Episode #37: Susannah Meadows


Susannah Meadows is the author of The Other Side of Impossible: Ordinary People Who Faced Daunting Medical Challenges and Refused to Give Up. The book tells the stories of unlikely recoveries and the science behind them and was featured on Good Morning America, Fox & Friends, and NPR, as well as in Oprah Magazine and The New York Times. The “compelling stories left me in awe,” wrote The Times’ Jane Brody. Psychology Today called the book “a must-read” and Buzzfeed said it was “really moving and inspiring.” Curtis Sittenfeld called it, “An amazing book — insightful, compassionate, and quite possibly life-changing.”

Meadows is a former Senior Writer for Newsweek, where she covered the 2004 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton, the religious right, the aftermath of Columbine, and the Duke lacrosse scandal, among many other stories. Since 2002, she has been a contributor to The New York Times, most recently writing a column about new books. Her widely-read 2013 story for The New York Times Magazine, "The Boy With a Thorn in His Joints," about her young son’s arthritis and the experimental diet therapy they tried, dominated the “most read” and “most emailed” lists for a week and became the basis of her book. She has appeared on CBS, ABC, ESPN, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, NPR, and The Charlie Rose Show. She’s also a former co-host of the Newsweek Radio Show.

When journalist Susannah Meadows and her husband, Darin Strauss, learned that their three-year-old son, Shepherd, had juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), they were told that there was no cure and Shepherd would have the condition for life. They started him on medication, but found that it was not only ineffective for Shepherd’s symptoms, but it also made him feel sick. Amazingly, thanks to stumbling upon the success story of another mom whose child had JIA, Susannah found another treatment approach--and it ended up working. On today’s episode, Susannah and I talk about the challenges of being a parent and partner when your child is sick, using her training as a journalist to uncover experiences that aren’t yet well-documented in conventional medicine, and why she believes in the power of medical success stories.

We had no good options, and I just could not accept that that was going to be his life.

Here are some of the things Susannah and I chatted about:

  • When she and her husband realized Shepherd was in pain and decided to seek treatment

  • How juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), an autoimmune arthritis, is different from other arthritis types

  • Connecting with another mom whose child had JIA, and how that led to diet experimentation

  • Her routine of helping Shepherd out of bed, and the morning that was no longer necessary

  • The amazing shift Shepherd experienced, and how his arthritis disappeared joint by joint

  • How it felt to hear that Shepherd, now 11, no longer needed to see his pediatric rheumatologist

  • Why it took her some time to begin questioning the conventional medicine treatment model

  • The ways that having a sick child (and a lack of answers) caused arguments in her marriage

  • Her surprise at discovering evidence that supported the experimental diet they had pursued

  • The role that the gut plays in disease, and why she follows research about it with great interest

  • Her memory of having both Shepherd (while sick) and his twin, Beau, in her lap at once

  • The Celiac disease researcher who offered an explanation for what Shepherd had experienced

  • Why she and her husband felt they couldn’t sit on the information about Shepherd’s recovery

  • How her journalist background made her the right person to write a book about the experience

  • Reading parts of the book aloud to Shepherd, and saving other parts for when he’s older

I don’t think of it in terms of alternative medicine. I think of it as, well, what works? Whatever works is medicine.
We think about it daily, how lucky we got.


Visit Susannah’s website or find her book on Amazon

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krista gray