From atop the windswept summit of Oregon’s Mount Scott, the deep blue expanse of Crater Lake glitters like a sapphire clutched in a craggy rock setting. The high peaks of the Cascades frame the horizon, and sprays of alpine wildflowers blanket the nearby slopes.
It’s a scene suited for a postcard. But on a summer day in August 2014, Danielle Currey gained more than a nice view atop the 8,929-foot peak: She earned a victory.
Earlier that year, a psoriatic arthritis flare had closed in on the 34-year-old mother of two. At times, she couldn’t even navigate the stairs of her second-story apartment near Portland, Oregon, let alone manage a strenuous hiking trail. Yet mere months later, with her lungs burning and her husband and children by her side, Currey had reached the mountaintop.
“It was something I’d been really wanting to do,” she said. “It gave me so much hope.”
Crater Lake’s highest peak is just one of many mountains Currey has scaled throughout her journey with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, which have plagued her for well over half her lifetime. As a youngster, she dealt with being teased about her persistent dandruff. In high school, she sacrificed her love of running because of problems with her knees and ankles. And as a 22-year-old new mother, she faced a doctor’s dire prediction that she’d be in a wheelchair by age 30.
Instead, at 30, Currey was well on her way to mastering a new obstacle — earning a doctorate in naturopathic medicine. “As much as she can, she doesn’t let her body stop her from doing things,” said Currey’s husband, Hunter, a kindergarten teacher. “She knows what she wants, and she figures out an effective way of getting it.”
That dedication has paid dividends. Today, Currey is not only a psoriatic disease patient, she’s also a naturopathic doctor who helps other patients manage their illness. Barely two years out of medical school, Currey has established her own multi-doctor naturopathic practice, Bridges Family Wellness, where she treats patients for a host of ailments, including psoriasis.
“She’s at a very accomplished place for any newer graduate, and she did that on top of having a very active disease,” said Currey’s mentor and personal doctor, Alena Guggenheim. “She has used her own experience with a chronic disease to help her connect with patients.”
Photos by Leah Nash Photography
'Little black cloud'
The irony of Currey’s decision to become a naturopathic doctor is that it took her own physicians a decade to fully diagnose the root cause of her skin and joint symptoms.
Psoriasis first presented itself when Currey was 12 years old, in the form of a lesion on her scalp. Doctors said it was ringworm and put her on anti-fungal medication, which failed to resolve the issue. More lesions appeared on her scalp, eyelids and forehead, but it wasn’t until Currey sought treatment for migraines years later that a nurse practitioner told her the skin problems were actually psoriasis.
At age 15, Currey’s knees and ankles began to suffer. Changes in weather caused them to ache like a barometer for pain. Still, she didn’t know that the joint and skin symptoms were related.
Shortly after the birth of her son, bothaspects of Currey’s psoriatic disease flared simultaneously. Lesions covered her torso, legs, arms and ears, while the arthritis moved into her hips, hands, elbows and pelvis. Doctors at last connected the two, giving Currey a full diagnosis 10 years after her first symptoms appeared.
“You feel like you have power over the beast when you name it,” Currey said. “The flip side is that this is for the rest of my life, and this is going to continue to get worse.
Currey acknowledges that, despite all she has accomplished, the chronic aspect of the disease can be depressing.
“It puts a little black cloud over you,” she said.
But true to form, most days, she finds a way out from the shadow of the disease, thanks in large part to a positive attitude.
“I try to make it more something that motivates me,” Currey said. “It gives me an impetus to get things done now, a forward momentum, because I don’t know how many fantastic years I have where I can be really active in what I’m doing.”
She does yoga three times a week. She takes her children, Elora, 14, and Isaiah, 12, camping whenever possible. She tests her creativity in the kitchen. And she knits sweaters and shawls as physical therapy for her hands. But a large portion of Currey’s energy is devoted to helping her patients, whose struggles she often can relate to.
“I think [psoriatic disease] has made me more empathic, especially for people who are struggling with chronic pain,” she said.
'Ray of hope'
Although Currey feels conventional medicine in many ways failed her, she doesn’t eschew it entirely. She still takes methotrexate as her symptoms demand, and she’s perfectly willing to prescribe pharmaceuticals to her patients when necessary.
But she has found the most relief from her own psoriatic disease through naturopathic medicine, which emphasizes prevention, treatment and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process, according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
The turning point for Currey happened in the spring of 2014, in the throes of her worst flare to date. Psoriatic arthritis had crept into virtually every joint in her body, and the specter of the wheelchair loomed ever nearer.
Then, a ray of hope.
“I tried a new elimination diet, and everything changed,” Currey said.
She previously had limited success with dietary fixes. But she said trying out a diet that cuts out grains, legumes, sugar, dairy and alcohol for 30 days changed her life.
Eating only what Currey calls “food that your great-grandmother would recognize” — including meats, vegetables, nuts, healthy fats and fruit — was one part of her journey that helped set her on a path that would lead to the top of Mount Scott just five months later.
“It was fantastic,” Guggenheim said. “She’s very committed to doing the things that make her body happy.”
Currey continues to do the diet quarterly as a reset button and reintroduces some off-limits foods (such as beans, some sweets, even whiskey) in the interim periods — although dairy and eggs are always on the no-no list for her. And she’s OK with that.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t miss them because I feel so much better without them,” she said.
Currey also enlists a host of home remedies to treat her psoriatic disease. One favorite is soaking in a hot bath with salts from Israel’s Dead Sea. The world’s saltiest body of water has long been a place of healing for people with skin disorders, and its benefits have been documented by modern scientific studies.
In addition, Currey recommends alternating hot and cold therapy for swollen joints, administering five minutes of heat, followed by one minute of cold, three times in a row to release stiffness and pain. For skin lesions, topical castor oil is her go-to. And her self-taught pastime of knitting has the dual benefit of keeping her fingers nimble and helping to relieve stress.
“She’s worked really hard to find a good balance,” Guggenheim said.
For Currey, that healthy balance enables her to keep climbing life’s mountains, both in her personal and professional life.
“I want to help other people not go through things that I did,” she said. “It gives me a purpose and a drive and a calling.”
The National Psoriasis Foundation does not endorse any products, medications, therapies or diets for the treatment of psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis. While there is still a place for lifestyle changes and alternative therapies, we recommend you always consult with your doctor first to plan the best treatment approach for your psoriatic disease.
Driving discovery, creating community
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