The story of how I decided to infect myself with hookworms and the founding of Autoimmune Therapies – Part 1

In late 2000 my company, Words & Images, Inc., was collapsing. First came the event known as the dot bomb collapse, the bursting of the internet bubble. It had a severe impact on my company. Our clients were companies like Cisco, HP, Lucent, Nortel, and numerous technology start-ups in Silicon Valley. By August of 2001 I had stabilised the company, we were profitable again, but the toll on me had been severe. I had had to lay off half our staff (sixteen people), and most were friends. There had also been a lot of conflict with the other large shareholders, I was the largest, and I had had to force out one of them due to incompetence, which also cost money to buy him out. It was a nightmare that lasted for months, that stretched into years.

All this had taken its toll on my health, and my asthma was at it’s worst, probably as a result of stress, and cats (see below). I was suffering from depression, anxiety attacks and insomnia. I was also gaining weight fast, because of the prednisone, the inability to exercise, and on top of that my marriage was crumbling.

Then 9/11 happened, and when it did every client we had in Silicon Valley put a hold on all marketing and advertising projects while they waited to see what was going to happen. Suddenly I was having to lay people off again. Despite this I was able to save the company, in a much smaller form. But it took an enormous toll. Not just on me, and of course everyone I had to lay off, but on my marriage, which was on the rocks anyway because of my wife’s refusal to even keep the cats outside or to help with household expenses from her income working part time.

To give an idea of how rapid and severe the decline in my business was, in November of 2000 our gross sales were $525,000.00. In December of 2001 they were $30,000.00. That is a 94% decline in gross sales in 13 months.

The impact on me was profound, besides declaring personal bankruptcy after struggling on for another few years (a source of enormous shame and embarrassment at the time), I was completely burned-out with respect to running the agency. I no longer found any joy in it, quite the opposite, and the business I had spent almost 15 years building was in ruins. I performed triage and through extreme measures was able to keep the company intact, although now without employees, just freelancers. The result was that I was earning over $100,000 a year again, which given my debt load, even after the personal bankruptcy, was barely enough to get by. But going to work was torture. What had been a joy had become a chore of the worst kind.

On top of that, because I had laid off all my employees, I no longer qualified for group health insurance, one cannot form a group with family members in the US. Not being able to form a group meant that I could be denied coverage for pre existing conditions, asthma of course. I was “offered” a policy that cost over $1600 a month for my family, with my asthma excluded as a pre existing condition, but I could not afford it. So I could not even provide my family with health insurance, and money was now a constant worry. Not being able to provide health insurance for your children is an awful feeling.

In the middle of this my now ex-wife actually managed to save enough money from working 2-3 days a week to get plastic surgery, I kid you not. Refusing to help at all with the mortgage or household expenses, and watching what was going on with me, she decided a facelift was the best use of “her” money. Needless to say home life was not a refuge from work, it was just the opposite.

My asthma was caused by various allergies, primarily to cats. My then wife, for whatever reason, refused to accept this. When our three original cats died of old age all within a year she promptly replaced them, with first three, then four, then five and finally six, more.

I realised that I needed to radically change my life, my relationship, my career and most of all my health.

I had just turned 40, and at that point I was almost 40 pounds overweight, and I am as vain as anyone, for the first time in my life. I was having to visit the ER two or three times a year due to asthma attacks, knew that my wife no longer loved me, and hated every day at work.

At this point I had given up on the idea that modern medicine was ever going to be able to offer me effective therapies for my asthma. The allergies I could put up with. I had had allergies, after all, throughout most of my childhood. There was a period of about five years when I did not, that reinforces the idea of the hygiene hypothesis, that I will describe in a later post. Although they were severe I was used to allergies and could tolerate them.

Asthma was another issue altogether. I had started to develop asthma after being stung by six or seven bees on my abdomen, which caused an anaphylactic reaction. A few months later I developed the first symptoms of asthma. This type of story is very common in those who develop immunological disorders or autoimmune diseases. There is usually a triggering event, it can be almost anything. A case of the flu, a car accident and trauma, bee stings, the death of a relative, etc.

In the years after that my asthma grew progressively worse, but the medications appeared to be useless. I suppose their inhalers and pills kept me alive, but I could not run or even climb a single flight of stairs without having to rest, and the side effects were almost as bad as the asthma. The side effects of longterm use of prednisone are horrible, but prednisone was the only drug that provided real relief when I was having an attack.

In the middle of this, in the summer of 2004, I decided to visit England and take my two daughters to visit my aunt and uncle, who had raised me. I had to get away, and damn the expense. As soon as I walked into their house my aunt’s face told a story: she was shocked at my appearance. Fat, pale and sallow, with dark circles under my eyes, but she was too polite to say anything and quickly regained her composure.

The conversation soon turned to my asthma, and she mentioned a documentary she had recently seen on the BBC about Dr. David Pritchard’s research at the University of Nottingham into the negative relationship between hookworm infection and allergy and asthma.

Despite having given up on ever finding a solution to my asthma this piqued my interest. So I used her computer to go online and find out about this documentary.

What I found instead of the documentary was a few articles about Pritchard’s research, the hygiene hypothesis, and a lot of epidemiological evidence showing that diseases like asthma are almost unknown in the underdeveloped world.

If you are interested you can find some of this research assembled in the Files section of the Yahoo Group I created for Helminthic therapy. Or you can read various sections of Autoimmune Therapies, each disease page includes some of the research available for that disease and helminths.

The hygiene hypothesis, the idea that our immune systems co-evolved with various organisms, most importantly helminths, and that the absence of their immunomodulatory effect on our immune systems

A great resource I found is the online database of medical research maintained by the United States National Institutes of Health called PubMed. The pace of research and publication on the subjects of the hygiene hypothesis and the impact of helminths on the immune system, and with respect to specific diseases, particularly Multiple Sclerosis and IBD, has expanded enormously since I started researching this topic in 2004.

I also researched various helminths, particularly hookworm. When I finally stopped and went to bed, at about 2 or 3 in the morning, I was determined to try self-infection with a helminth or helminths in an attempt to get my asthma under control.

That night I had grey, slithery, wormy nightmares, but in the morning I was still determined to try helminthic therapy as it came to be known.

Little did I realise how difficult it was going to be to obtain hookworm. I was to spend the next 18 months researching helminths in general, hookworm in particular, and trying various methods of obtaining hookworm with which to infect myself.

I will describe the process I went through that lead to my going to Africa, to Cameroon, to obtain hookworm in my next post. As well as the end of my marriage, how I met the woman I love, and whom I married in 2007. How I set up Autoimmune Therapies to provide hookworm to others who like me wanted to try them, and what has happened subsequent to that decision. Including having to leave the United States and being separated from my children, (seven, three of whom are adopted, and two step-children from my second marriage) because of the FDA decision to classify helminths as an Investigational New Drug.

Jasper Lawrence, January, 2011

About jasperl

Born in Taplow, Berkshire, UK 1964, emigrate to USA May 31, 1968, New York City. Suddenly I was 48, and here I am.
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6 Responses to The story of how I decided to infect myself with hookworms and the founding of Autoimmune Therapies – Part 1

  1. Jo says:

    Well you’re certainly a fighter, looking forward to the next instalment

  2. Kevin Butler says:

    I heard your story on NPR(?) about how you went to the Camaroons to infect yourself with hookworms. WOW. This was a couple of years ago, but it is not easily forgotten. Sorry to hear of your FDA woes. Your blog followers will be amazed at your determination as demonstrated in this story.

  3. tom says:

    part 2 please :)

  4. bekah says:

    My name is Rebekah and I am recently doing a report about autoimmune diseases and how parasites could be a cure for my English class but I am also interested in taking a microbiology class to coincide with my paramedic courses that I am taking. To better understand people and their situations with those type of diseases and maybe becoming a microbiologist to find the cure and help these people.
    What I’m wondering about is if I could talk to you to get a better understanding of how it all works. I am not sure if you read these comments or not. But I am fully intrigued about this topic. I was talking to my professor Dr. wartenbee about it and he has only told me about a fraction of what you have written. I would be very pleased if I had gotten a response from you. I didn’t know how else to contact you besides this way. Im not too concerned about my paper but I am very interested in finding more information about it.
    Thank you again
    Sincerely,
    rebekah

    ps. this is only my third semester at KPC college in alaska. (not so advanced)

    • Colette says:

      Rebekah, as a PPMSer I greatly admire your wish to gain a better understanding of the situation of people with autoimmune diseases and trust that you are already on course to becoming a microbiologist. Is there any way I could contact you with regard to a mutally beneficial exchange of information, thoughts and ideas?
      Rgds, Colette (v. pissed off with not walking and not hearing anything believable from the medics!)

  5. Fran says:

    Hi Rebekah

    I’m so sorry we’ve missed your comment during this prolonged period that we’ve been short-staffed, but if you’re still interested, please read our website (http://autoimmunetherapies.com/), which will answer most of your questions. You could also join the Yahoo Helminthic Therapy Forum (http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/helminthictherapy/), which will send you several interesting documents on joining, including a long list of links they’ve compiled to well over 100 helminthic therapy success stories. If you then want to contact us, please use our Contact details (http://autoimmunetherapies.com/helminthic_therapy_contact.html) to get in touch.

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