Mind Over Body: Catarina’s Path to Health

By Catarina Rodrigues, Featured Health Story

Three and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia is what happens when the upper portion of your stomach slides up into your chest because there is an opening (a “hiatus”) in your diaphragm. This causes the person to experience severe acid reflux and discomfort, among other symptoms. When my doctor explained this to me, as—you may imagine—it all sounded quite frightening. He told me that this was essentially an incurable condition and that surgery was not recommended at my age.


Diagram of a Hiatal Hernia

At the time, I was 26-years-old; the doctor could not explain how a person this young who was in apparently good shape could have developed such a condition. According to him and the other two physicians that I saw, this was a condition much more common in the elderly and in those with obesity.

A Rocky Journey

It took six months for me to get an actual diagnosis. It all started with constant heartburn, vertigo, and pain in my neck and muscles, which led to an array of tests to rule out conditions like cervical hernia, pregnancy, ear crystal disorder, etc. I soon lost count of all the doctor visits and medical exams. Finally, one day, I went to see a really amazing osteopathic physician for my muscle pain. The moment he started feeling my stomach he said, “Ask your doctor for an endoscopy; you have a hiatal hernia.” I was both amazed and scared of his certainty, but I followed his instructions and requested the exam. Six months later, I finally had a diagnosis.

Once I knew what was wrong, the search for the impossible cure began—the cure that all doctors said did not exist. The first attempt was by a gastroenterologist who put me on a very strict diet—no coffee, no green tea, no chocolate, no fried food, no meat or fish at dinner, no tomatoes or other acidic foods, no alcohol, no eating fast…the list was never-ending! As a result of this diet restriction, I lost 10 kgs (22 lbs) in three months, leaving me extremely skinny for my height and feeling very weak. I went back to see the specialist who said that a sudden drop in weight was normal as the body was settling into a new regimen and that with time it would stabilize. That day I went home feeling reassured, so I continued following all the rules.

Later, I asked my osteopathic doctor at one of my visit if he could do anything to help. While at the time he didn’t do anything, he eventually starting carrying out visceral manipulation—a therapeutic maneuver where he used his hands to ‘pull’ the stomach down to where it should be—to help reduce my acid reflux symptoms. But this only seemed to be effective for a week.


Visceral Manipulation

A year passed—a year of diet restriction and weekly visceral manipulation, a year of taking daily antacids and gastric protectors—but still I couldn’t see any real improvement in my condition. At this point, I started feeling down and depressed all the time. I cried almost every day. And I also had this anger within me that would not go away.

A Turning Point

It was at this seemingly hopeless point that I decided it was time to take another approach: something less clinical…and more psychological. I started meditating on my own, doing deep breathing exercises, walking regularly, and secretly sneaking in my favorite soft candy before going to bed. Surprisingly, a month later, I was told by my osteopath that I could start spacing out my visits, as my hiatal hernia was improving and thus no longer required the frequent visceral manipulation. At first it was every week…then every two weeks…then every three weeks. Soon I realized: there was hope.

So I continued practicing this new routine. I would breathe deeply and slowly as often as I could, sit up straight rather than hunched over, take frequent brisk walks, and meditate whenever I found the time. After a couple of months, I realized I no longer needed my antacids. I then carefully started adding back the coffee, the evening meat and fish, and the occasional chocolate into my diet. A few months later at a routine visit, my osteopath informed me that my stomach was still in place and that there was no need for a manipulation that day. Seeing that I was relieved but still doubtful, the doctor then taught me how to feel for myself the position of my stomach. It was a good feeling to know that I could now take part in monitoring myself, and that I was also in charge of keeping up the good work.

A Brighter Tomorrow

Since that last appointment over a year ago, my gastroenterologist—the same one who said before that there was no cure—has confirmed that my hiatal hernia is now completely gone. My body healed itself. Now, I eat and drink (in moderation) everything I want—including all those things that were taken away from me for three years. Today, I don’t experience vertigo, and I no longer have reflux. I finally feel healthy and happy!

The lesson all this has taught me—and that I want to share with you—is that if we believe hard enough and we take care of ourselves and get appropriate help, it is often possible to reverse a seemingly impossible situation—such as my experience with the hiatal hernia. I did it, and although I don’t exactly know what did the trick, I am still doing okay up to this day. I am finally free of my illness, and I am confident that—if I continue taking care of myself—it will never haunt me again.

Author Bio


Catarina Rodrigues is a blogger at On a Single Piece of Paper. A self-proclaimed hopeless dreamer, she is passionate about writing, telling stories, and sharing. As aptly stated in her own words, “This is me, my imagination, my dreams, my fears, my joy, my everything.” 

Catarina’s Blog:

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