Alternative approach to cystic fibrosis
HOLISTIC HEALTH:THE GENETIC condition of cystic fibrosis (CF) is not an illness one usually associates with complementary therapies. The conventional treatment for CF – daily drug therapies, physiotherapy sessions and oral digestive enzymes – are often so demanding that many people with CF struggle to cope with these treatments alone.
Michael Morrison was born with CF 30 years ago and lost his younger brother, Ted, to the illness after only months of life. After living a “relatively normal childhood” in Co Wexford, Morrison’s health began to decline in his teens, which led to repeated stays in hospital for intravenous antibiotic treatment that ultimately led him to explore treating his illness in a more holistic way.
One of the main symptoms of CF is the build-up of mucus in the lungs and digestive tract. This mucus becomes thick and sticky, which traps bacteria and thus leads to repeated infections. Most people with CF take preventative antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection and other medications to help lessen the build-up of mucus.
As a teenager, Morrison began to follow a more rigorous routine of daily antibiotics through a nebuliser to prevent infection as well as other drugs and physiotherapy exercises to help keep his airways as clear as possible. Despite this, he ended up on intravenous antibiotic treatments about twice a year.
After his Leaving Certificate in CBS Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, he went to University College Dublin (UCD) where he did a commerce degree followed by a Masters in marketing. It was while he was working in the accountancy department at UCD that his health began to decline further.
“I was doing some charity work for the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland and then went straight back to work after a two-week stint on intravenous antibiotics. I hadn’t given myself enough time to recover and ended up back in St Vincent’s Hospital for three more weeks on intravenous antibiotics,” he explains.
“I realised that this was the second time within six months that I had a serious episode and that I had to start looking after my health more seriously rather than handing myself over from one doctor and physiotherapist to the next.”
That was 2003 and since then, Morrison has embarked on a journey of exploration into various complementary therapies, some of which he has since embraced into his daily health maintenance regime.
The first stage of his journey began in Abadiânia in central Brazil where he travelled with his godfather, Tony Clarkson, to meet a spiritual healer, João de Deus.
“I have since been back four more times but I look on my first visit as the start of a new chapter of health and enlightenment in my life. It is a surreal healing environment and the warm embrace of compassion and love of the Casa de Dom Inacio [The House of St Ignatius Loyola] continues to carry me to new hope and renewed life every time I visit,” he says.
Other therapies that Morrison has studied include meditation, Buteyko breathing, magneto-stimulation, energy medicine and homeopathy. His father, Ed, is a part-time classical homeopath and his mother, Breda, is a trainer in neuro-linguistic programming and both have been supportive of his journey of exploration.
“Access to the knowledge of homeopathy has changed our family’s view of medicine. I have learned over time to take homeopathy first if I don’t feel well.
“Then, if I need it, I will take an antibiotic. I have also studied nutrition and learned about the importance of eating a healthy diet. I also take the digestive enzyme Creon to help support my digestive system.”
One of the most useful therapies for Morrison has been the Buteyko shallow-breathing techniques. “By learning the Buteyko techniques of nose breathing, I realised that many of the previous inhalation and exhalation methods I had been following in physiotherapy exercises were no longer useful to me,” he says. “I have found that I can reduce mucus now by practising reduced breathing exercises. Though it has taken time to re-educate my breathing patterns, breaking the habit of over-breathing was most important for my wellbeing.
“My quality of sleep has improved and I am no longer nauseous when doing my exercises and I have fewer headaches from my coughing.
“In Brazil, I opened my heart and soul to change my health and with that, innumerable blessings came my way,” says Morrison. His book, A Path Less Conventional(Athena Press), chronicles this journey and he willingly shares his experiences with others at the Tuan Health Sanctuary shops in Enniscorthy and Ferns in Co Wexford where he works.
Morrison explains how his current daily health maintenance regime starts with 10 minutes of drug therapy, to help clear his airways of mucus, followed by 20 minutes of meditation, 20 minutes of Buteyko breathing and then 10 minutes of preventative antibiotics taken through a nebuliser. In the evenings, he does 20 minutes of Buteyko breathing and 20 minutes of meditation.
He freely admits that he is using his own body as a guinea pig for new treatments. To date, the results have been promising. “I have not had an intravenous antibiotic treatment since 2003 and I have reduced my nebuliser count from five a day at that time to two a day now. I no longer require the use of inhalers,” he says.
The conventional approach to cystic fibrosis
The standard treatment for cystic fibrosis includes daily drug therapies dispensed through nebulisers.
“The standard drug therapies are salbutamol to help keep the airways clear and twice daily antibiotics as a preventative therapy,” says Dr Ed McKone, consultant respiratory physician at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin. “CF patients also need to have routine physiotherapy exercises twice daily, which can take up to an hour. These exercises help clear mucous secretions and improve cardiovascular health. We also encourage patients to do aerobic exercises under the supervision of a physiotherapist.”
McKone says that many CF patients use complementary therapies – and the multidisciplinary approach to CF is a huge factor in survival.
“My concern is that they already have an arduous amount of work to do to maintain current treatment. Any additional therapy would have to have a proven benefit before we would recommend it,” he adds.
“We have heard from people with CF that breathing methods work but it’s important to say that they are not a panacea,” says Godfrey Fletcher, chief executive of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland.