2018 Conference Patient Story

Homebound for 11 years due to rare illness, man invents his own surgery to become medical miracle

It struck the summer after Doug Lindsay’s junior year of college. If he’d stand for longer than a commercial break or walk further than 50 feet, his heart would race and the room would spin. His muscles would cramp and ache. It was so debilitating he was forced to drop out of college.

Doctors could identify no cause and could offer no cure.

“I was spending 22 hours a day in a hospital bed in my home. I knew that if I didn’t do something, I would be there for the rest of my life,” says Doug. “So I put much of the energy I had into researching my condition. Ultimately, it became clear to me that my autonomic nervous system was malfunctioning.”

It took Doug five years to find a doctor who wanted to collaborate with him. He began working with Dr. H. Cecil Coghlan, a dysautonomia specialist at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, after the two met at a medical conference where Doug was outlining a proposed treatment for his own disorder.

Doug’s partnership with Dr. Coghlan set him on a path to answers, and it stabilized his health.

“Dr. Coghlan’s testing showed I had a very severe dysautonomia. I’d been suggesting that for four years, but now we could demonstrate it unequivocally. From there, the task was to figure out what kind of dysautonomia and its cause and nature of the condition. My tests were abnormal, yes, but they were also atypical. My results weren’t like a lot of other dysautonomia patients.”

Doug was a rare case, even in a field of poorly understood conditions like autonomic dysfunction. After years of research, Doug compiled a more than 300-page document including his own medical records and gobs of scientific research. “It became clear to Dr. Coghlan and me that in my specific case my best chance for health was to try to remove the medullae of my adrenal glands.”

The adrenal surgery that Doug proposed was risky, to say the least. He uncovered a long-forgotten animal surgery and contended that it could be turned into a modern human surgery.  

On May 17, at What’s the Fix?, Doug will stand tall on the stage and share how that surgery changed his life and how he’s working to help others with all the knowledge he’s gained over the years.

“In medicine, impossible is often just an opinion,” he says.

More About Doug

Doug got sick at age 21 and spent the next 11 years bed bound until he developed the surgery that fixed him. During those years, he could walk only 50 feet and stand for about the length of a commercial break. Doug adapted a long-forgotten animal model of adrenal gland surgery from the 1920s into a modern human surgery so surgeons could treat his rare autonomic-adrenal condition. He bet his life on the operating table, and it paid off!

Today Doug is a sought-after keynote speaker and he also designs workshops that train business, science, academic and medical leaders in the skills it takes to make unlikely things happen. He’s been a Stanford Medicine X ePatient Scholar and part of Stanford Medicine X’s inaugural Emerging Leaders Program. Doug is a photographer and writer. Oh, and he wrote, produced, directed and starred in a full-length feature comedy, a movie called RUFF CASES – about a lawyer who becomes internationally famous for representing eccentric millionaires and billionaires with pet-related legal issues! He says one of the highlights of film was working with Thumbelina – the world’s smallest horse.