When Mel Friedman of Reno contracted the mysterious skin disease Morgellons four years ago his life fell apart.
Although the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the ailment, a proven treatment doesn't exist and many, if not most, doctors consider the illness a delusional condition.
Morgellons patients report strange red or white "fibers" sprouting from skin lesions, sores that will not heal and black "specks" appearing on their skin. Chronic fatigue, night sweats, insomnia, constant itching and depression also are symptoms.
Friedman said he had the symptoms before he'd even heard the Morgellons label, coined in 2003 by a woman whose toddler son had the disease. The name comes from a 17th century description of a "fibers" skin disease.
"I was incapacitated, isolated, miserable," he said. "I thought I was going to die. But I was blessed. I had a doctor who kept an open mind and did everything she could do to help me.
"And I did research, read more than I'd read in the previous 50 years of my life. I tried a lot of remedies."
Friedman said he has fully recovered after finding a daily regimen that includes two prescription drugs and three homeopathic remedies. His doctor agreed Friedman has recovered from a condition she was unable to diagnose or treat.
"He seems to be much, much better," said Dr. Shannon Zamboni, a Reno family practitioner. "I don't claim to be an expert on this, but I do try to keep an open mind.
"I didn't cure him. My role was to make sure he did no harm to himself."
She said she doesn't know if Morgellons exists but said "it seems there's something there."
She said Friedman was her patient long before he developed the skin symptoms and she did not think he was depressed or delusional.
Zamboni said there are neuropsychiatric disorders than can be related to skin conditions and rashes, but noted the CDC is investigating Morgellons cases.
"Who knows if (Morgellons) is real, but if it is, Mel had it," she said.
(2 of 2)
Friedman has started a Web site - www.howicuredmorgellons.com - to post his remedy and tell his story. He said he can't claim the regimen will help anyone else but wants to make it available to anyone for free. The drug and homeopathic remedies involved cost less than $50 a month, he said.
"I don't own stock in the different (drug and herbal) companies that make the stuff and I'm not trying to make money off of this," he said. "But I learned when I had the disease that people who have it have to help themselves. I stumbled on to something that helped me and someone smarter than I am will have to figure out how it worked."
Without any promotion, his Web site garnered more than 50,000 hits in five weeks, he said. "There's thousands of people who are looking for help with this," he said. "There's a lot of communication going on."
Friedman's friends said his condition has improved immensely. They said a year ago his skin was grey as cigarette ash and his body covered with lesions.
"Seven months ago we were thinking about his funeral," said his friend, Joe Espinosa. "But in the last three months it's been like night and day. Before he was the perforated man. Now he looks healthy, looks good and has his energy back. Now he's looking forward to living."
Friedman said he contracted the aliment in 2005 after twice being bitten by spiders. He was co-owner of the Oreck Floor Care Center in Reno and retired after becoming so run down he couldn't work, he said. Doctors prescribed various drugs and skin creams, he said, but nothing worked.
"I researched and read everything I could and tried every home remedy I could think of," he said. "I kept in touch with my doctor to make sure I wasn't taking anything harmful.
"There were a few things that brought some relief, but the latest combination (of remedies) had me feeling better in 30 days and the symptoms gone in 60 days."
Reno dermatologists did not return calls for comment about Morgellons. But most doctors who commented in previous Reno Gazette-Journal stories about Morgellons in the last five years said they thought the disease was a product of the patients' minds, a condition called "delusional parasitosis" - delusions of parasites.
A handful of doctors around the country are attempting to treat patients, according to Mary Leitao, who coined the name of the illness and founded the Morgellons.org Web site. That site has 13,300 families registered as Morgellons sufferers.
Friedman said it's a sin that patients with the illness are often dismissed and humiliated.
"I was lucky," he said. "Dr. Zamboni did everything she could to help me and I was never told I was crazy. I recovered and with my Web site I want to help other people."