A personal story…
In 1996, soon after his sixteenth birthday, Alex Howard was diagnosed with ME. With symptoms ranging from severe fatigue and muscle aches, to dizziness and anxiety, his life was at the time hardly worth living. After rapidly discovering that there were few answers in the traditional approach, he spiralled into a state of ongoing despair and frustration. He was lucky enough after a couple of years to have a life changing conversation, that helped him realise that if truly committed his life to finding answers, he might be able to find a way out of his immensely challenging life situation.
After five years of intense searching, reading over 500 books in related areas, earning a degree in psychology, consulting with over 35 different practitioners (medical and non-medical), Alex was able to find his own way back to health and happiness. His story is told in his first book, “WHY ME? My Journey from ME to Health and Happiness”. The second edition of “WHY ME?” was published in 2009 with a foreword by Shirley Conran, OBE. Foreword-to-Second-Edition-of-Why-ME
Having earned his degree in psychology, whilst also trained in areas such as hypnotherapy, NLP, life coaching and EFT, Alex felt a very strong desire to create the kind of organisation that would have made his own journey much easier. Having also benefited from a whole range of different approaches, including nutrition, yoga, meditation, along with some more traditional medical understanding’s, Alex felt a very strong commitment to creating a truly integrative organisation that would be able to help the biggest range of sufferers with the whole range of different experiences.
In 2003, soon after the publication of his book, Alex set up The Optimum Health Clinic, and was quickly joined by Niki Gratrix, a nutritionist, who established the clinic’s nutrition department and was Director of Nutrition until 2009. Alex and Niki worked relentlessly putting together the clinic’s early protocols and met head on the immense challenge of building an organisation out of nothing.
With early support from a few ME charities, such as Network ME (in North London), The Optimum Health Clinic gradually took shape, and hired its first few employees. With the head office based in Alex and Niki’s apartment in Highgate North London (for over a year they slept on a sofa bed working almost every hour of the day), and the clinic in Harley Street, it was an immensely exciting time of innovation and development. Many of the protocols they were developing simply had not been used before.
The Freedom From ME Years
By 2006, the clinic had grown substantially, and now had a team of four practitioners, and several support staff. It was a pivotal year, as it saw the filming of the documentary “Freedom From ME: Journeys to Recovery” which was produced by Alex and directed and edited by Paul Young, a former patient of the clinic. It featured three patients stories, with the music and the accompanying website also created by patients of the clinic.
Over the next five years, the clinic experienced rapid growth, and Alex took more of a management role, rather than practitioner role. Anna Duschinsky became Director of Psychology, and developed significantly the approach of the psychology department. This was a very exciting and in many ways the most challenging period in OHC history. Growing the organisation and providing the level of service the team was committed to, took significant amounts of funding, and at times significantly more than was earned for the clinic in providing consultations to patients. Through immense amounts of creativity and resolute commitment to the long-term vision, the clinic navigated this period with the management all growing massively both personally and professionally.
Some highs during this period where the clinic team winning CAM Magazine’s “Outstanding Practice Award” in 2009, and the 2007 original launch, and 2011 relaunch of Secrets to Recovery, a world leading recovery group which is of invaluable support to patients of the clinic and those unable to afford face to face treatment.
In September 2008 the clinic launched Optimum Health Community, a social networking site to help patients support each other and to feel less isolated. Alex also set up a registered charity to fund research called The Optimum Health Clinic Foundation.
Additionally, the clinic had pioneered distant treatment programmes. These were critical for patients too ill to travel to the clinic, or based internationally with no appropriate support local to them. By the end of 2010, the clinic had treated over 2000 patients in 35 countries.
Research, research and more research!
By 2011, The Optimum Health Clinic was entering a new phase once again. With the wisdom and resources that came from eight years of innovation, the management team took a long hard look at where they were, where they wanted to take OHC, and what they felt was key in furthering their goal of making effective treatment for ME, CFS and Fibromyalgia available to everyone who needs it. A key ingredient of this was clearly having more research available.
By mid 2011, early findings from the first phase of the clinic’s Clinical Trial were available, and were a wonderful scientific reinforcement of what the team knew, they had an effective protocol that was showing very real scientifically measurable benefits! After a long weekend of deep contemplation of these findings (which also resulted in Alex getting engaged, but that is a whole other story!), Alex considered his personal vision of OHC as the only share holder. Knowing that the most important thing for the future of not only OHC and its patients, but also the field of integrative treatments was research, he decided to make a pledge that for the coming two years, a minimum of 50% of any profits from the clinic component of OHC would be invested into research, with the aim of a substantially higher percentage where possible.
From June 2011 until October 2013, Dr Megan Arroll joined OHC as Research Director from UEL. Part of her role included taking over the clinical trials, and actively building an in house research department. In November 2012, the OHC team had a landmark study published in the British Medical Journal Open which found statistically significant improvement in all treatment groups. This study was important both in its providing clear evidence for the effectiveness of the OHC approach, but also laying the foundation for a larger and more robust study.
Becoming a charity
In early 2013 OHC reached another crossroads. It became very clear that for OHC to become all that the team dreamed it could be, it would need to one day be in a position to receive government funding. For this, OHC needed complete a full radomised controlled trial (RCT), which was going to cost substantially more than could be funded in the current model. As the only shareholder, Alex took the generous decision of handing 100% of OHC’s assets to registered charity The Optimum Health Clinic Foundation. With this, governance of OHC moved to a board of trustees, all who had personal experience of ME/CFS and OHC, and an active fundraising strategy was initiated.
In November 2013, OHC launched its fundraising plans for an RCT at a reception at the House of Lords. In June 2015, OHC officially announced its research collaboration with University of Surrey to undertake an RCT over 3 years. Fundraising is ongoing and all support is very gratefully received.
If you are interested in getting involved in OHC in some capacity, we always welcome input from committed and resourceful individuals. Thinking of fundraising? Have a look at our Fundraising area, with ideas, guides and stories of what other fundraisers have done, or you can email us at [email protected] For opportunities to join one of our practitioner or research teams please e-mail [email protected] You can find out more about the people at OHC here