Back to Life
Back to Life The Garabedian Clinic brings hope and healing to the sufferers of the chronic conditions of Lyme disease, fibromyalgia and fatigue
by Sharon A. Shaw

For most people, pain and fatigue are fleeting and easily treatable sensations that arise from overdoing it at the gym or staying out too late. With a good night’s rest and some ice or aspirin, the conditions usually improve. For some, however, the feelings of pain and fatigue are a daily struggle.

Lisa Davenport was an outgoing and active woman, maintaining a rewarding job with the federal government that required top-secret security clearance and teaching fitness classes for fun. Then it got harder for her to get out of bed each day. She had to give up teaching, driving and, finally, her full-time job.

She saw numerous doctors—“neurologists, rheumatologists, urologists, internal medicine and pain management doctors,” she says. “They all basically looked at me like a mental case. … Another doctor told me that I needed to exercise more and work through the pain and fatigue.” In 2003 she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, but the diagnosis did little to improve her condition other than give it a name. “I have had to listen to so many people that say, ‘You were so full of energy, so full of life that it is so sad to see you in this condition.’”

In 2007 she attended a seminar in Philadelphia hosted by Mehmet Oz, M.D.—TV’s “Dr. Oz”—and had the opportunity to speak to him about fibromyalgia. He referred her to Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., author of “From Fatigue to Fantastic” and one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the subject. Dr. Teitelbaum put her in touch with local physician, Joseph A. Garabedian, M.D., now of the Garabedian Clinic, which offers an alternative approach to the chronic conditions of Lyme disease, fibromyalgia and fatigue.

Dr. Garabedian had been practicing family medicine for 25 years and noticing an increasing number of patients coming in with complaints of chronic fatigue and pain, including his own practice manager and nurse. “It made me think there must be other things we could be doing for them,” he says. “I joined the Fibromyalgia Centers of America and began to manage their King of Prussia office and eventually became assistant medical director of the organization, with offices and doctors around the country.” After the center closed he opened his own clinic to continue to serve patients such as Davenport.

As the business has grown he has been joined in practice by Charlie Seltzer, M.D., who is board certified in internal medicine and obesity medicine, and is a clinical exercise specialist. He trained with Dr. Garabedian and practiced in the same office with him. He shares Dr. Garabedian’s style and philosophy of practice. “When evaluating, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” Dr. Seltzer says. “Traditional medicine tends to treat symptoms rather than the underlying issues; I like to look at the underlying issues. … It is relatively common that by the time they show up in our office, patients have seen between five and 15 doctors. We can help where traditional medicine falls short. There are certain aspects of illness treated better by a complementary approach.”

Davenport now credits Dr. Garabedian with helping her put back together the pieces of her once active and social life. “There is only one doctor that I trust with my precious life and that is Dr. G,” she says. “Regardless of what I am told in my appointments with mainstream doctors, I do not take any medications, do any tests or follow any of their guidance unless I get the Dr. G stamp of approval.”

Dr. Garabedian explains that these conditions are difficult for doctors to diagnose because they have no specific biomarkers that would allow for creation of a test to identify them. “Traditionally when a patient says, ‘I can’t remember, I am tired, and I can’t focus,’ a physician will—as I did—do a comprehensive chemical panel,” he says. Unfortunately the results of these tests may come back within the normal ranges. “Mainstream physicians cannot diagnose these conditions with the information in medical books.” As a result these conditions are often referred to by traditional medicine as “wastebasket diagnosis,” while their sufferers are called hypochondriacs, malingerers or suspected of Munchausen syndrome. The stress, isolation and doubt only worsen symptoms. Thanks to Dr. Garabedian’s care, though, Davenport says, “I finally had answers that my illnesses were not just in my head.”

“There are a lot of patients who are unable to work,” says Dr. Seltzer. “Typically the perception is that these people make up an illness so that they do not have to work. However, they are often going to great lengths to continue working and want to go back to work or continue their lives.”

The Gift of Time
“There is not one cure for these underlying abnormalities,” Dr. Garabedian says. “By treating the umbrella of abnormalities we cannot cure patients, but we can help them function.” Lyme disease—a potentially debilitating ailment spread by the bite of an infected tick—is often one of these abnormalities. Many patients never realize they were bitten or infected, and according to Dr. Garabedian, because of the ineffectiveness of the commonly used testing method and complexities of the disease, Lyme victims may go undiagnosed for years.

To diagnose Lyme disease, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue the Garabedian Clinic begins by offering patients something many traditional doctors do not: time to thoroughly discuss their condition. “We allow one to one and a half hours with patients to provide a synopsis,” he says. “We try to learn where the symptoms started, their lifestyles, personal, surgical and medical history. You cannot do that in a limited period of time, you cannot determine where they started. There are multiple underlying factors [to these conditions] so it is important to have a very detailed history.”

The clinic also does much more extensive blood work than mainstream medical offices in order to search for underlying causes for symptoms that may not be found in a textbook diagnosis. “These are things I consider to be important,” says Dr. Garabedian. “Now that there is, in my mind, a more concrete picture and I can try to correct the underlying factors: chemical, physical and emotional.” From there he and Dr. Seltzer can prescribe a variety of treatments to help manage pain, improve the body’s ability to make energy, stabilize hormone levels, improve immune response and treat chronic reactivating infections.

Davenport is slowly regaining the life she once enjoyed. Under Dr. Garabedian’s care she has been able to hold down a full-time job, begin teaching part time online at a local college and visit the gym several times a week. She recently went through physical therapy and says, “I was actually told that I was the most energetic, determined fibromyalgia patient that they have ever seen,” she says. “It made my day because at least someone had noticed that I am not just lazy and, of course, I handed them a card for Dr. G. … I actually carry Dr. G’s cards in my purse and hand the cards out whenever I engage in a conversation about fibromyalgia or Lyme.

“Everyone in the office is so positive,” Davenport adds. “What is most important to fibromyalgia and Lyme patients is a doctor who cares, who listens and who has a treatment protocol that works. … Dr. G is the most wonderful, caring, educated, compassionate doctor that I have ever met.”

Success stories such as hers are what make Dr. Garabedian’s job worthwhile. “That, for me, is the answer for my work. That is what I am trying to do,” he says, while Dr. Seltzer adds, “The most rewarding aspect of my job is helping people who have lost hope get better.”

The Garabedian Clinic
491 Allendale Road, Suite 222
King of Prussia, PA 19406

Photography by Jeff Anderson