Gianna’s Story: Eczema

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When Gianna Marella was about three, her mom, Sarah, recognized Gianna had eczema by the mild irritations in the crooks of her arms and knees that would come and go. At about age 9 hydrocortisone cream was started for flare ups.

By the time Gianna turned 12, the eczema had spread to her neck. Her skin was red and raw from her chin to collarbone. It hurt when anything came in contact with it. Laying down in her bed was painful making a good night’s sleep impossible. Water burned so swimming, showering and anything involving water was avoided. Hydrocortisone cream no longer seemed to help. In addition, Gianna started having infrequent but severe migraines.

Eczema opened the skin at her wrists early on

Eczema treatment round 1: Oral and Topical Steroids

In August 2017 before the start of eighth grade, Gianna’s skin was painfully out of control. She was unable to sleep and had no energy. Her body was covered in more red, raw patches than healthy skin. When the pediatrician was unable to see her, her parents took her to urgent care. There she was diagnosed with contact dermatitis and began a course of oral steroids in addition to topical steroids. Her skin cleared up during the steroid use. As soon as she stopped the steroids, inflamed skin returned.

Eczema treatment round 2: Steroids, Antihistamines, Bleach Baths

In September Gianna and her parents were desperate to get her eczema back under control before school started. Eighth grade can be hard enough without having to worry about red, painful skin. The pediatrician prescribed another round of steroids along with oral and topical antibiotics. They started using wet wraps on the open areas. They tried antihistamines and bleach baths. Doctors suspected a staph infection caused this inflammation. The Marella’s took Gianna to see an allergist who did an allergy blood panel and a skin test. No major allergies showed on the testing.

Eczema covered Gianna

Eczema treatment round 3: Steroids, Antibiotics, Allergist visit

Gianna went to the allergist, once again hoping for an answer. The doctor performed patch testing which left her sick, feverish and lethargic. Her skin was red all over and open in patches. The results of the test were inconclusive. The allergist insisted that she had an infection and prescribed a treatment similar to her September treatment: oral steroids, topical steroids and a different antibiotic. The Marella family all agreed, this would be the last time they would try steroid and antibiotic treatment. If it didn’t work, they would pursue a different option. They knew something was wrong and they needed an effective, long term solution.

By this time, Gianna had seen many doctors including her pediatrician, an allergist and a few dermatologists. Throughout it all, Gianna continued fighting to live a happy, normal social life, hanging with friends, earning the lead in her musical theater class as Nala in the Lion King.

CHALLENGES OF LIVING WITH ECZEMA

Her family worked together to solve the mystery of Gianna’s eczema. They kept food journals and followed special eczema diets. At this point, her eczema was constant. Her parents were always on the lookout to pinpoint anything that seemed to make it worse than usual. Sarah had read that metal sensitivity could alter the gut and cause inflammation so she begged the orthodontist to remove Gianna’s braces in hope that would help. The orthodontist didn’t believe the theory. None of her patients had ever had a skin reaction that she noticed, certainly not skin issues like Gianna’s. The Marella’s were so desperate that her orthodontist finally agreed to remove the braces but they didn’t notice much of a change in her skin after removal.

As her skin worsened, Gianna felt miserable. She was self conscious. Her open, raw, painful skin developed an odor. She kept going to school, keeping her skin covered and trying to be “normal” but her body kept fighting her. Living with open skin made it hard to regulate her body temperature and painful to sleep or wear clothes. Exhaustion caused her to cat nap during the day, going to school was a physical and emotional fight.  One day, the gym teacher called Sarah to let her know Gianna had been in the bathroom crying. Her family decided it was time for her to stop going to school. They continued to search for answers, taking Gianna to other doctors, desperately seeking help.

Praying for Answers

During this time, Sarah kept hearing the Chung Institute name. Gianna’s principal suggested Dr. Chung to them saying she had a really good experience there. Then their hairdresser suggested going to the Chung Institute. The Marella family had faith it would be the right place for them before they even had their first appointment. They prayed Dr. Chung would have something different to help Gianna. 

It was March 2018 and the appointment finally arrived. Gianna went to her first appointment with painful, sore, broken skin. The few areas of unbroken skin were dry and patchy. She was still dealing with a bone deep itch, scratching just couldn’t satisfy. Even her face and cheeks were covered with open, sore, sensitive skin. Her skin wasn’t doing it’s job. The prescriptions she had been on had thinned it. She couldn’t regulate her body temp well, she was sensitive to any and all products she put on it.

AUTONOMIC RESPONSE TESTING

During the first appointment, Dr. Chung assessed Gianna using autonomic response testing (ART https://www.chunginstitute.com/service/autonomic-response-testing/ ) and developed a plan of action. His assessment indicated nickel and aluminum sensitivity. Dr Chung told them he believed Gianna had atopy, which is typically associated with people who have a heightened immune response to allergens. He explained his theory that people with atopy are unable to convert linoleic acid to gamma linoleic acid. https://www.healthline.com/health/borage-oil#benefits

Treatment started during her first visit. Treatment didn’t include any of the prescriptions that had been tried and failed before. The Marella’s were hopeful. Gianna received her first IV EDTA treatment to detox some of the heavy metals trapped in her body. She also received her first acupuncture treatment. The family was told Gianna needed to follow a low nickel diet and take Cilantro to help detox some heavy metal at home. She also started taking borage oil, a supplement high in gamma linoleic acid, Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2.  https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17842-nickel-allergy https://www.chunginstitute.com/service/detoxification-therapies/

Healing

The Marella’s noticed improvement in Gianna’s skin within weeks of her first appointment, but she had a lot of healing to do. Gianna had missed a year of her life! Her lead role as Nala would never be. Softball season as the eighth grade captain never happened. She never got to dress up and go to the eighth grade dinner dance, a formal dance that all the girls at school look forward to each year. Most importantly, she missed walking across the stage with her classmates for her eighth grade graduation. Eczema robbed the entire Marella family of these memories.

Recent photo with mom and dad

Her skin slowly started to heal; gradually and consistently. Gianna was diligent with her low nickel diet and supplements. She received another IV treatment and started low dose immunotherapy (LDI). https://www.chunginstitute.com/service/lda-low-dose-allergy-immunotherapy-ldi-low-dose-immunotherapy/ She took responsibility for her health and healing. Gianna was a dedicated fighter. Her dedication to her diet and supplements paid off. Finally she was healthy and confident to go back to school to start ninth grade.  Her healing continued. Her skin finally became 100% clear and smooth.

Living Life Fully

Trip to Cape May with siblings

It is amazing the things we take for granted when your skin functions as it should. With her healthy, strong skin, Gianna is able to enjoy the things she missed. Most of them simple things we don’t even think about. She can swim in the ocean and hang out at the beach. For a year of her life her skin could only tolerate cotton t-shirts. Now Gianna can go shopping, exploring her own sense of style. She’s able to play sports and sweat. She savors the simple things: washing her hair, getting a shower and a solid nights sleep, she’s able to socialize with friends and feels confident in her skin. Gianna has her life back!

Enjoying healthy skin!

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