Maggie Hadleigh-West is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and creator of the Guggenheim-grant-produced film “Sick to Death” about her struggle to get diagnosed and properly treated with Hashimoto’s disease. The film premiered in New Orleans in October 2017 at the New Orleans Film Festival to great acclaim. “Sick to Death!” features a number of cutting-edge thyroid experts, including Kent Holtorf, M.D., and many patients who had struggles similar to Maggie’s in getting properly diagnosed with thyroid disease.
We had an opportunity to interview Maggie by email regarding her experiences and motivation to create the documentary.
You personally struggled to get diagnosed and treated for quite a long time. But why a film? Tell us what motivated you to write and produce “Sick to Death!”
It’s true that I’ve struggled my entire adult life with my health issues, which were primarily various signs of thyroid disease. But when I realized how ignorant it was that I had not been diagnosed as child, I was angry, yet relieved that there was a path to follow. I had been in my own little world for decades and wasn’t hearing that there were other people like me out there.
That is the realization that sent me right over the top in the fury department; that millions of people just like me were suffering needlessly. That pushed all of my social-justice buttons and since film has been my fighting tool in the past, that is why I decided to make “Sick to Death!” Because it takes years to make a documentary, my first step was to build the website so that people searching would find help.
If you were going to advise someone who, like you, had thyroid symptoms that were being dismissed by doctors, what would you tell them?
I would say to first, trust your instinct. You know what’s happening in your body. Trust the wisdom of the women who have come before you. And get another doctor. Do that through the resources that are already screening doctors who offer effective medical and naturopathic options for better health. Look to the advocates, activists, and authors and don’t reinvent the wheel. It is already so exhausting for us exhausted people.
What was the most surprising thing you learned during the process of filming?
I was shocked to find out how many simple physical signs there are — that doctors are unaware of — indicating that someone may have hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. For example, some signs include thinning hair, shortened fifth digit syndrome, horizontal lines on the neck, yellowing of the skin, and swelling or fluid retention. And, I see women all day long who are a little heavy, and have some or all of those signs, and I often ask them: “Have you had your thyroid checked?” And then I talk about the testing and try to help them out as best I can.
Do you think that thyroid disease is as “easily diagnosed” as many doctors claim? And how do you think “Sick to Death!” could play a role in changing that?
“Sick to Death!” patients eye-opening accounts of the years they struggled to get a real diagnosis. That immediately impacts the viewers’ opinions of the medical industry, and contradicts the idea of easy diagnosis. When that is compounded by the statistical case I’m building against the system, patients win, finally.
What impact do you want “Sick to Death!” to have on patients and practitioners?
My goal with “Sick to Death!” was to put us patients first while illuminating the bigger picture. Our system is failing patients. I am angry about thyroid disease, but really, it’s every illness and every patient that is impacted by the system.
Bodies are no longer touched. We are no longer known by practitioners for the duration of our health lives. Doctors are taught “medicine,” not health and wellness. They are bought and sold through the financial corruption of the schools, associations, organizations, medical boards, and governing bodies. It’s like we are subjects of a medical dictatorship that is made up of the pharmaceutical companies, medical-device companies, and insurance agencies who are reaping the financial rewards of our diminished quality of life and/or early deaths. The irony is that the individuals involved in this corruption are actually sacrificing the health and well-being of their own family members, either blindly or intentionally.
We need to see the impact of this corruption in order to change it. That is my first goal with “Sick to Death!”
Maggie Hadleigh-West is the writer, director, and producer of three award-winning documentaries: War Zone, Player Hating: A Love Story, and Sick to Death! You can learn more about Maggie’s work at her website, YoMaggie.com. You can watch an 8-minute trailer for “Sick to Death!” online.
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Mary Shomon is a thyroid disease, hormonal and autoimmune health writer, and patient advocate. For two decades, Mary has been a leading force advocating for more effective, patient-centered thyroid and hormonal health care. Mary is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Thyroid Diet Revolution,” “Your Healthy Pregnancy with Thyroid Disease,” “Living Well With Hypothyroidism,” and 10 other books on thyroid disease and integrative health. She co-stars in two PBS health specials, “Healthy Hormones,” and “Vibrant for Life.” Follow her on Twitter at @thyroidmary or at her Facebook communities: ThyroidSupport and ThyroidDiet.