Hi. I’m Dr. Steve Puckette.
Today I would like to share with you the beginning of my journey to becoming a Chiropractic Neurologist, and how I got to work with chronically ill patients. This is not a story that many people know because it was a very hard time in my life. In order to fully understand my practice, and me as a doctor, I feel that it is important for you to know. Many people initially question why they should trust a chiropractor with their chronic illness over their medical doctor. People associate chiropractic medicine with back specialists, but as I explain my journey you will soon learn that it is much more.
HOW I GOT STARTED
In order to get the timeline of this story right I have to start by sharing why I got into the field. I will be honest with you: I stumbled into chiropractic neurology against my will. My wife and my daughter became chronically ill, my daughter with autism, and my wife with a severe autoimmune disease. Before I got into chiropractic I was a geophysicist because I love physics and science. There is a lot of strength to having an analytical approach to the body and using science as the core foundation behind my practice. Initially when I went to chiropractic school my goal was to become a mechanic of the body.
When I started school I was a second degree black belt in martial arts. My whole goal in the beginning was figuring out how to get the structure of the body to function as optimally as possible. I wanted to stay within the structural scope, and I learned techniques that measure muscles and muscle function. What I didn’t know when I started was that these muscle techniques were actually measuring the function of the nervous system. As it turns out, muscles are a great indicator of how the nervous system is functioning. From the start I was focused on muscles, but what I was really evaluating was the nervous system.
MY DAUGHTER’S JOURNEY
About twenty years ago, when I started my practice, I had a new family with 2 kids and one on the way. During this time my oldest child developed autism. At that time we went to the best doctors in Wisconsin — to the UW’s center for developmentally disabled children. We were told to join a support group and focus on raising our other children. My wife and I chose not to follow that advice. This was the beginning of our quest to find out what else was out there that could help our daughter even if it wasn’t part of the standard medical literature. We had a lot of lab tests run to find out what was going on with her metabolism. We even got help from behavioral therapists to help teach her, but we were still struggling a lot and looking for where to go and what to do.
One day my daughter had been sick with the flu for a couple days and hadn’t eaten in a while. She was in the car with her mom, and she hadn’t spoken in a long time. As they were driving along, there was a barn on the side of the road and she looked over and said, “Look, Mommy! A big red barn, just like in the book!” We hadn’t heard our daughter speak in over a year and a half, and all of a sudden, out of her comes this complete sentence!
We were overjoyed thinking we got our daughter back. Unless you have a child like this, you have no idea of the joy we felt, hearing those words and her voice. Slowly, as she started eating and feeling better we watched all of her language disappear again, and she was back to one or two word sentences. In that moment we were crushed.
FOOD PLAYS A ROLE IN EVERYTHING
What we realized from that experience was that food made a HUGE difference on her ability to function and to truly be with us. When she was eating foods that were inflaming her brain and causing dysfunction in her body, she lost her ability to communicate. But now we knew with confidence that she was in there and we could get her back. All we had to do was never feed her again!
Naturally, that wasn’t a realistic option, so we started looking at what we could do to make food safe for her. This information is well known now, but twenty years ago it was not. We found that she was extremely reactive to gluten, dairy, eggs, apples, soy and a host of other foods. Discovering these sensitivities took a lot of work. We had to remove foods and reintroduce them. We found hope again when we learned that healing the guts is the first step to healing your overall health.
UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF THE GUT
I knew as a chiropractor that there were things that can be done to help gut health, but at the time my understanding was not as sophisticated as it is now. The understanding of gut health, leaky gut, and gut inflammation has exploded in the last 20 years, but at that time it was in its infancy. As we kept working on our daughter, we focused on changing her diet completely, healing her gut, and got her an incredible amount of supplements based off of the lab work we had done.
She did behavioral therapy, which is like exercise for the brain. The therapists would find very specific tasks and have her exercise those tasks over and over again, because they had to lay down tracks that should have been laid down when she was younger, but got lost with the autism. This is what was going on with her for years, and over the course of those years she slowly and gradually got better. Finally, after four years of intense work with her diet, supplements, and therapy, she was indistinguishable from her peers. This was an intensely consuming part of our lives, but it was worth every second and every penny because we got our daughter back!
LEARNING THE HOLISTIC LIFESTYLE
After four years, I realized from that experience that chiropractic, health, and healing were not just a career, they were crucial for my daughter’s quality of life! This totally changed the focus of my practice and my attention towards the importance of overall health. No longer was I focused on only physical problems, like a bad back, or sprained ankle. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to fix those problems, but real health and healing go deep into what really matters in life.
MY WIFE’S JOURNEY
So, as I started to change the focus of my practice, I began looking for where I could get solid information on all these new aspects I had learned about health. Things were getting better. My practice was growing. Then, about four years after my daughter recovered, my wife got sick! My wife Holly had been responsible for the huge amount of work involved in taking care of our sick daughter.
She also had two other younger children — a newborn and a two year old — and all of this was going on while she was getting better. On top of that we were homeschooling, and Holly was coming into the office daily for a couple of months to help out. She became burnt out and exhausted. Her system had crashed the same way my daughter’s had, but with a whole different set of symptoms. Holly was soon bed bound and we couldn’t figure out why.
The first thing we did was take her to see the medical doctors, and they said that there was nothing wrong with her and that she should just take some anti-depressants and get up and get on with her life. I knew that there was absolutely nothing depressive about this woman; she physically couldn’t even move. It took all of her energy just to get through the day, and she was in bed for twenty-three hours a day. We had no answers from the medical community, and I was completely unsuccessful with helping her.
ALMOST GIVING UP
Finally, after about two years, I had just given up out of frustration. I had no idea what was going on with her, and accepted that my wife was chronically ill. She was able to be at home and was aware of what was going on, but was unable to do anything about it. All the cooking, the kids, my practice was on me, and it was taking a huge toll on my family’s quality of life. Luckily my mom stepped in to help out but this was an immensely stressful time in our lives.
Suddenly, after about two years, she started getting better. It was amazing! I wish I could have taken credit, but I can’t. I had stopped treating her because we weren’t getting results, and our relationship was being affected. She didn’t want me telling her how to do everything like eat, live, and think so I had to just let her be for the sake of our marriage.
At first she started just waking up with a bit more energy, and she would be up and walking around for a couple hours. Then she started to wake up, and fix me breakfast, then be up all day. That turned into her waking up, going for a run before she made breakfast, and returning to the energy she had before she got ill! Soon she was waking up in the morning, and her heart was racing so fast that she actually had too much energy!
We learned that this was because she had an autoimmune disease called Graves disease. This caused her heart to beat so fast that it was becoming dangerous. We were told that if we didn’t stop this, she would destroy her heart. We did the medical treatment for this which was radioablation, which destroys the thyroid gland. Now she’s on thyroid meds for the rest of her life. We thought this was it. We had finally figured it out, and the thyroid meds would take care of everything. Well, they didn’t. She ended up back in bed and we had no idea what was going on, again! I started researching everything I could, and learned it was an autoimmune disease, which we weren’t aware of until the Graves flared up. Mainstream medicine didn’t have an answer for us, so I started researching autoimmune disease in alternative medicine.
I started following Dr. Datis Kharrazian, a phenomenal chiropractor, nutritionist, and now a researcher at Harvard University. He gave us some answers that helped us get her more stable and give her a little bit of energy back. Year by year, piece by piece, we had to rebuild her health. As I was going through the process of bringing my wife back, I learned how many different things can go wrong in the body. Once one thing goes wrong, you may not know what started it, but all the other dominoes start to fall. We had to pick each domino up, one by one, and put it back in place to get her health back.
This was my life for almost fifteen years between my daughter and my wife. My experiences have changed everything about what I believe really matters. I saw with my wife how crucial the health of the mother is. When my wife’s health was down, it brought hardship to the whole family. My kids were taking care of mom’s needs instead of the other way around. What I see every day is that the health of the mother improves the health of the family. My joy in life now is helping people who suffer from chronic illness. Helping people get their lives back as well as the quality of life for their families who love them is what motivates me everyday.
I hope this helps you understand why I do what I do, and why I don’t use the typical approach to chiropractic. I found out that chiropractic, nutrition, neurology, genetic testing, and labs are all critical components to helping those who are chronically ill. This is how I ended up in this really unique place, and why my practice is so unique. My own personal journey is what brought me here, and helps me every day decide what really matters.
I’VE BEEN THERE
My life twenty years ago was a lot like my patients’ when they come to see me: seeking help from the medical community and trying specialist after specialist with little to no results or answers.
I learned what I needed to do to help my wife and my daughter with minimal help from the medical community. To get their health back it really took a combination of approaches. These approaches I now use in my office everyday. I look at what is going on with your nervous system, your nutrition, and your physical body. These three components are actually classic chiropractic care which has been around for a hundred years. It has only been in the last couple of decades, when insurance got involved, that chiropractors started specifically treating low back pain. Prior to that, chiropractors were taking care of all kinds of sick people and helping them get better.
EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON
My background in geophysics motivated me to find the best science in holistic healing. The best science in this field is located in functional neurology and functional medicine. I take the best understanding of these two areas and integrate them to produce the most effective care. My main focus is on how the brain coordinates all the functions in the body. This means I am constantly evaluating the function of your nervous system.
In functional medicine and functional nutrition I look at how the body uses nutrition to fuel all biological processes. Nutrition is an important component because all biochemistry starts with the food you put into your body. There has been an explosion in the science of how these two pieces work together. They blend wonderfully with holistic healing and chiropractic, which has been going on for hundreds of years.
I am so thankful I changed careers, and that chronic health issues were my family’s situation. I cannot fathom what my life would be like if we just stuck with the medical community. There practices were so far from being able to bring life back to my daughter and my wife. In my office I use the best of science, and the best of holistic care to bring a human being from a state of dis-ease back to vibrant health.
MY EXPERIENCE SHAPED ME AS A DOCTOR
My experience with what my family went through drove me to take hundreds and hundreds of hours of nutrition classes. I’ve used that information with my patients for over twenty years. I also continue to educate myself on nutrition as the times change. I have taken more than 700 hours of neurology and applied neurology so I can understand and utilize how the brain runs the body and controls the healing process. I’ve learned that for every rule about how the body works, there’s an exception to that rule!
I know that every patient is unique and has their own genetic code. This means they are going to respond differently to the same nutrition and care than somebody else. Everyone has a different history with stress in their life and how it has affected them. In conclusion, everyone has a different lifestyle, and a different way in which their body heals. Above all else, I listen to my patients, because I believe they are all unique individuals, and nobody knows their body better than they do!
I look forward to talking with you about your health. I understand, through my own personal journey, that the road to better health is not easy, but it is possible. My daughter and wife are my living proof. Chronic illness is not simple, but together we can work towards bringing you a better quality of life.
I look forward to working with you and becoming your lifelong partner on the road to a healthier you.
Dr. Steve Puckette