In the mid-1990s, Dana LaMonica and high school sweetheart Eddie began trying to have children right after getting married. When a pregnancy didn't happen, they turned to in vitro fertilization—six heartbreaking times. "It was mentally and financially exhausting," Dana says. Disappointed beyond words, they gave up.
Two years later, Dana, 39, of Uniontown, Ohio, started having odd symptoms. Her vision in one eye blurred. Then her leg began to drag when she walked. "It was one thing after another," she says. An MRI confirmed the diagnosis: multiple sclerosis (MS).
Her reaction was classic Dana, says sister Nicole Cummings, who nominated her for a Spry Inspiration Award. "Both events—her fertility issues and the MS—could have changed her and her attitude toward life," Nicole says. "But Dana fought back."
Those next few years really tested her mettle, though. "MS can be very painful," Dana says of the disease, which attacks the body's immune system. "You can't help but have the word 'wheelchair' come to mind."
At her lowest point, her doctor uttered another frightening word: chemotherapy. Usually a cancer treatment, chemo is sometimes used in aggressive cases of MS. "I didn't want that," Dana says.
As an alternative, Dana and Eddie convinced her doctor to let her try the diet outlined in The Gold Coast Cure, by Andrew Larson, M.D., and wife Ivy Larson, who suffers from MS. If she didn't improve after six months, they told the doctor, she'd do the chemo.
Dana and Eddie both began the strict diet—no white flour, no sugar and no hydrogenated fats. At first, Dana spent most of her time reading food labels, educating herself on what she could and couldn't eat. Restaurants were out, so she learned to cook, and soon discovered she loved making her own pestos, dressings and sauces.
Dana's symptoms improved, and six months later her MRI, once covered with brain lesions, was completely clear. "My doctor couldn't believe the results," Dana says. As a bonus, she dropped 80-plus pounds over two years. "People say, 'Oh, you're tiny—that's so foreign to me," says Dana.
Her quest for good health paid off in another way: Dana now has the energy to take an active role in her two nephews' lives, caring for them when mom Nicole is at work, and even coaching their soccer team with husband Eddie. The boys more than fill any void left by not having her own children, Dana says. "Spending time with them always makes me smile."
"I don't want my MS to control me," Dana says. She shares her wisdom for staying healthy, tips we can all benefit from.
- Plan meals ahead. Eating a super-healthy diet does take a lot of prep work, Dana admits. "I make sure we have what we need in the house."
- Treat yourself now and then. Dana doesn't micromanage her meals on special occasions like weddings and vacations. "You just have to stay within limits."
- Get plenty of rest. It's essential for fighting the fatigue that comes with MS. "I can definitely tell when I don't get enough rest."
- Maintain relationships. They're what keep you going, she says.