One man’s recovery from rheumatoid arthritis

Mort Worling gets effusive when he describes his wonderful bike journey from Vancouver to Winnipeg, pedalling across the prairies, the warm wind at his back and the sun shining over the endless horizon. And you can’t blame him because it wasn’t that long ago it looked like he’d never walk again, never mind bike halfway across the country. Just a decade ago, he was in a wheelchair, confined there by the painful and crippling effects of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

But Mort Worling never gave up hope. Instead, the 72-year-old, who now lives in Beaverton, Ont., decided he was going to beat RA. And he did. More amazingly, he did it on his own terms, refusing medication and defying his doctors’ advice. Though it’s not a path most would take, Worling maintains it’s the reason he now lives an active and arthritis-free life.

This remarkable story began in 1971 when the then 40-year-old teacher was driving on a highway and began experiencing excruciating pain in his arms. “It struck so quickly I thought it was a stroke,” says Worling. His doctors diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis and prescribed heavy drugs, which they told him he’d be on for the rest of his life.

It was a prescription that didn’t sit well with Worling. “I tried everything to avoid drugs,” he recalls. “Finally, I met an orthopedic surgeon at the YMCA, and we decided to replace the drugs with diet and exercise.” Worling started the long road back to health, exercising and experimenting with different foods, anything to fight the effects of RA. And for a time it worked. Worling was able to get to the point where he was running in marathons and going on long bike treks – all without the aid of medication.

The arthritis, however, came back with a vengeance in 1989 and became so problematic that he was forced into a wheelchair. Worse still, he was back on medication, relying on it to relieve his swollen joints. The pain was terrible, and he began losing the use of his right arm and his right hand, which started to curl to the point where he couldn’t turn a doorknob or lift the teapot. “I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t resign myself to a life of inactivity. And I wasn’t getting any sympathy from Ruth (his wife),” he laughs.

In 1995, while wintering in Florida, he discovered yoga and was excited by its potential to offer physical and mental relief from the RA’s worst symptoms. After mastering the movements, breathing exercises and meditation, Worling decided it was once again time to quit his RA medication. “After one class, I came home and flushed all the drugs down the toilet,” Worling remembers. He further concentrated on refining his diet (he became a vegetarian) and began drinking copious amounts of water (eight to 12 glasses a day).

“Since that time in 1995,” he says proudly “I haven’t had one symptom of rheumatoid arthritis.” Besides the yoga, he periodically undergoes a controversial alternative treatment known as the water fast diet. He recently completed a 42-day period where he consumed only water, the aim being to cleanse his body of arthritis-causing toxins. He feels if he’d done the water fast treatment back when he’d first been diagnosed, he’d have cleared up the problem then and there. “It’s cheap, there’s no more need for drugs and it corrects other chronic diseases,” he says of the treatment.

Most medical doctors shake their heads at Worling’s alternative methods and do-it-yourself approach, as does his own sister who also suffers from RA. But it’s hard to argue with the results because since he’s adopted those practices, Worling has enjoyed an arthritis- and pain-free life. More importantly for this biking enthusiast, he can once again resume his long bike rides: Vancouver to Winnipeg (in just 16 days); Toronto to North Carolina; and most recently, right around Lake Ontario. He also regularly plays tennis and enjoys ballroom dancing.

Worling’s recovery from RA and his ability to perform phenomenal physical feats seem almost miraculous in light of the fact he was once almost crippled by the disease. “Not one of my doctors would ever have predicted I’d be doing any of this,” he says. “I’ve found the key to beating rheumatoid arthritis.”