Here you will find radio spots that might reference your illness.
Dateline Air Date March 22, 1996 on NBC-TV
ANNOUNCER: Here again is Jane Pauley.
JANE PAULEY: What would you do if your child were desperately ill and no drug or medication seemed to work: accept what fate had dealt you or fight for survival? Tonight a story that spawned an overwhelming response when we first brought it to you a year and a half ago. It's the tale of a man who defied doctors, who went looking for a miracle and, remarkably, found one. But a lot has happened since you first met this family. Here's John Larson.
JOHN LARSON REPORTING: Jim Abrahams has made some of the most successful film comedies of the past decade.
MR. JIM ABRAHAMS: Cut. Cut. Hey, right away, back…
LARSON: His hit movies include "Airplane," "Naked Gun," and "Hotshots." But the fun stopped for Jim Abrahams almost three years ago. He was finishing his latest movie, when suddenly, his one-year-old son, Charlie, began having unexplained seizures.
MR. ABRAHAMS: On his first birthday, I was pushing him in a swing out in the front yard, and I noticed that his head kind of went like that, and he threw his arm up in the air.
LARSON: Jim and his wife Nancy took Charlie to a neurologist who did a series of tests on Charlie's bran. The tests confirmed the doctor's suspicion. Little Charlie had epilepsy. But nothing prepared the Abrahams for the nightmare to come. Charlie began to have more seizures.
MS. NANCY ABRAHAMS: Seizure now…
LARSON: Sometimes, he'd have 100 seizures a day.
MR. ABRAHAMS: Another seizure. That's…
LARSON: Sometimes Charlie would just go limp.
MR. ABRAHAMS: OK, that was a drop seizure.
LARSON: Other times he'd shake…
MR. ABRAHAMS: He's stiff as a board right now.
LARSON: …the worst kind of seizure.
MR. ABRHAMS: Charlie? Charlie?
LARSON: The Abrahams brought Charlie to Dr. Donald Shields, a nationally recognized expert at UCLA, who tried to control Charlie's seizures with anti-convulsant drugs.
DR. DONALD SHIELDS: And then we lost control and just nothing was working. I think he probably had all of the available medications, and we were starting to look at some of the more experimental kinds of medications.
LARSON: Even worse, Jim Abrahams says the drugs had a terrible side effect. They were turning his son into a zombie.
MR. ABRAHAMS: You pour the drugs down the child's throat-your child's throat despite the fact that there's something inside you that says, "Wait a minute. This-this can't be right." You know, Charlie was so loaded at times-he just lived in a car seat. He was so blotto from these drugs-that he was essentially nonfunctional.
LARSON: This little girl is about to have a bad epileptic seizure.
OFFSCREEN VOICE: …every half an hour.
LARSON: Now, while you're watching her, consider this: New miracle drugs control these terrible seizures in most of the three-quarters of a million children in this country who suffer from epilepsy.
VOICE: OK, Jess.
LARSON: But for this little girl and 150,000 kids like her, drugs simply don't work. The Abrahams feared Charlie was one of these most unfortunate children.
MR. ABRAHAMS: After the first drug, then there is only a 10 to 15 percent chance that the second drug will work, regardless of what that drug is. And the percentages drop from there.
LARSON: Even more frightening-if left unchecked, these seizures can damage their brains, retarding these children forever. So the Abrahams were racing against the clock. They had to stop Charlie's seizures before it was too late. They allowed doctors to operate on Charlie's brain, but the seizures continued. They even tried a faith healer, but that didn't work either.
MR. ABRAHAMS: This house was filled with tears. All of us, all the time cried. I mean, our-Charlie's brother and sister literally, for months, cried themselves to sleep at the foot of his crib, brother and sister because they just had some sort of instinct that they-that they wanted to be near him.
LARSON: His son was slipping away. His whole family was in anguish, and the doctors had no answers. Jim Abrahams was desperate. He decided to begin his own study of epilepsy. He attended medical lectures and read every book he could find on epilepsy treatment, and one day in a medical library, he found something no one had told him about, a book describing a diet that supposedly cured half of the epileptic kids who went on it.
MR. ABRAHAMS: And it was-it was dumbfounding. How could that possibly be?
LARSON: The book claimed that experts here in Baltimore were perfecting something called the ketogenic diet, a diet consisting largely of something most doctors tell us to avoid: generous helpings of fat. Against his own doctor's advice, Jim brought Charlie to Johns Hopkins Children's Center, where he found the man who wrote the book, Dr. John Freeman. At Johns Hopkins, Jim and Charlie also met a 72-year-old dietitian, Millicent Kelly, who had been working with the diet for 40 years.
DR. MILLICENT KELLY: So this is the one he uses, even though this has a much better flavor.
LARSON: Now retired and a part-time consultant, Millie had designed meals that give kids just enough protein to grow on, combined with lots of fat, bacon, butter and heavy whipping cream. Their families have to measure every bite of every meal precisely, or Millie says the diet won't work.
DR. KELLY: Whatever happens there to cause that seizure just doesn't happen anymore, and they become seizure-free. And that's a remarkable thing.
LARSON: Yet despite its high success rate, we found several parents, who, like the Abrahams, say their doctors also tried to talk them out of trying the diet.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We've been actively discouraged by different doctors not to try it. We have talked to many, many neurologists over the years, and they still feel that it's too much trouble.
LARSON: Too much trouble? Ridiculous, says Nancy Abrahams, Charlie's mom.
MS. NANCY ABRAHAMS: You know how hard it is to sit here and watch him disconnect from the rest of the family and the world and fade out? I mean, that's a lot harder to sit and watch a kid seizure than it is to-to do this diet.
LARSON: Sixty years ago, the diet was much more widely used after first being developed here at Johns Hopkins in the 1920s. But then in the '40s and '50s, several new wonder drugs came on the market. The drug companies made millions of dollars in profits, and doctors stopped using the diet. But all along, Millicent Kelly, here at Johns Hopkins, and a handful of others kept refining the diet, and there were some real success stories.
MR. DOUG FOSTER: Be ready! Catch it!
LARSON: Doug Foster is one of them. Today he enjoys a healthy life, including coaching his son's Little League baseball team in Virginia Beach, Virginia. But 32 years ago, Doug's prospects looked grim. His constant, uncontrollable seizures meant he had to wear a football helmet all day to protect him from sudden falls. But in 1962, Doug's parents put him on the ketogenic diet, and after two years he was fine, seizure-free. And Doug has no negative side effects from eating all that fat.
MR. DOUG FOSTER: I suppose if I hadn't found the diet, I would be in an institution. I would be wearing a football helmet, maybe strapped to a wheelchair so I couldn't fall out of the wheelchair and hurt myself. I don't know. I certainly wouldn't be married with three beautiful children, with a regular full-time job, and a college degree and the whole shooting match.
LARSON: Finally, it was Charlie's turn to try Millie's diet. He was taken off all medications and fed mostly fats. His father says it was a miracle.
MR. ABRAHAMS: His seizures started to diminish immediately. I mean it-it was-it was pretty dramatic. You could hold him, and you could kind of feel him be less intense. And within a couple days, he stopped having seizures completely.
DR. JOHN FREEMAN: Sometimes, there is truth in the old ways, even if we don't understand them.
LARSON: Dr. John Freeman supervises the ketogenic diet at Johns Hopkins. Do you fully understand how it works?
DR. FREEMAN: We have no clue how it works, and that's part of the reason it hasn't been accepted in lots of places.
LARSON: But consider the results: Most kids who try the diet at Johns Hopkins can go back to normal food after two years, never need drugs again, and remain seizure-free.
UNIEDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: It-I see results like I've been seeing. You know, there's so many encouraging words talking to other parents that have been on the diet, and it works.
MR. ABRAHAMS: I'm coming to get you.
MR. CHARLIE ABRAHAMS: Coming, coming.
MR. ABRAHAMS: I'm coming to get you. I'm coming to get you.
LARSON: Jim and Charlie returned to Los Angeles, where Charlie thrived.
MR. ABRAHAMS: I'm coming. Here I come. Here I come. I'm coming. I'm coming to get you.
LARSON: No longer a zombie on medications, his seizures were gone. But the story doesn't end there.
MR. ABRAHAMS: All of a sudden, the eyes open up in the middle of the night and you say, 'Wait a minute, you know-this-this didn't have to happen.' Ninety-percent of these seizures didn't have to occur. Waking up around the clock and-and pouring drugs down his throat didn't have to occur.
LARSON: Jim was angry and puzzled that none of the six doctors he went to for help ever mentioned the diet.
MR. ABRAHAMS: What has stopped Charlie has been in existence for 70 years. It's been sitting there. It was waiting for him.
LARSON: You had some knowledge that this diet was probably working back at Johns Hopkins, and yet you-yet you dissuaded the Abrahams from-from attempting it. How come?
UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Well, because I didn't think we had exhausted all of the medical approaches yet. There were actually still other medications that we hadn't tried.
LARSON: Dr. Freeman tells us that 50 to 70 percent of the patients that come through his doors and get put on the diet have success. Can you think of any-any drugs in these hard cases that have 50 to 70 percent success rates?
DOCTOR: Probably not anything that comes up to that level.
LARSON: So why are modern doctors ignoring this diet? Charlie's own doctor has a surprising answer.
DOCTOR: There's no big drug company behind the ketogenic diet, and there probably can never be unless somebody starts marketing sausage and eggs with-with cream sauce on it as a drug.
LARSON: You're saying that in a sense, one of the reasons that the ketogenic diet is not popular at this point is because there's not a big drug company behind it, selling it to the doctors.
DOCTOR: I think that's probably true. I hate to say that, but I think that's probably true.
Mr. ABRAHAMS: It does not come in a pill form. It cannot be administered with a scalpel, and the only people that profit from the ketogenic diet are the patients.
LARSON: And incredibly, the diet could have been lost forever, if Millie Kelly had not stuck with it for four decades, devoting even her retirement years to keeping a simple miracle cure alive.
DR. FREEMAN: If Millie hadn't been around all these years, I think the diet would have been lost, gone. That's how important she is.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Has anyone been invited to a party while they've been on this ketogenic diet?
LARSON: And that's why Jim Abrahams decided to make another movie, not a comedy this time but a film for parents facing the crisis he faced, recording for future generations Millie's precise recipe for the diet that saved Charlie.
DR. KELLY: And your meat can be beef, lamb, veal, pork, liver, thick, cold…
MR. ABRAHAMS: But you're so cute.
LARSON: But Jim Abrahams still wonders if the months of pummeling from the seizures and the drugs did any permanent damage to Charlie's brain. And that thought keeps him angry.
MR. ABRAHAMS: How it could possibly be that that diet and its success rate at Johns Hopkins has remained a secret is absolutely incredible to me.
LARSON: Our last glimpse of the Abrahams family was a happy one, but down the road there would be more problems. And the question was, Would there be more miracles?
PAULEY: When we come back, we'll tell you how Charlie's doing.
MR. ABRAHAMS: It-it was just mostly shocking. I mean, we were just show sure that this was a part of our life that was behind us.
ANNOUNCER: From Los Angeles, here again is Maria Shriver.
MARIA SHRIVER: Returning now to our story, when we first told you about Jim and Nancy Abrahams and their son Charlie, thousands of you contacted wanting to know more about the diet that had stopped Charlie's seizures when drugs could not. But their have been some bumps on Charlie's road to recovery, even as word was spreading about the diet. Once again, John Larson.
LARSON: Jim Abrahams was overwhelmed by the response to Charlie's story. Thousands of anxious parents going through the same agony that he'd been through, writing for copies of the videotape he's made about the diet, and many thanking him for giving them the tape.
MR. ABRAHAMS: (Reading letter) We want to obtain a copy of the videotape and give it a try.
LARSON: So far, Jim has sent out 50,000 tapes.
MS. DIANE GUERRAZZI (In Palo Alto): (From file footage) This is my son, Alex…
LARSON: One went to Diane Guerrazzi, a mother and television reporter in San Jose, California. Her son Alex was not only the same age as Charles Abrahams, he also had the same problem, epileptic seizures that did not respond to drugs. To Diane, the ketogenic diet sounded too good to be true.
MS. GUERAZZI: I thought, 'Oh, come on, this is some sort of holistic-type approach.' I had my huge doubts about this diet. But we approached our doctor, and she, too-she said, 'It won't work for Alex." Alex come on, it's lunch time.
LARSON: But Diane decided to try it.
MS. GUERAZZI: We need four more grams. One gram too much. Let's take this little piece off.
LARSON: And amazingly, as soon as Alex went on the diet, just over a year ago, his seizures stopped. Now Diane is such a believer in the ketogenic diet that she runs a support group to help other parents with epileptic children.
MS. GUERAZZI: You want to play baseball?
LARSON: Diane's son continued to thrive on the diet, and so did Charlie Abrahams, who was now attending regular nursery school. In fact, Charlie was doing so well, Jim and Nancy started weening him off the diet, and stopped it completely in early January. A few weeks later, the family took a trip to Disney World, and there something completely unexpected happened.
MS. ABRAHAMS: At 6:20, Charlie hit the floor. And Joseph, our oldest was with me, and-and I was-just went and grabbed him. You know, it was just, 'Oh my, god.' You know, this just shock went over me, and his eyes rolled back. And Joseph just sort of fell apart, and I hugged Charlie, and-and then had to wait for Jim to get home at 10:00.
LARSON: It must have been devastating.
MR. ABRAHAMS: It was mostly shocking. It just took a while to really-to-to get back down to the depths of ear and terror and…
MS. ABRAHAMS: …helplessness.
Mr. ABRAHAMS: …helplessness. I think that's right.
LARSON: The Abrahams immediately called Dr. Freeman at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for advice.
DR. FREEMAN: And we said, 'All right,' you know, 'It's the excitement. He's tired. You know, it's an abnormal environment. Let's cool things a little bit and see what happens.'
MR. ABRAHAMS: And a week went by, and then he-Charlie caught just a little bit of a cold, and that-the floodgates opened. And the seizures came back with the same frequencies, the same intensity, the same variety, the same ungodliness that they were here in the first place.
LARSON: Back home in Santa Monica, things got worse. The Abrahams saw the same terrifying seizures they had witnessed two years earlier. Then came the seizure that just wouldn't stop which led to an agonizing rush to the hospital.
MR. ABRAHAMS: They have to stop a seizure within a half an hour because then they say it can do damage to the brain.
LARSON: Doctors arrested Charlie's seizure, but it was clear what the Abrahams needed to do. The miracle had worked once. Now they needed it again. Charlie was put back on the ketogenic diet, and his seizures stopped immediately. He has not had one since. His doctors say Charlie should stay on the diet another year.
DR. FREEMAN: And if Charlie does as well as we expect him to do, then we will ween him again. And he will be very scared, as good parents always are.
MS. ABRAHAMS: I used to look at it like, 'Life is going to start when the diet's over.' You know, I used to think that, and as of today, I thought, 'You know what? Life's going to be on this diet and not live after it, and Charlie's going to be in it with the rest of us.
LARSON: SO last week, at Charlie's first birthday party, he blew out the candles on a ketogenic birthday cake, and his family celebrated not just the birth but the rebirth of Charlie Abrahams. Party-goers: Happy birthday, dear Charlie. Happy birthday to you.
SHRIVER: Jim Abrahams isn't through spreading the word about the ketogenic diet. He's now making a TV movie about another family's fight to get their son on the diet.It is the opinion of Dr. Batmanghelidj that the Watercure will add significantly the results achieved here.
Note: It is the opinion of Dr. Batmanghelidj that the Watercure will add significantly the results achieved here.
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