A man has defied the realms of possibility by learning to walk again after an autoimmune disease left him wheelchair-bound.
Lee Chambers, now 34, received the heart-breaking diagnosis in 2014 when his son was just 18-months-old and his wife was six months pregnant with their second child.
An autoimmune disease is a condition in which the immune system attacks the body. The immune system normally protects against germs and viruses, sending out fighter cells to attack if needed. However, in an autoimmune disease, the immune system cannot tell the difference between foreign cells and healthy cells, consequently mistaking parts of the body as foreign and therefore trying to attack it.
Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Lee revealed how his journey through rehab, intensive physio, and hydrotherapy enabled him to recover in ways no one could have predicted.
He said: “I still remember the initial shock of how rapid the onset of the disease was. I went from fully mobile and independent to immobile and needing care for washing and eating and moving in the space of five days.
“I had just turned 29 and had a vision of all the to-dos before I moved into my 30s. All of a sudden, I had a more significant battle to face.
“Being told that I had a chronic disease in my 20s that would need managing for life, my initial reaction was to think, ‘I’ll be fine’. After the shock wore off, it dawned on me that I had a big challenge to face. It felt unfair, I was young, I’d looked after myself.
“The thoughts of ‘why me’ started to turn to grief for my mobility and physicality, and you have a lot of time to reflect when you’re immobile in a hospital bed.
“However, in the second week, I had a moment of deep awareness that the disease was mine, and I had to take ownership over my recovery. I realised that I had been ungrateful for being able to walk all these years. Ungrateful for all the people that cared for me and were now helping. And in the bigger scheme of things, ungrateful for the opportunities I’d had growing up in the first world, the free education and healthcare, the freedom to start a business and work in different industries, and always having had my basic needs met.
“I used this gratitude as fuel, promising myself I would be proactive and attack my disease as much as it was attacking me, to get the best possible health outcome and get back walking.”
It was this mindset that spurred Lee on to explore his knowledge of nutrition, sleep and physiology to optimise his lifestyle.
Lee told us: “I have always had an interest in how my body works, and before I became unwell, I had studied performance nutrition and strength and conditioning.
“After regaining the ability to walk, I decided my next mission would be to see if I could come of my medication, which is cytotoxic and dampens my immune system, and control my illness by lifestyle alone.
“And that started me on the path of treating myself as one big experiment.
“I started with my diet, adding and eliminating one food at a time and recording how I felt, and then an hour after. This led me to gradually build a list of foods that energised me, foods I could tolerate, and foods that drained me or triggered inflammation.”
With this knowledge, Lee built himself an eating plan that was bespoke to his needs and worked to keep him well.
He also took a similar approach to sleep; experimenting with timings, the temperature of his environment, different bedding and pyjamas, avoiding blue light and screens, building a routine, all while tracking and measuring how they affected sleep quality and quantity.
Lee continued: “I also worked on what I could do physically, rather than what I couldn’t.
“I went to the gym and started training the muscle groups I could at the angles that are comfortable. I regularly walk, play disability football, and occasionally box to help synchronise my feet and hands.
“I found where my limits are in terms of too much pain and fatigue, but also how too little would leave me stiff and more vulnerable. All these combined together put me in a place whereby, with the help of my consultant, June 2020 will be my last dose of medication.”
Lee, who lives in Preston, says the illness has changed him in many ways – for the better. And now he credits his health battle for making him more grateful.
The dad-of-two said: “I am more empathetic and switched on to the world around me.
“It has slowed me down and made me connect with myself on a spiritual level. It has helped me to appreciate others, and the small things in life.
“I’m able to look back on my failures and express my vulnerabilities. It was the catalyst for my business today, where I consult businesses and individuals on environmental psychology, wellbeing advancement, sleep environments and organisational cultures.
“Through my suffering, I have grown as a man, father, husband and son. It helped me foster a proactive mindset, emotional resilience, more self-awareness and clarified what I want my legacy to be, to leave the world a happier and healthier place.”
Lee still lives with his illness today, although is determined that it does not define him.
He says: “It is a part of me, and I’ve taken ownership over it. Being able to control it by lifestyle alone is a very powerful feeling.
“After that initial feeling of having it happen to me, I decided to accept that it was a message to stand up and become more and commit to try and bounce back higher than before. And it put me in a position to help others.
“I often speak at events and in education about just how precious our health is, and how we can psychologically bounce back from failure by viewing it as an experiment that you can go back, detach emotion, and gather data from, while starting to view our further obstacles as challenges, rather than threats.”
Lee also now coaches a disability football team in Lancashire as a way of giving back, and is involved with a number of charities.
He concluded: “For me, illness was not the end, but the start of a bigger brighter chapter in my life.”
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