga teacher, numerologist, Reiki practitioner, and strategic intervention coach. Outside of work, Sara loves to travel, watch foreign films, dance, read, cook, and spend time with her two teenage children in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they currently reside.