Hi, my name is Jay Cowin - President and Founder of FunctionalU. I am a Functional Health Practitioner and my journey to functional, optimal health began in 2003.
I have always credited myself for being very in tune with my body and how it functions, and here is how my journey to optimal health began...
I have always been an athlete. I’ve played high level sports my whole life. I was never so much into the healthy side of training as much as I just enjoyed the competition and pushing my own limits. It was the fall of 2001. I was 28 years of age and I was playing a game of soccer. I have been a high level goalie my whole life. It was just after half time and the other team had a break away. I came out of my net to challenge the attacker, who immediately took an extremely hard shot. The shot hit me in the head and subsequently knocked me out. On my way to the ground, I snapped my tibia and fibula off about 4-5 inches above my ankle. I was so out of it when I came to a second later. I had no idea that my leg was broken, I just saw the forward was chasing down the ball. I tried to get up and run, which I quickly realized was not happening. I was hospitalized for a week and had surgery to repair my leg.
Over the course of the next 8-10 months I really started to feel unwell. I noticed that I was starting to develop holes in the cartilage of my ears, elbows, and nose. I also started to notice that my knee caps were deteriorating. Not too long after this I started to pop ribs in and out of place and was feeling increasingly lethargic. I was having an extremely hard time with food as well, increased and unbearable heartburn daily, headaches, and every joint in my body was extremely sore and sensitive. The heartburn became so intense that I would regularly (not voluntarily) vomit up most of my meals. It got so bad that the only way I was able to get moving in the morning was to take a 10min ice cold shower to spark my Mitochondria to produce energy. Some days the pain and pressure in the back of my eyes was so intense, I couldn’t open my eyes and if I did I only saw black and purple blotches. I was losing cognitive function, memory was slipping and I felt foggy in the head daily.
I finally decided to go to the doctor, which I never do unless I am in serious trouble. I had always prided myself on being able to repair my own injuries. I went to my family GP, and told him everything I was going through. He looked me over sent me for some basic labs, and told me he cannot find anything wrong with me. I asked him if he could refer me to a specialist - he did. Over the course of the next 3 years, I saw dozens of doctors and specialists, all of whom told me there was nothing wrong and it’s all in my head! It got to the point where some of the doctors would actually laugh at me and tell me I was wasting their time. I was getting increasingly more concerned and depressive from the lack of care and concern for the so called health experts I was seeing. I finally decided to call an old family friend Doctor who is an internist at UBC. He asked me to come over to his place to discuss what I was going through. He listened intently to everything, and assured me it’s not in my head! He told me to go home and google something called Mixed connective Tissue Disease.
I went home that evening emotionally feeling much better that a health care professional believed there was something very wrong. I may repeat this statement a few times, but piece of mind is an amazing thing for your mental health. I googled mixed connective tissue disease and read it over the next hour or so. It did sound close, but it was not completely accurate. As I got to the bottom of the page, it said other associated diseases. One on there was something called Relapsing Polychondritis (RP). As I read though the symptoms it was as though it was describing me exactly. The next morning I phone the Doc and told him what I found. He asked me to give him the day and he would look it over. He called later and asked me to come over for a chat. We sat and talked for a couple of hours in which he completely agreed this sounded like what was happening, but warned me it was going to be extremely difficult for me to get doctors to get on board with this because it effects approximately 1 in 3 million people. I thought to myself …. GREAT!!! Lucky me! I can’t win $5 bucks on a scratch and win, but this, I draw! … He told me he had a rheumatologist friend who would take me on. This was amazing news, I was excited.
I went to see the rheumatologist and get his take on the situation. What I was told is he was not sure if this was my affliction, and I was better off not to be labeled with anything. He also told me that he truly hoped it was not Relapsing Polychondritis because there is no cure. RP is not like other rheumatologic diseases in that it also attacks stationary cartilage such as ears, nose, trachea, heart valves, etc. In most cases it’s a low level attack that can be controlled with steroids and biologic immune system suppressers. RP is also not like other diseases in that there is not an exact symptom list to follow, like lupus or fibromyalgia. The only clear cut symptom is your ears, nose, and neck will painfully swell and turn red like the worst sunburn you have ever experienced. This had not happened to me, so no positive diagnosis.
Fast forward 8 months. I’m 30 years of age now. I’ve been seeing this Rheumatologist, still no diagnosis, and no real answers as to what to do. I was falling apart at an accelerated rate. My daily pain was so inconceivable I wanted to just walk into traffic daily. I awoke one evening unable to breathe properly. It felt like someone had hit me in the ear and nose with a bat, and it felt like someone stuck hot pokers in my eyes. I went to the bathroom only to see the reddest ears, nose, and chest I had ever seen. My wife immediately took me to the hospital. This very old physician came in and asked what was going on. I told him everything, and he got quite animated in his disgust of how badly I’ve been railroaded whit this. Turns out he was the former head of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. He immediately said, “If it walks like a Duck, Quacks like a Duck, People… IT’S A DUCK!!!” I was then labeled with Relapsing Polychondritis. From this moment on, my life was forever changed!
I was now sent to see a Rheumatologist in New Westminster, who sees all 7 people in western Canada with RP. My first appointment with him was at 6pm in the evening and I sat there with him going over everything for the next 5 hours. I finally felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. He ran a plethora of tests, and told me I needed to be on prednisone, or some type of immune system suppresser. I understand what immune system suppressers do, but I was worried really bad things would happen soon, if I didn’t do something. I was put on prednisone (40mg) daily. Quite a large dose for a daily treatment, but that’s what they recommended.
Over the course of the next few months we tried a bunch of different drugs to stop the deterioration of my cartilage. I had become very aware of the feeling of the attacks on my body and could tell where I was being attacked and how badly. My nose and ears were always in pain and felt like they were being attacked. My nose was the key. When attacked (which was daily) my nose always would feel full, itchy, and with a slight burn. So we tried, prednisone, Methotrexte, Leflunamide, azoathioprine. Although the attack on my other body parts seemed to dissipate, my nose would always seem under constant attack. Of all the people the Doc sees, mine seemed to be the most aggressive. Prognosis with RP ranges from somewhat mild and slightly uncomfortable, to extremely damaging attacks to your trachea and heart valves that you can die from lung and trachea collapse or a heart attack. The level of destruction and relentless attacking I was suffering from was so extreme, they told me the prognosis on my level of disease is about a 4 year life expectancy. Since I’ve been under this level of attack now for well over 3 years, I needed to get my affairs in order, because I won’t make out the year!?!
I‘ll tell you now that nothing or nobody can prepare you for those words! My life flashed before my eyes. What was I going to do? Where could I go? How do I tell my family? How do I tell my wife that I won’t make our third wedding anniversary? I was so much more concerned about those around me that I almost neglected what I needed to do. At this time as well, I had gained nearly 50lbs of fat being on the drugs. I still went to soccer 3-4 times a week and tried to do everything physical I could accomplish. I was told to cease and desist from all physical activity, for it was very destructive to my soft tissue. I notice that when I slowed down physically, it felt as though the disease would pick up speed, so I sucked up the pain daily and pushed though. Throughout this I felt I was just existing and not living in the least. I’m still not entirely sure, but I think I was depressed, until one day something hit me!!!
I did what almost everyone would do in this situation, and I dwelled on the “why me?”!! How could this be happening? Is this Karma? Am I being punished?
It was such a destructive and negative thought process, yet so hard to pull yourself out of. I also found out really early who your true friends are?! There are those who genuinely want to know what’s going on, and there are those who ask, but don’t really care. The latter is what I found of most people. I got to the point where when people asked how I was, no matter what I just said good! There is nothing as demeaning to me as sympathy. It does no one any good. I don’t mind empathy, but most cannot differentiate the two. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, those who should get sympathy don’t want it, and those who want it, shouldn’t get it!
One morning I awoke feeling different in my head, lighter, optimistic, and even had on a smile. I remember this day vividly. I went to the bathroom and just stared into the mirror. I sat there for 20-30min, and the thought that was going through my head was no longer, “why me?”!!, it was now WHY NOT ME!!! This was a major turning point in my disease, and my life. Why should it be someone else, why would they deserve this? Maybe this is happening to me because I’m the only one strong enough to cope and figure this out. From that day on my life got markedly better.
With this new found thought process I had a rejuvenated sense of self, piece of mind, and commitment to find my trigger, and beat this affliction. I had stopped all the drugs I was on except the prednisone, was only taking 5mg daily, but it seemed to keep the attack at a very low level. If I tried, which I did several times over a couple of years, the pain would become insurmountable, so for now, prednisone it was.
I happened to run into a couple of buddies (they are bothers) who I had played soccer with over the years, and they almost didn’t recognize me. They asked what was going on, and since their dad had been my soccer coach, and is also a GP, and the head for western medical affairs for Air Canada, I told them everything. They told me that their dad had a clinic on the side where he practiced Functional and Anti-aging alternative medicine, regenerative and preventative medicines, and I should go see him…I did!
Seeing this doc changed my life and my trajectory into my career. He ran year long health programs to regain optimal health, and I jumped in with two feet. Everything he had said to me made sense. Finally, someone was telling me something that made sense. He told me I didn’t have RP, but what I had were imbalances and as a result I’ve developed RP. He said if we can find these, correct them, then there is no reason I could not regain my health. I did his program, which consisted of extensive testing, bio-identical hormones, supplements, eating, exercise, sleep hygiene, positive thinking and many other supports. After 8 months, I felt extremely better. My energy had increased 10 fold. A lot of my pain was gone, my cognitive function had increased. Over all I felt much better, but I still did not feel “right”, or “myself”, whatever that entails. I could still feel my nose being attacked at a very low level, but it was still daily.
This is where my life took a complete 180. The doc and I went through my health history again. I was still complaining about extremely sore feet in the AM, absurd allergies, seemingly going grey, losing hair overnight and not being able to lose weight. He then started asking me about the multitude of concussions I have had in my life. There is most likely over a dozen of them ranging from 15 years of age to 28, mostly happening in sport. My first big concussion came at 15 years of age. I was running down the sideline during a soccer game and attempted to cross the ball. The defender two handed me in the chest as I was crossing the ball, and I fell backwards and whipped my head into the ground. This is the only concussion that gave me amnesia. I don’t remember the incident or the previous 4-5 days. I was taken to Children’s Hospital, where I stayed for 5 days, did a battery of tests, and was not allowed to sleep. Upon leaving the hospital, I was given no recommendations to stay healthy, only, just be careful. So the concussions continued until I was 28, and after taking the shot to the face and breaking my leg, 8 months later the ailments began. This triggered the doc to check my pituitary and Growth Hormone Output. Not sure if I was or was not making any HGH, but I was not releasing any period.
So we did all the testing to prove this and a few weeks later I was prescribed my first vial of Growth Hormone. All we are looking for is physiological levels, balance, never to over do anything. So I started at the lowest dose possible. In 48hrs I felt completely different in my cognitive function. I felt happy, optimistic and very sharp. In 6 weeks I lost 38lbs of body fat without changing anything. Over the next few months all my hair started growing back, and the grey disappeared. My skin gained a phenomenal amount of elasticity back and all my aches and pains were gone. All my lean muscle mass was coming back and my ribs stopped popping in and out. I was able to stop taking my prednisone and my nose seemed to no longer be under attack. I couldn’t believe this! What was the sorcery?!?
What I now understand is that in our western medical approach we are sick care. We put band aids on things and don’t look for the root cause. This new approach to health and wellness changed my thinking. I began to believe that anything is possible.
In early 2012 I had a fall at my job. I was running the Compost and Garabge pick up for the City of Richmond. One morning at work, I ran and jumped up into my truck, in the same fashion I had done for years. This time however, I slipped. I tried to grab the steering wheel, missed and reached behind me as I was falling with my left hand. It caught the bar on the door and the next thing I knew I heard an incredibly loud bang. I found myself lying on the ground on my back. I thought the door had broken off the truck. I tried to get up, but every time I raised my head, I would pass out from the pain. This happened 5-6 times. When I was finally able to sit up, I realized my left pec had torn off. This started the process of being off with Worksafe for 3.5 years. I had two surgeries in a year and a half and was told that I would most likely only regain 50-60% range back in my left shoulder if I really work at it. I had not only ruptured my pec, my whole shoulder and rotator cuff had also blown up. My long head bicep was torn, as well as my infraspinatus, superspinatus, and subscapular had all been torn. I also damaged the shoulder capsule quite extensively too. A year after my second surgery, in which I had gained about 80% function back, but very little strength , it was evident I was no longer going to be able to do such a physically demanding job. I asked Worksafe to re-train me and they agreed. Problem was, they wanted me to work in trucking, and that wasn’t going to happen.
I went to see my Functional Med doc for an appointment, and told him what was going on. He proceeded to ask me to do schooling to become a Functional Medicine practitioner. He said to me that I have been living with this for the better part of a decade and already know so much about what they do. So I took my first course in Sports and fitness nutrition and medicine. It was an 18 month course which I finished top in my class, in 3 and a-half weeks and passed the final 2 weeks later. I took this to my Worksafe Advisor, and he gave me the go ahead to do what ever I wanted. By the time I was done school, I had gotten better than 95% range back in my left shoulder and regained most of my strength. I finished 4 college courses and received my Diploma’s. I never knew I could enjoy schooling so much, or even be good at it. I had found my calling.
After my schooling was done and I was released from Worksafe. The Doc hired me at his clinic. I have had the once in a lifetime experience of working with a true thinker and believer. I have seen things I never thought possible, on a daily basis. I’m not talking the occasional miracle, I’m talking daily. What I learned is there is always an answer - you just have to know where to look. I feel I have been given these tools and this opportunity in my life to help those who are not so fortunate in their quest for optimal health. It can be accomplished. I no longer take any of the drugs prescribed by my Rheumatologist, although I still see him bi-yearly, and he now uses me as a case study. It’s been 15 years, I’m now 45, since I was told I would not make out the year, and I generally feel better than I ever have in my life. I am most definitely in the best shape of my life and it is much easier to maintain than it has ever been. This is my life’s path now and what I know now is not a single one of us is the same. We are all individuals, with our own needs. This is why personalized health care is the only answer to me. It’s not necessarily about WHAT you have, it’s about WHY it is you have it!!! What are the underlying root causes? Let’s find the answers together!
Jay Cowin, Owner & President