It was as if the doctors had pronounced a life sentence over young Hannah Schulte.

That is, a life sentence of anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, attention issues, sensory processing disorder, and behavioral and emotional meltdowns.

“It was multi-faceted,” says Hannah’s mother, Kelli Schulte. “In this day and age, I think she would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s. … They labeled her, I think, with everything they could find.

“They basically told me, ‘There’s nothing we can do. Learn to live life that way,’” Kelli recalls. “And I was like, ‘No. This is my daughter, and this is not going to be her quality of life.’ She couldn’t function.”

Today, Hannah is a thriving 14-year-old who plans to attend performing arts school next year. And Kelli is a sane, happy mother of five who launched her own business, Kingdom Kids Nutrition, in 2008. She published a book by the same name about her daughter’s journey to health in 2011, and is hosting a family health conference Feb. 8-9 at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center.

But life has not been simple for the Prior Lake family.

As a 10-month-old baby, Hannah came down with a cold that spiraled into years of nebulizer treatments, asthma symptoms, respiratory infections, late-night trips to the emergency room, chronic ear infections, and chronic strep throat, the latter two of which required multiple rounds of antibiotics. She started taking Singulair to control asthma at age 3.

At 18 months old, Hannah was fully potty trained and was talking in full sentences, but her eyes crossed occasionally, which required wearing glasses for the weaker eye and patching the stronger eye to coax the weak eye to catch up. Hannah also needed braces for damage to her Achilles tendons and hamstrings from tippy-toe walking. She walked on tiptoes because, Kelli says, “She didn’t like the sensation of walking on her feet. Anything she touched brought extreme agitation.”

Perhaps the most difficult symptoms for Kelli to manage, however, were Hannah’s meltdowns and tantrums. Hannah qualified for the title “strong-willed child,” but all the strategies for parenting a strong-willed child did not work with her. The meltdowns lasted for hours. And Hannah would melt down several times during the day – for years.

“When Hannah got upset, it was as if she was ‘gone,’” Kelli writes in the book. “We would look at her, but she was somewhere else in her head, and we couldn’t get her back until she crashed into a puddle of tears and remorse. My heart would break for her every time.”

When Hannah was 3, Kelli literally dragged her screaming daughter through the door of the doctor’s office, along with baby Lilli.

Kelli thought for sure the doctor would finally comprehend the intensity of these meltdowns.

Instead, as Kelli recounts in her book, when the doctor finally entered the examining room, he commented, “You had a bit of a hard time getting in here, I heard. Well, some days are just like that.”

One of many breaking points came when Hannah was in kindergarten. She had been invited to a birthday party, and Kelli brought her to Toys R Us to shop for the perfect gift – and only the perfect gift.

“Our family rule is that when we go shopping for a gift, we don’t shop for anything else, so our focus is on what will bless our friend,” Kelli writes in her book. “She knew this family agreement and had never struggled with it in the past.”

But this time a toy caught Hannah’s eye and she “blew a complete fit at the store,” Kelli says, which was highly unusual, because Hannah’s fits had always been contained to home.

“I said, ‘This is not appropriate.’ I said, ‘We are going home.’” Kelli carried her screaming daughter out of the store and told her to buckle up in the back seat. As Kelli drove down the frontage road, a screaming Hannah unbuckled her seatbelt, grabbed the steering wheel from between the front seats, and yelled, “Go back, Mommy! Go back!”

“I drove a half-hour home with her yelling and screaming and throwing everything that she could find at me ’til she had nothing left to throw,” Kelli says.

Later that day, a weary Kelli told her husband, “This is not natural. She is going on meds tomorrow.”

And she did. Without Hannah in tow, Kelli consulted the next day with a doctor who sent Kelli to the clinic’s behavioral specialist.

“I told him everything that had happened and that she needed medication,” Kelli says.

The behavioral specialist diagnosed Hannah with anxiety and depression with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and he put Hannah on 10 mg of Lexapro – without ever having seen the child herself. Later, that dosage was upped to 20 mg of Lexapro.

Kelli left the doctor’s office feeling a sense of accomplishment yet with a pit in her stomach because she knew in her heart, “it wasn’t quite the right thing to do, but it was a Band-Aid until we found out about natural health.”

All of this led to then-8-year-old Hannah seeing seven different doctors – the pediatrician, behavioral specialist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, ophthalmologist, psychiatrist and psychologist. Hannah would say, “Yeah, sure. Send me. I’ll just tell them what they want to hear,” her mom recalls.

The problem was, Hannah could say the right thing and act the right way for the doctors, and they thought she was the perfect patient.

“She was perfect everywhere outside of the home, and then when she got home, she would melt down,” Kelli writes. “Hannah would say she couldn’t be herself when she was away from home.”

Layers of an onion

Kelli compares the healing process to peeling layers off an onion.

The first layer was the medical world with its myriad of doctors, appointments and medications – a route that had seen limited, if any, success.

The second layer peeled off when a friend asked Kelli if she had tried natural health options for helping Hannah.

“I had no idea what she was talking about,” Kelli admits. “She opened the door to the natural world.”

The suggestion resounded with Kelli, and she pursued her friend’s recommendation. Even though she had always been skeptical of chiropractors, she found the natural route intriguing and was amazed with the chiropractor’s assessment on their first visit. He found that Hannah had a yeast overgrowth in her gut and sensitivities to dairy and sugar. He said dairy, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup should be eliminated from her diet. To strengthen her liver, he instructed Kelli to add beets and lemon into Hannah’s diet, and he said her immune system had been compromised by the nebulizer and medications she had taken for so long.

Soon, Kelli could see a correlation between Hannah’s emotions and behavior and the foods she had eaten.

“Taking out the dairy and sugar did make the meltdowns less frequent and intense, but they still happened,” Kelli writes in her book. “They were now disrupting our lives for only an hour or so instead of two or more, and they were only happening a couple times per day versus four to five. And now Hannah was losing control in front of other people and in public places on a regular basis. She was no longer able to hold it all in until she got home.”

“It was like it would just overcome me, and I could not control my emotions or my behavior,” Hannah says now. “It was like I did not have a choice. I was depressed because I did not want to be living my life that way but didn’t know what to do to stop it. I thought it was just normal.”

Deeper layers

Despite the progress, the family hit a brick wall. So when three different friends within three weeks suggested that Kelli take Hannah to a particular chiropractor who specializes in pediatrics in Eden Prairie, Kelli thought she should pay attention.

Dr. ShaRhae Matousek of Real Health Chiropractic confirmed the yeast infection and outlined treatment for it. She also found that Hannah was reacting to at least 23 foods, put Hannah on several specific vitamin and mineral supplements, and instituted even more drastic changes to Hannah’s diet – only fruits, vegetables and meat during the healing process.

“She was significantly struggling with just trying to be a kid,” recalls Matousek, whom Kelli gave permission to be interviewed about Hannah’s case. “There seemed to be an underlying discomfort. Children that come in with these problems [tend to have] significant nutritional needs, [and are] severely toxic and neurologically imbalanced.”

“I think she became so toxic [that] her body reacted to everything,” Kelli says. “I think she’s super sensitive. We put in her all these drugs, which made her super toxic. Her body healed from the inside out. It was a very slow process, a little bit at a time. Within four months of seeing Dr. Matousek, she was off of meds. Within the next eight months, all seven doctors discharged her from their caseloads. No more anxiety, depression, OCD. Everything went away.”

Today, Hannah is excited about her future. Her eyes don’t cross. She walks normally and excels in ballet. She earns straight As and can paint and sketch intricate artwork.

“It’s fun to see,” says Kelli. “From the ashes, she’s doing wonderfully. She’s beautiful, young, talented.”

At home, the Schulte family maintains a strict diet of absolutely no gluten or dairy (goat cheese is OK) and rarely allows sugar. But the family makes exceptions for special occasions.

“For example, [Hannah] can go to a friend’s birthday party, she can eat pizza that they eat, she can have the cake and ice cream, and she will no longer react,” Kelli says. “Her body will get rid of the toxins that it should, but if we ate like that every day, her body would probably react to it. She can actually do things normally now. [Her body is] healed. It’s strong.”

“I have a lot more self control,” Hannah says, “and when I feel upset, I do not go back into what I used to do. I can choose to just tell myself to calm down and I can think rationally about it, which I could not do when I was little. I feel more confident.”

Sharing the health

Kelli is using her master’s degree in education and 10 years of teaching experience now with Kingdom Kids Nutrition, which was launched in 2008 shortly after Hannah’s emotional and behavioral health recovery.

“Basically it’s sharing our story of how whole foods and natural health brought healing to our family and that there are alternatives to medications and traditional routes to handling behavior with children, and just bringing freedom and unity back to the family,” Kelli says.

Her big focus right now is the Family Health Conference in February, which will feature 12 speakers from the natural health community during three main sessions and seven workshops. The conference will also include a health fair. The cost is $29 per person or $50 per couple. To register for the Family Health Conference, go to www.kingdomkidsnutrition.com.

“We just have a heart to bring truth to people about health, about eating well, about things that parents can do to optimize their children’s quality of life. We just feel like there needs to be a uniting of the medical world with the natural world, because we need both. The medical world is crisis care, and we need that. The natural world is finding root causes and eradicating [those],” she says.

Kelli teaches about healthy living for community education classes, at co-ops, in people’s homes, at MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups, and at clinics. Popular topics include “Healthy Beginnings” for people who are starting their families, “Healthy Kids, Happy Moms,” and how to eat healthy on a budget.

Every month, she offers classes at Mazopiya in Prior Lake and Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville, and she has collaborated with Woodhill Urban Agriculture of Burnsville to teach participants in Minnesota Teen Challenge how to cook healthy meals, “teaching them that healthy foods taste good.”

“A lot of them have never had a home-cooked meal, so they don’t even know where to start,” Kelli says.

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