By Frank Carroll
Times & Transcript, Moncton, Tuesday, November 9, 1999.
Stretching and exercise has not only helped him manage his condition but also restore most of the bone density he lost due to steroids.
Ten years ago, Jacques Gauthier was in so much pain from arthritis that he spent most of his days in bed.
Within a week, the 60-year-old Quebecois will finish the last leg of a walk across Canada he says is meant to inspire others who are living in pain.
Gauthier started his cross-Canada trek last March, but he began an even more amazing journey – one from despair to hope – in 1981.
At the time, Gauthier and his wife, Dorothée Lavoie, operated their own automotive parts business and an office coffee service as well. Life was going well for them until Gauthier noticed a numbness in his left hand.
Soon he lost use of the hand, and the numbness started spreading to his arm, which began to shrink dramatically. The condition progressed steadily and rapidly.
Doctors diagnosed Gauthier with a rare condition known as vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels that help nourish the nerves.
To battle the ailment, the doctors prescribed cortisone, an anti-inflammatory steroid. For a while, the steroids slowed the disease’s progress and gave Gauthier all kinds of energy.
« I was superman, » recalled Gauthier, who stopped in Moncton yesterday before continuing his walk to Halifax.
Gauthier had to take high doses of cortisone to battle the numbness and the burning pain he would often experience. However, the steroids had side effects, most notably osteoporosis.
Over the course of nine years, Gauthier would lose 20 per cent of his bone density. So serious was the loss that doctors ordered him to stop exercising for fear that he would break his bones.
The doctors also prescribed another drug to replace cortisone, but Gauthier never filled the prescription. He was tired of the effect the drugs were having on him.
« I said that if God wants me in a wheelchair, it will be from the disease and not from the drugs, » said Gauthier. « I will let myself go and I will go shopping for a wheelchair. »
Stopping the medication, however, had more dire consequences than Gauthier had imagined. Soon, he said, his body was filled with arthritis from head to toe. He became bed-ridden.
Unwilling to go back to medication, Gauthier and his wife desperately sought other alternatives, everything from physical manipulation to spiritual healing. Nothing seemed to work.
Then a friend told Gauthier about a logger in New Brunswick who knew some methods for reducing pain. Today Gauthier won’t name the man because he apparently later ran into trouble with the medical authorities, but he credits the logger with bringing him back from the abyss.
The New Brunswick man insisted he could not do anything for Gauthier over the phone. So Gauthier visited him and found that the man offered a simple but effective way of dealing with his illness – stretching.
The man tutored Gauthier in stretching techniques. After three weeks, Gauthier felt that about 50 per cent of his pain was gone. He returned home to Quebec, continued a stretching for two to four hours per day and found that his condition steadily improved.
Two years ago, Gauthier was able to walk across Quebec. He said a combination of stretching and exercise has not only helped him manage his condition but also restored most of the bone density he lost due to steroids.
Today he is a firm believer in stretching. « It makes you more flexible, it improves your blood circulation and gives you more energy, » said Gauthier. « When you stretch, you’re giving power back to your immune system – the best doctor in the world. »
Gauthier stresses, however, that stretching was not a cure for his condition. He still does not have full use of his left hand. The stretching, however, has helped him manage his illness.
Lavoie was amazed to see her husband progress from being bedridden to being capable of walking across Canada. « Nothing is irreversible. If he can get out of that, then there’s hope for everybody. »
Gauthier and Lavoie sold their businesses and home a few years ago. In the winter, they live in his parents’ apartment in Montreal; in the summer, they travel extensively, promoting their own video on stretching.
With Lavoie driving the couple’s motor home and Gauthier walking, the couple plan to journey around the United States next year. They will travel down the eastern seaboard in the fall, through the southern states in the winter and up the west coast in the spring.
Under the Photo:
Jacques Gauthier (right) would probably have been dead by now if he had not learned how to heal himself. Now, he and his wife, Dorothy, are spreading the word as Jacques walks across Canada, hoping to help others help themselves.