By Angie Adams
It all started on October 31, 2013 at a church Fall festival. Benji was not feeling well. I thought it was just a sinus infection, not a big deal. The next morning, he called me at work, “Angie, I can’t feel the left side of my body. I just dropped a cup of coffee because I have no grip in my left hand.”
I was working at the time as a Nurse Practitioner in Hematology/Oncology in Waycross, GA. “Come to my office” I told him. It was the weirdest presentation I had ever seen, he looked like he had a stroke, but he did not have any facial drooping and he was in extreme pain. Pain and stroke don’t really go together at the onset of a stroke. The Oncologist I worked for examined him. “We need to admit him now.” By lunchtime, Benji couldn’t move his legs or his left arm and he was in horrible pain. By mid-afternoon, he was having problems breathing. His muscles and nervous system were under attack. His diaphragm was starting to fail. He was put on BiPap to help him breathe. He had maybe a few hours before he would need full life support.
Fortunately, the neurologist on call was an “old school doc” who recognized some symptoms that he had seen in cases in India and started an infusion called IVIG. Within two hours, the symptoms subsided. He was nearly back to normal. We did not have a clear diagnosis of what happened, but grateful that he was better. Benji spent 3 days in the hospital that first admission. Little did we know, over the next two years he would spend close to 200 days in the hospital. He would be admitted to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. He would be transferred to Emory, Atlanta, the day after Thanksgiving on life support because he stopped breathing. He would spend a week admitted to Emory, the first of two admissions there followed by countless trips back to see Emory Specialists. We would exhaust every specialty at Emory and would eventually make 3 trips to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.
He would require IVIG infusions nearly once a week for the next 2 1⁄2 years. This infusion was able to be given at home with infusion nurses, but would cost $10,000 per infusion — for just the medication. He would have horrible side effects from the infusion and he would continue to endure horrible pain, maxed out on multiple pain medications, nearly overdosing on several occasions. He was caught in a vicious cycle of flare up and remission. It was like a light switch. During a flare, he could not move the entire left side of his body, he would have hot, searing pain coursing through him. He could not walk. He would have to use a cane or I would have to push him in a wheelchair. He would get an infusion and the symptoms would subside for a few weeks or a few days. We didn’t know.
We would eventually be told “it’s all mental, its conversion disorder, there is nothing really wrong with him, it’s PTSD.” He was 36 years old. He was healthy. A Marine Corp Veteran. Working as a machinist at CSX. Megan just started middle school and Matthew started 1st grade. What was going on?!? Why was all of this happening?
Many people ask how we got started into worms and growing vegetables. It was out of necessity really, a future we never envisioned. A blessing born out of pain and uncertainty.
Many. many times through those dark stormy years, I thought I would be a widow. So many tears shed during those days. All I knew to do was pray. And play the song “Oceans” by Hillsong. On repeat. It is my alarm clock ringtone to this day. Everyday I wake up to this song and thank God for what he has done and remind myself to continue to trust Him. We had so many good people around us during those hard years, family, friends, church family, faith filled prayer warriors, co-workers, doctors, nurses and hospital staff. We could never thank them all enough.
Positive voltage-gated potassium channel antibody
I probably put that term in Google a billion times. Over a million dollars of tests. The top specialists at two of the best clinics in the world. And all we knew, was that this antibody kept coming up positive. Basically, this antibody is part of his immune system and when activated, it would attack his nervous system. His own body was attacking itself. That is why the IVIG worked, it turned off the antibody. Benji was so fortunate to be given the IVIG at the beginning. But how long would this work? How much IVIG is safe? What if the IVIG stops working? He was working as much as he could in between the flares to keep his insurance coverage. What if we lost insurance? So many questions, so many variables.
Go Ninja Go
The Summer of 2014 we were fortunate enough to be able to see two neuro-immunologists at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. The Mayo Clinic is a wonderful place. The best of Medicine and the best of Humanity. We were so far from home, so far from hope, so far from anything that looked liked a normal life. Certain smells and songs and images trigger me back to those trips to Mayo. So many emotions…not all sad though. We have some pretty funny stories, like when Benji had the whole PET/CT department rolling when he had a reaction to sedation and was talking in his sleep. He started singing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle song! In his mind, he was the Pink Ninja Turtle! What made it even funnier, was he was actually pink, because he had a sweat test done the day before that used a pink powder. Every time he sweated, he turned bright pink. It was hilarious!
The two Neuro-immunologists were working with Mayo on chronic pain research. They were interested in Benji’s case and shared the same concerns we did about using IVIG long term. They were working on a joint program with Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, called the Pain Rehabilitation Center (PRC) and suggested that Benji enroll. The PRC took the best of traditional medicine and alternative medicine and combined them to treat the whole patient. Mind, Body, Spirit.
Benji went into the program February of 2015 and came home March 2015, literally a new man. He was off of all medications. He was walking. He still had some pain, but was able to use what he learned to control it.
He learned about nutrition, depression/anxiety/anger management, biofeedback, mind over body connections and so much more. It was amazing! Wonderful! Unbelievable!
Little did he know — I also had amazing, wonderful, unbelievable news for him — We were expecting!Mason was born later that year on October 26, 2015.
The Worm Guy
So, all of this leads to how and why BAMMM– Benji, Angie, Megan, Matthew, Mason — Farms was created. Benji got bored a lot when he was sick and wanted to start getting outside more. He grew vegetables with his Dad growing up and loved it. He thought he physically could handle growing something in containers and started off with tomatoes.
Benji learned about toxic load on the body, nutrition, the mind-gut connection and wanted to try to grow as chemical- free as possible. He was on pinterest a lot, and came across worm castings. He found an older friend in Douglas who has a worm farm and reached out to him. We bought our first worms and castings for our garden. But God had bigger plans! Benji was fascinated by the worms and the process of making worm castings and started his own worm bins. We started using the castings on our own garden and were amazed with the results.
Benji was so excited and had a new purpose! He can talk about worms for hours, so if you ask him, be prepared to learn all there is to know about worm poop! This is how he became known as the “worm guy!”
Food is Medicine
I have always been interested in a holistic approach to medicine and learned a lot about the mind, body, spirit connection working with cancer patients. You see a lot after nearly 20 years in the medical field. Sometimes it is truly mind and spirit over body.
I knew that for Benji to stay healthy and for myself and the kids well being, we needed to make a few changes around the home. We both wanted to try to grow food as chemical free as possible. We both wanted to try to reduce toxic exposure in our home. And we all loved being outside. A business that started with worms quickly grew into organic produce! Gardening has been proven to reduce stress and depression and we have seen it first hand in us and in the kids. We are a much happier family. We wanted to share our happiness and love for worms and gardening with all!
We quickly began to see how much food disparity exists in this country. Our mission has evolved into giving away produce as much as possible and teaching the lost art of growing your own food. We observed that the best, nutritious, wholesome food was out of reach for the majority of the people around us. The people who were the sickest, with lifestyle-related chronic medical conditions, did not have access or could not afford the food that was medically proven to make them well.
When did food, that was once grown in the backyard of many homes, become something that was only accessible if you were rich or lived in an urban area? How can I tell my patients to eat organic/grass-fed/no highly processed food, if the only “organic” produce in the local grocery store is outrageously marked up and comes from another country! How did one of the most agriculturally rich areas of the country become a food desert for so many in the area?? Check out my blog, the NP Farmacy, to learn more about nutrition, health and wellness.
Feed my sheep
Many years ago, when Matthew was just a few months old, we started going to church regularly. It was a tiny country church. Being the youngest couple with kids, we were automatically tapped to be the “youth pastors.” Benji had felt a call to share our faith, and we thought this was it. John 21:17 kept popping up everywhere. Benji took this as a confirmation to “feed his sheep,” like, feed the little sheep (the kid/teenagers) the word.
After all these years, we think God was literally saying, feed my sheep.