Guest post by Ken Leaver
My name is Ken and i’m a 38 year old American guy with a wife and 1-year old son living in Vietnam. I struggled with a health issue for over 15 years that had tightened my neck, back and voice and even given me debilitating brain fog that had made it nearly impossible to remember things or concentrate. And this is my story of how i went to around 100 doctors & dentists to no avail, nearly lost all hope, and then out of complete desperation tried a do-it-yourself method called Starecta that in many ways has saved my life.
I started noticing my first health issues around the time i graduated college. The first thing that i noticed was the tightness in my voice. In loud rooms it was very difficult for me to be heard… because my voice was thin and lacked resonance. I first decided to go to an ENT around 2000 and when he found nothing i decided to see a few other docs in Boston, where I was living at the time. One of them suggested i start doing some physiotherapy with rubber bands as I had tightness in my neck area. So i did that regularly, but it wasn’t doing much for me.
The Doctor Years (2001 – 2011)
In 2001 I packed my bags and left for Japan to work as a consultant based out of Tokyo. I was young, ambitious, and despite the medical issues I thought I was invincible. I’d work 80 hour weeks and hit the bars and clubs about 3-4 nights per week. My voice still had issues but things always relaxed with alcohol for some reason. So it was probably a factor in why I went out so much. During this time I continued to see various docs in Tokyo as well as in Malaysia where i was staying half the time due to some projects we had over there. On one especially stressful project I noticed that my left shoulder and neck started to get painfully tight. I figured it was stress but couldn’t figure out what was causing it, and so i started visiting a chiropractor regularly as well as do some acupuncture. None of it helped much and the issue persisted.
Then in 2003 I moved to Barcelona, Spain to start my MBA. Spain is wonderful in that it has free health insurance, which included covering me while I was out there on a student visa. I took full advantage as my health issue had now gotten quite frustrating and I was tight on my left side (throat, neck, shoulder, back) everyday. The voice was particularly frustrating since I had a very difficult time making myself heard in any loud areas, which is especially frustrating when you are doing an MBA program and going to lots of social events. So I started seeing a neurologist thinking it was my nervous system screwing around with me, and started taking some powerful medicine they gave me. It helped a bit but it was blocking the signals rather than addressing the root cause. I also continued seeing ENT’s and at one point thought I might have gastric reflux, but later after sticking a camera into my stomach I found this not to be the case. During a couple of months internship back in New York in 2004, I went to a chiropractor a few times a week, but also to no avail.
In 2005 I finished my MBA program and moved to London to begin working as a consultant again. I picked up where I left off chasing potential solutions and started seeing doctors within the NHS system. To address my muscle tightness, I tried a shot of botox into the muscles in the neck on the left side but it made no difference at all. And so I began trying some other alternative therapies like ‘Cranial,’ but with no significant changes.
In 2008 I was living in Moscow, Russia and continuing to feel the same symptoms. I had good insurance coverage with my company and so started going regularly to the clinic, “Medecina”, which was recognized as being one of the best in Russia at the time. They had me do a bunch of X-rays and could not find anything in particular, but decided to have me try physiotherapy and massage therapy. I did that for about 6 months along with a regular regimen of yoga and I was feeling a bit better, though just reducing the symptoms and not addressing the root cause. I also noticed around this time that I would get tired significantly easier and earlier than my friends when we went out for drinks… which I put off to genetics, but now think had nothing to do with my genes.
In early 2010 my company had moved me to Ukraine and I continued visiting doctors there to see if I could potentially find someone that would identify once-and-for-all what the real problem was. I went to several clinics and was seeing a wide range of docs from neurologists to ENTs to Orthopedists. I had many X-rays, MRI’s and other tests done. I went to some of the ex-Soviet Union’s most renowned doctors and nothing was working. The best suggestion they gave me was to stand on my head and swim on my back, which seemed to bring some relief for awhile. Meantime I complemented these doctor visits with regular acupuncture and massage therapy, which helped keep the tightness controllable. At this point the tightness in my back and neck seemed to have increased and I would have to lay down in the evening when i got back from work to let my body relax and unwind.
The Dentist Years (2011 – 2015)
Around the end of 2011, I was visiting a dentist to clean my teeth and mentioned to him the tightness I was having. He said he thought I might have TMJ and had me do a bunch of scans of my jaw. After which, he made me a bite splint that he had me wear at night when I went to bed. I wore it for about three months, but it was not changing anything, so the dentist recommended I see a different dentist, who had a bit more TMJ experience.
This next TMJ dentist made me a splint that was just for the lower jaw and this one he recommended wearing during the day as well. I wore this splint for several months and went to the dentist to get it adjusted every couple of weeks. But again, little improvement as i was feeling tight all of the time and my voice was still very tight. So at some point he said it was not worth continuing and said that my last hope in Ukraine was the top dentist in the country, a lady who sat on the government ministry for dentistry and had her own high end clinic.
I went for a visit and she introduced me to one of the guys on her staff that she said was Ukraine’s very best at cases like mine. His name was Oleg. Oleg made a relatively simple lower jaw splint for me and then stood me up. He pointed out things in my posture and shoulders that would shift into proper position when the splint was adjusted properly. I walked away feeling much better. I was blown away. It was the first time I felt so good in many years. There was something to what this guy was doing… and it was the first time i felt confident that the problem that had plagued me all these years was rooted in the jaw and not somewhere else in my body.
I continued to see Oleg for another 4-5 months. He would adjust me about every 2 weeks by using dental paper to see where there were contacts and then he would drill these contacts off. For the first few months I felt great and thought everything was solved. Though it was very strange that anytime i took the splint out, my head immediately became very cloudy as if there were some neurological symptoms. And Oleg never really bothered to explain things to me no matter how many questions i asked… preferring to simply tell me that he knew what he was doing because he had done it with many other patients and for some reason it just works. Probably he simply didn’t know why it worked and didn’t want to lie. In any case after the first few months things started getting a little worse each week. He kept the same adjustments, but they weren’t working as well. So at some point he looked at my feet and said that my flat feet were the likely reason why the splint therapy was not continuing to work. He said this was destabilizing my bite so i would first need to get foot inserts done and then re-adjust the splint based on that new position. Unfortunately this was right before I was about to leave Ukraine for good in February 2014 to take a new job in Vietnam. So I vowed to try the foot insert approach as soon as i got to my new home.
After arriving in Vietnam i continued my course with dentists. I had had the shoe inserts done with a guy who pointed out that my right leg was shorter and so he recommended I wear an extra lift in that side. This as it turns out later is a dumb mistake as the shorter leg is almost always due to the pelvis being out of position rather than an actual leg length difference. Anyway, after I had the inserts done i found a TMJ dentist in Saigon online and had him make me a splint. It was a splint for my lower jaw and in no time at all I was feeling awful with it. He kept promising each time i adjusted it every couple weeks that it was working.. but after a few months i stopped believing his BS and i stopped visiting him. I returned to my old splint from Ukraine but I had now bitten a hole thru one side and it was no longer working. I was desperate to find something fast because brain fog had now started to set in (ie. my memory became very poor and i could not concentrate well).
Around June 2014 I started seeing a dentist who was known as being the best TMJ dentist in all of Vietnam. He had his own practice in the center of the city complete with fancy equipment and a long waiting list. He had a bunch of new scans done and showed that my right condoyle was anteriorly displaced. Plus he inferred that my disc was out of position. With this he concluded that I should use an anterior repositioning splint, which I promptly started with a renewed spirit.
The splint forced my mandible forward but had me feeling worse and worse. I would complain to him every visit that it wasn’t working and he would promise that indeed it was. Meanwhile my inability to concentrate had deteriorated all my confidence at work and I literally feared getting up for work each day. I also started crawling into my own little shell as i did not want to talk to others and was constantly thinking about the fact that my wife was to give birth in mid-July, which would mean that we’d be locked into staying into Vietnam for at least several months afterwards. I was unsure of whether to stick it out that long due to my deteriorating condition and the fact that I did not seem to be having any luck finding medical help. It was one of the most miserable times in my life at a time that should have been one of the happiest. But I could not clear the fear from my head of “what if I do not ever get better? How will i take care of my family?”
After a couple of more months my skepticism about the efficacy of the splint I was using got the best of me and I demanded that the dentist try something else. At this point he got arrogant and said that if this didn’t work than I could simply quit, but I wouldn’t find anyone that could help me in Vietnam. I was shocked by the lack of empathy by him and his staff and told him i’d take my chances. I never stepped back in his office again and dread to think how many patients his arrogance has screwed up. At least now my wife had given birth to a beautiful boy, Kevin, and seeing him every morning gave me a bit more spirit to find a cure.
Next I tried a western clinic that was run by a French dentist and was also decked out in the fanciest equipment. All of the expats with good jobs were going to him, so I figured it was worth a try. As it turns out, he himself was not a TMJ specialist but he had a guy on staff that he claimed was. In reality this other guy was using a technique that he learned from a visiting American dentist during a one week training seminar. He recreated my bite in an articulator and claimed he was using the ‘latest TMJ techniques’. I didn’t find out till much later that it is impossible to recreate the bite properly in an articulator and that in fact it only makes your issue worse. So I went with this new splint for another four months or so and was re-adjusting every couple of weeks. My brain fog had gotten to the point of being debilitating and I was visiting chiropractors a few times per week as well as getting regular massages to deal with the constant tightness in my back and neck. I was also exhausted everyday by 6pm and struggled to hang onto my job despite the fact that I felt like I was about as effective as a person with a 6th grade education.
After the 3rd or 4th month I again confronted the dentist that it was not working. They were understanding about it, and returned me the money I had paid despite the fact that I did not ask for it. And I was off again to find something new… this time quite deflated as it did not seem like I would I find a solution in Vietnam and my condition was getting worse. I started pondering moving back to the US, but first vowed to look within the SE Asian region. I found a GNM dentist based in Singapore and started researching GNM and communicating with the dentist and his staff.
But before going thru the expense of commuting regularly to Singapore for therapy, I figured i’d have one last go with another dentist that I had found on Facebook in Saigon. He made what seemed like fairly intelligent posts about TMJ on Facebook and it gave me a glimmer of hope. I asked him to make a NTI-tss splint as i’d read some promising things online about it. And so he made it and I tried this for a few weeks, despite the fact that it made me look quite foolish. In any case i had lost all self-esteem and dignity at this point and just wanted a way out of this nightmare I had found myself in.
Around the same time I started talking with a posture specialist in Orlando, Florida who claimed that he had cured numerous TMJ sufferers through a new physio technique he had founded. I had a few phone calls with him and was encouraged by his confidence, seeming understanding of my situation, and promises of a money back guarantee. So i decided I needed to go for it… And in October 2014 i used the 2-weeks of vacation that I had been storing up to go back to New York with my family and show my parents their new grandson, and instead I used it to fly by myself to Orlando and undergo 2 weeks of treatment with this guy. The guy, in fact, turned out to be a complete waste of time and I half think he was a fraud. In any case when I understood after the first week that his bullshit technique was not going to work, I decided to check out an atlas orthogonal chiropractor in Orlando as i had read some promising things about this.
The Atlas orthogonal doctor took some detailed X-rays and showed that my atlas was indeed twisted and slanted. Once again a glimmer of hope had been rekindled… perhaps this was the root cause all this time? A small thump on my atlas and maybe i’d be as good as new again? Wishful thinking… I did three sessions in the week that I had left in Florida and came back to Vietnam waiting to feel improvement. It never came. The brain fog was still thick and once the initial lift in spirit (due to placebo effect) had dissipated, I felt as crappy as I had earlier. And this is when I started to lose hope fast.. I had constant thoughts about how I would continue to take care of my little baby boy if this is how I felt the rest of my life. It was truly the scariest time of my entire life to that point, and it got me so depressed that I started to check out a psychiatrist for the first time (mind you I am quite a tough kid mentally and this went against the very grain of me hating drugs that screw with the way I think). But I decided to give a try to the anti-depressant drug the psychiatrist prescribed and started feeling strange. Plus I was reading how many others had gotten hooked to these shitty drugs. So I forced myself to throw them away a few days later. Anyway, i knew it was not the answer.
Starting Starecta (2014 – now)
Now it was about October 2014 and I was in really bad shape, both physically and mentally. I was so drained that I did not have the spirit to even enjoy my little baby boy, though looking at him gave me the strength each day to keep pushing on in searching for an answer. I was Googling for 1-2 hours each night to see if I could find answers or at least others that were suffering similar things to me… And that is when my prayers were answered. I came upon a TMJ blog, which was written by a guy named Plato. I found the maxilla-pulling self-treatment approach that he wrote about very intriguing and decided to try and write him on the email address that I found on the blog. On Nov. 12, 2014 he wrote me back and answered my question.. plus he added a simple sentence at the end “You may also want to check out these guys out… www.starecta.com“. That simple sentence was later to be perhaps the most important single set of words in my life.
I immediately checked out Starecta and joined the FB group. I read the free pdf book and loved it as I could relate with many of the things the author had gone through. I immediately got in touch with Moreno, Starecta’s Italian founder, and we had a Skype chat. I found him extremely knowledgeable and admired what he had gone through in treating himself, and so I was convinced I had nothing to lose in trying. The next challenge was finding the necessary materials: a lower jaw splint (easy enough), a dental drill (not too difficult), and acrylic resin (very hard). It took me two weeks of hunting dental supply stores, stopping uninvited into random distributors’ offices, and asking dentists I had previously visited before I finally found a place that sold the resin I needed. And as luck would have it, I believe it was the last bottle of the liquid they had left, as it is very difficult to import the stuff into Vietnam (as it is flammable). But after about two weeks of investigation that would have made Sherlock Holmes proud, I had my stuff.
The night that I made my first starecta splint was a nerve-racking one. I kept thinking to myself… what if this resin gets stuck to my teeth? What will I do to get it off? What if this doesn’t work? Luckily I had access to Moreno to help calm me down… and I made my first splint. The amount of resin I put on the molar area was not much but the gap that was left between my incisors was very large. And my upper palate slanted steeply upwards with the rectifier in, unlike the picture of Moreno in the book, which slanted downwards. In any case, I decided I’d have to see how it goes like this. And after about 10 days I was feeling a bit better…especially the brain fog. I adjusted and felt even better. I kept on like this for the first couple of months and felt like the brain fog had almost completely lifted. Though I still felt some tightness on my left side, my head was still visibly tilted to the right, and I still had very visible asymmetries in my body (one shoulder sat higher than the other, one chest was lifted, and my stomach seemed to crescent out to the left side). I had never paid much attention to these asymmetries previously but I was astonished at how considerable they had gotten. They must have been getting worse for many years.
Anyway, I was encouraged by this initial progress and absolutely loved the support of the Facebook community. I felt like I was in this together with a team… a compassionate group of people who were going through the same things I had been (or worse) and who were not out to simply make a buck like the many doctors I had been to. As the months went on I continued to see major improvements in my posture and facial symmetry. Previously when I sat down on a chair I would always lean on my left side and slouch back. Sitting straight for more than a few minutes felt impossible. Now I was able to sit up straight for hours while at work. My performance at work also steadily increased as the brain fog was lifting. I was remembering things better and thinking much clearer. My voice was also gaining some resonance. And I was getting my confidence back at work little by little. In January 2015 I even decided to hesitantly accept a promotion that my boss had been pressuring on me.
8 Months into Starecta (July 2015)
It has now been eight months and I would say that I am somewhere around 60-70% complete with my journey. My head no longer tilts, the brain fog is completely gone, I have more energy than I have had in years, and I look and feel a hell of a lot healthier. This has reflected in pretty much every aspect of my life… especially with my family. I wake up pretty much everyday in a good mood, vitalized, and eager to start the day. I pass through the work day efficiently and confidently like I did years ago… again thinking about my future career plans, which is something I had considered a pipe dream just a year previous.
12 Months into Starecta (December 2015)
My body and especially my back are moving into very good symmetry as you can see from the picture below. Also note that in the picture on the left (Dec. 2014) this was taken at a time when i was following a pretty strict high protein/low carb diet, swimming about 20 laps 6x per week and doing weights occasionally. In the picture on the right, i trashed the high protein/low carb diet and i eat whatever I want whenever i want, which often includes ice cream right before i go to bed. Plus i reduced my swim to about 4 laps and do zero weights. Yet pretty much everything i eat gets turned into muscle and i’m developing a V-shape to my back that i never had in my life.
Additionally you can see in the picture below how my jaw has developed a lot and become more squarish, and my entire face has gotten more symmetrical. I used to have a lot of wrinkles on my forehead and they have pretty much disappeared. Everybody that hasn’t seen me for awhile tells me i look much younger. Plus I feel significantly more testosterone for some reason.
This is also partially a result of a lot of tongue exercises that i have been doing. I have become a big fan of Orthotropics and the Mews.
Lastly, my thinking has now cleared up a lot and my ability to handle responsibility has increased dramatically. At work i’ve been promoted from not managing anyone to now managing 10 product managers on fairly complex work (we manage the system design for SE Asia’s largest eCommerce company) and despite this significant increase in responsibility i actually feel less stress on the job than i did a year ago.
In short, the changes have been nothing short of amazing. And I am extremely grateful.
Some parting thoughts,,,
I also do my best to be an active participant in the Straecta community and other TMJ-related FB groups to try and give back to others the gift that I have been given. A little while ago someone asked me something like… “Why do you spend a lot of time on those other TMJ forums trying to get the word out about Starecta to skeptical people & dentists that just try to poke holes in it? Doesn’t that just wear you out?”
And I thought about that question a bit… and remembered how broken I felt as a person a year back. I remembered….
…how I thought of my little boy everytime I felt like I just wanted to give up
…how I can now play with my boy like a normal dad and look forward to the future again
…how there are others out there that are holding on by a needle like I was.
I never did answer that person back.. but if I did I would say “No. It doesn’t wear me out, and i’m not sure it ever will.”
“Sometimes life throws you a curveball and it hits you right in the head and knocks you down. But don’t ever let that stop you from getting right back up and swinging at the next pitch”