Eggs, milk, honey, bananas: the man who beat XDR-TB with a smart diet

The counsellor: Sangram Sonagekar with a TB patient at the Rural Hospital in Pathri, Parbhani district.  

Mumbai: Most tuberculosis patients visiting the Out-Patient Department (OPD) at the Rural Hospital in Pathri, Parbhani district run into Sangram Sonagekar, and open up to the 31-year-old nurse, as he proceeds to counsel them on the importance of a strong immune system. He should know, considering he has successfully beaten Extremely Drug Resistant (XDR) TB with a nutrient- and protein-rich diet regimen, and tested negative for the disease for four months now.

Among XDR-TB patients, Mr. Sonagekar is a rarity: the strain of the disease he contracted had rendered him resistant to 12 of the 13 available anti-TB drugs. “I relive my experience with TB patients in OPD. I tell them my story and make them believe in the benefits of immunity. I know this is what doctors have been always saying, but when I tell patients about the turnaround in my fight with the disease, I feel it definitely leaves an impact on some patients, if not all.”

His confident demeanour belies the life-changing experience he has been through, starting with a seemingly innocuous cough in December 2014. Nevertheless, he went in for a sputum test and an x-ray. The results were mixed: while the sputum tested negative, the x-ray revealed a lesion in his left lung, enough for doctors to diagnose his ailment as TB.

Downward spiral

Doctors immediately started Mr. Songekar on first line anti-TB drugs, but three months later, his cough had worsened and had begun coughing out blood. This time, the sputum sample tested positive. Worried, he decided to travel to Mumbai in April 2015 and get a expert opinion at the TB Hospital in Sewri.

At the Sewri hospital, tests confirmed his worst fear: he had XDR-TB, which explained why the cough had worsened despite the medication. A CT scan revealed that the TB bacteria had made a cavity in his lung. Reports of tests carried out at the same time on his sputum samples at the Hinduja Hospital in Mahim came two-and-a-half months with the grim revelation that he had developed resistance to 12 of 13 available anti-TB drugs. This left only Clofazimine as a treatment option. “I was suicidal. It didn’t hit me at first, but when the Sewri TB Hospital report revealed drug resistance, I broke down,” says Mr. Sonagekar.

A lifeline

As he struggled against the onrush of acute depression, he met the Dr. Lalitkumar Anande, Chief Medical Officer at the Sewri TB Hospital. His advice charted the future of his battle against TB: shift all focus to his diet to boost the body’s natural immunity. “I charted a diet plan and decided to leave for Savarde Patankar village in Kolhapur, where my parents stay. My hospital in Parbhani had given me leave, and I was worried I’d infect my daughter and wife.”

It wasn’t easy, parting from his infant daughter and his wife, Megha, who also worked as a nurse in the same hospital. Fortunately for the Sonagekars, he was being paid his salary despite being on long leave, which helped him afford the special diet. By then, he had lost five kilos, coming down to a rather lean 55 kg.“It was only for my daughter’s sake that I mustered will to fight the disease.”

Food, the healer

According to Dr. Anande, he needed a large amount of proteins, micronutrient-rich goat’s milk, honey, lemon juice and food supplements for vitamins A, B, C, D and E and a good amount of sunlight, which is also the best source of Vitamin D.

Mr. Sonagekar began the daily diet from May 2015: mornings and evenings, he would consume four raw eggs, two litres of goat or cow milk, depending on availability and mixed with protein supplements, four bananas and a fruit juice. For lunch and dinner, he ate regular, wholesome homecooked meals of dal, chapati, vegetables, rice and salad. “I would also have two lemons after each meal; I’d simply suck out the juice instead of mixing it with water. The medication would make me feel nauseated, and I’d often bring up the food, but I would force it down again.”

By the time the Hinduja Hospital culture reports came in July 2015, Mr. Sonagekar had already started putting on weight. While his medication was altered to include the one drug he was sensitive to, his diet continued. In January 2016, seven months after he began his diet, his sputum sample tested negative for the first time. After that, all tests were negative for TB. The lung cavity, too, was found to have reduced considerably.

While he continues with the diet, Mr. Sonagekar was declared as cured of TB in July 2017, and doctors said he could stop taking his medication.

“I rejoined work on July 20, as soon as the medication stopped. My experience has left me equipped to pass on what I’ve learned about the disease and how to fight it,” he says.

Dr. Anande, the man who charted his recovery course, says, “This is a classic case study that proves how the immune system has the capacity to fight the disease. All one has to do is give it a boost by eating the right foods and getting plenty of morning sunlight.”

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Printable version | Sep 13, 2021 4:26:28 PM |

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