Your child is diagnosed with a serious autoimmune disease and conventional treatments aren’t proving to be effective. Doctors prescribe powerful medications that don’t seem to work. Not only is your child not responding as hoped, he’s withering from the side effects. What do you do? Journalist Susannah Meadows found herself having to answer this question when her son, Shepherd, was diagnosed at age 3 with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, joint inflammation that can last a lifetime.

When the drugs didn’t work, Meadows was persuaded to look at his condition through a different prism and to consider the possibility that medications might not be the only answer. Meadows began speaking to parents who had sleuthed out alternative theories and tried things like radically changing their kids’ diets and giving them Chinese herbal medicines. Like many parents of sick children, Meadows grew increasingly willing to venture outside of the standard treatments.

Her experiences spurred her to seek other stories of people with illnesses ranging from multiple sclerosis to epilepsy to ADHD who pursued unproven methods of treating their diseases. Their stories, as well as an account of her son’s case, are compiled in The Other Side of Impossible: Ordinary People Who Faced Daunting Medical Challenges and Refused to Give Up, published Tuesday by Random House.

Shots sat down with Meadows to discuss her book. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When Shepherd was diagnosed with a case of juvenile idiopathic arthritis, were you initially uncomfortable with him taking the standard drugs for the disease?

I was very comfortable when the first thing he was prescribed was naproxen, because that was familiar as a relative of ibuprofen. But when that didn’t work and he was prescribed an immunosuppressant [methotrexate], I was troubled by the risks. It’s a serious drug and it comes with an increased risk of lymphoma and liver disease and for sure, I was very uncomfortable with that.

And then in the immediate sense, taking the drug made him sick and he spent days on the couch, nauseous every week, and to me, that was an unacceptable life. I could not accept that that was going to be his life. I think the thing that really pushed me to explore other options was desperation.
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