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Coping with Essential Thrombocythemia: One Veteran’s Search for Support

15 years ago, when Barry Halem was 58, he suffered a heart attack out of the blue. He was an otherwise healthy guy who exercised regularly, ate a balanced diet and prided himself on taking good care of his body.

Barry received four stents in his heart that day, but he left the hospital with loads of unanswered questions. His doctors told him that everything looked fine. Then what had triggered such an intense heart attack?

I asked for a copy of my lab results and when I got home I noticed that my platelet levels were high,” said Barry, “My doctor had said nothing about it and when I later questioned him, he still didn’t know what to think so I was sent to a hematologist.

There, Barry learned that he had essential thrombocythemia.

Essential thrombocythemia is a disease that normally hits people (predominately women) later in life, around age 60. Characterized by elevated platelet levels in the blood, it poses risks such as blood clots and heart attacks. Currently, there is no cure for ET, and patients are forced to live with the chronic fatigue and relentless skin itching that go along with it.


Searching for the Source of His Diagnosis

With few answers and lots of questions, Barry got curious.

We grew up with the idea that doctors know everything. I quickly learned that I was now going to have to take control of my own health.

Barry felt strongly that something had triggered his diagnosis. It wasn’t just “in his genetic makeup.” So Barry, a military veteran, called up the American Legion (and a few other veterans organizations) and asked if they would put a call out to other veterans with ET in their next magazine issue.

The response was overwhelming.

I started getting calls from veterans across the country immediately. Some had been diagnosed with ET, some just had symptoms, and others knew their platelets were high but didn’t know there was anything to be diagnosed with!

In the past few months, Barry has received several hundred phone calls from veterans with ET. They all have one thing in common: Vietnam.


The Disturbing Link Between Agent Orange and ET

This commonality led Barry to the conclusion that Agent Orange (and other chemical exposures) are to blame for his disease. But the VA doesn’t agree.

The VA doesn’t seem to want to take responsibility for it,” said Barry, “There are probably thousands of veterans with the disease that the VA knows about, but they still say I can’t prove that Agent Orange played a role in causing my disease.


Why the VA Won’t Take Responsibility

Part of the reason the VA won’t acknowledge ET is because researchers have yet to establish a causal link between Agent Orange and ET.

But Barry calls baloney, as he wholeheartedly believes that a combination of chemical exposure of some sort and the right genetic makeup are what caused his disease.

As far as chemicals and GMOs go, Barry now says he “wouldn’t touch that stuff with a 10 foot pole!

He also recalls experiencing symptoms earlier in life that were undoubtedly early warning signs, but at the time he had no idea. When he was about 30, he was hit by a silent migraine while driving that made his vision go blurry for 10 solid minutes.

I remember often feeling itchy around my ankles and thinking, ‘oh, I must have a mosquito bite,’ that’s the scary part, it creeps up on you,” said Barry.

Barry’s ultimate goal is to get ET put on the VA’s presumptive list of diseases associated with Agent Orange, both to warn others of the risks of chemical exposure, and give vets some closure on the source of their ET.


Helping Vets Take Control of Their Health

In the meantime, he’s helping other veterans realize their diagnoses and connecting them with the right resources.

Yesterday, I got a call from the President of the Purple Heart Riders. He wanted to know more about my condition because he has all the symptoms, so I told him to get his platelets checked. A few days later he called me back, and sure enough, he has ET. The worst part? The VA had known his platelets were high for years, and they never even told him.”


How Nutrition Helps Him Cope

The bottom line for Barry is living the best life he can with ET, and helping others do the same. He currently takes a chemo drug to keep his platelet levels down so he doesn’t suffer another heart attack, but when it comes to wellness, Barry figures he can’t go wrong adding extra nutrition.



Whenever I speak to someone trying to improve their health, I tell them about your company. I say, ‘you want to support artery health? You ought to start taking Heart Plus; it’s good stuff, and it’s not expensive.

He was introduced to Our Health Co-op/Cell Nutritionals by Dr. John Young and Mike Ciell over ten years ago. He believes that a combination of chelation therapy, Heart Plus, alpha lipoic acid, acetyl L-carnitine, garlic & cayenne, vitamin D, and B vitamins (among others) has kept him going strong for the last 15 years.

Not all supplements are equal,” said Barry. “I’ve been with your company for a long time and trust you a lot more than walking into a Walmart.

And that’s saying a lot, fair members!

Get Support

Currently, Barry, along with Ann Brazeau, the CEO of MPN Advocacy & Education International, are heading a nationwide support group for people with ET. Ms. Brazeau helps connect people suffering from ET, including veterans, with the right resources. If you’re seeking support, please contact Ann at (517)899-6889. To connect with Barry, please call (727) 579-4427.