Real and inspiring voices of the chronic illness community
By Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio
You might already be familiar with Brooke Geahan (aka @everydayexpert on Instagram) for her vibrant, no-nonsense, science-based approach to wellness. She lives with her husband in Sonoma, and the sundrenched images of her hiking through the winemaking region, forest bathing, and baking mouthwatering paleo pies and cakes illuminate her as the epitome of health.
But this wasn’t always the case for the 41-year-old founder and head apitherapist (one who uses honeybee products for health and healing) of The Heal Hive. In fact, much of her 30s were spent searching for a diagnosis for her multitude of symptoms that included fainting, night sweats, migraines, and anxiety attacks.
From 2010 to 2011, Brooke split her time between running a nonprofit organization in New York City and helping a former boyfriend film a major motion picture in London. She saw doctors on both sides of the pond, who chalked her symptoms up to frequent traveling and a high degree of stress. Though she lived in an Lyme-endemic area in New York and spent her summers in Shelter Island (an island off the eastern end of Long Island with a high rate of Lyme infection), her doctors overlooked the possibility that she had contracted Lyme disease or Lyme coinfections.
But in 2013, Brooke was bitten by a tick and she knew it — and her health took a dramatic turn for the worse. Still, she continued to have difficulty getting an accurate diagnosis. After seeing several doctors, she was finally diagnosed with both an acute case of Lyme disease and a chronic case. Plus, she had coinfections with Babesia and Bartonella, and an ongoing battle with chronic Epstein-Barr virus.
Determined to get well, Brooke tried a range of treatments that included oral and intravenous (IV) antibiotics, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), a variety of ozone treatments, low-dose immunotherapy, and more. Though she was diligent in her pursuit to get well, by 2015, she found herself financially strained, still sick, and at a crossroads. What options did she have left to get her life back?
In an encouraging turn of events, Brooke discovered a nurse at her health clinic who had successfully treated her own case of Lyme disease using bee venom therapy (BVT), the therapeutic use of bee venom to mitigate a variety of conditions, a practice which has been used throughout the world for thousands of years.
We caught up with Brooke to find out how she’s doing now, learn what it was like to sting herself regularly with live bees, and hear her plans for helping others heal from Lyme disease. Here’s what she had to say:
RawlsMD (RMD): Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. What year did you begin bee venom therapy, and how long was your protocol?
Brooke Geahan: I started stinging myself with bees in the spring of 2015. First, the nurse stung me for a few weeks and gave me a cursory outline of what I shouldn’t do, like:
- Don’t sting without an EpiPen.
- Don’t sting more than three times a week.
- Don’t use more than 10 bee stings each sting day.
I more or less figured out a system that worked for me through trial and error. The majority of my stinging lasted two and a half years.
RMD: On your website, The Heal Hive, and on social media, you talk a lot about how bee venom therapy was the turning point for you on your road to recovery. What about that particular therapy felt like the right move to you?
Brooke: Honestly, I had given up much hope of fully recovering, and when I started BVT, I wasn’t educated about its in vivo and in vitro efficacy against bacterial and viral pathogens, fungus, parasites, and cancer cells. I was merely broke and homeless with a few thousand left in my bank account. I had no choice but to try bees, as it was the only modality I could afford.
RMD: For many people, the use of live bees to sting themselves might seem overwhelming. Did you have any fear or hesitation about doing it, and how were you able to get past that?
Brooke: I was desperate, and I didn’t feel I had a choice. I always say, running out of money saved my life, or I never would have tried bees.
At the time, I was single, and I’m from a working-class family. There was literally no one I could turn to to help fund my Lyme modalities through doctors nor pay my health insurance. I felt it was bees or death. I chose bees. I believe many people who choose bees are in the same position — thankfully, it worked!
RMD: As you were going through the healing process with BVT, can you describe a little bit about what that process felt like, as opposed to conventional medications like antibiotics?
Brooke: Not everyone teaches BVT the way I do, so I can’t speak for everyone’s BVT process, but my approach is gentle and slow.
Antibiotics, antivirals and ozone usually require large amounts to have any type of efficacy. This usually creates massive die-off inducing a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction known as a “herx.” Most symptoms from Lyme disease and coinfections can be attributed to systemic inflammation, and a herx is inflammation brought on by lipopolysaccharides and endotoxins being released into the body at too high an amount for the body to process without creating further inflammation.
With previous modalities, I understood I couldn’t avoid a herx reaction, but with the way I approach BVT, I try to minimize further inflammation. It is more of a do-less-harm approach, and generally, people feel better with less die-off.
RMD: While doing BVT, what other supportive therapies did you use as part of your treatment? What was most helpful to you?
Brooke: There was a lot I did. I view bee venom as medicine, but like any medicine, if you are not eating right, reducing stress, and eliminating toxins properly, you aren’t supporting your system. I can’t say that any one aspect was most helpful, as diet, stress reduction, sleep hygiene, yoga, and detox all work synergistically.
RMD: What did your friends or family think about BVT? Were they supportive?
Brooke: My parents fully embraced it, and in fact, were eager for me to start BVT. Over the years, they had seen only marginal improvements at immense cost; after they met the nurse who had fully recovered from Lyme using bees and found out how economical it is, they cheered me on.
At first, my friends thought it was another kooky modality I was trying. After all, they had heard of me sticking ozone up my colon. But as they watched me recover quite rapidly, they quickly became convinced and started spreading the word themselves.
RMD: When you got sick, you put many aspects of your life on hold, including finding a life partner and starting a family. At what point after beginning BVT did you begin to believe there was more to your life than having Lyme disease?
Brooke: That’s a difficult question to answer, as it was built on baby step after baby step of gaining confidence and slowly starting to believe I was on the road to a full recovery. I would say about three to four months in to using BVT, I started having true hope I would recover, as I was able to start enjoying and participating in social activities again. But the trauma of losing so much of your life creates deep personal and social scars — it took me until I was fully recovered to actually allow myself to believe I could rejoin society at large.
RMD: It’s incredibly scary to lose so much from this illness. Once you got well, what motivated you to start The Heal Hive?
Brooke: To tell the truth, once I got healthy, I wanted nothing more than to forget about Lyme disease. I wanted to embrace “normal” again, and I was sick and tired of talking about being sick and tired.
But a stranger approached me at Whole Foods two years ago. She looked very frail, and she said she had been following me on Instagram for a few years and asked me how I got better. I told her, “You aren’t going to love my answer, but I got better through BVT.”
She, of course, didn’t want to hear that, but she was desperate and asked me if I would teach her how I healed. I met with her and her husband a few weeks later, and she became my first client. Now, she works for me!
RMD: Now that The Heal Hive is up and running, what would you like to see it accomplish for chronic Lyme patients?
Brooke: I would like The Heal Hive to become the solution to healing chronic Lyme, working in conjunction with a network of smart, caring doctors around the country and world. At The Heal Hive, we are holistically-minded but deeply scientific; we are not effective without working in synchronicity with medical practitioners — it takes a hive.
RMD: What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about Lyme disease?
Brooke: Prevention is everything. We need not only the Lyme community but our communities at large to demand better from our government to help curb the Lyme and tick epidemics.
RMD: A lot of people that I’ve talked to over the years say that they are grateful for Lyme disease once they’re on the other side of it. Does this describe you? If so, what are you grateful for?
Brooke: Every day, I am grateful for the lessons I learned from Lyme disease and how strong it made me. It has also given me a mission in life that I feel passionate about — eradicating Lyme disease and healing those afflicted.
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2. Pucca MB, Cerni FA, Oliveira IS, et al. Bee Updated: Current Knowledge on Bee Venom and Be Envenoming Therapy. Frontiers in Immunology. 06 September 2019. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.02090