All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for January 2003

Bees ease patient's burden

Jan 1, 2003
By Bill Snead,
Lawrence Journal-World
Lawrence, Kan.

Late in the day, three times a week, Virginia Proctor lies on her bed while friends and relatives take turns stinging her with honeybees.

"I feel tense and my body gets really, really tight before we start stinging," she said, looking concerned. "But it's hard to relax when you know you're about to get stung by 40 bees."

That's 40 bees a session, three times a week - 120 stings.

She's been "stinging" since July, hoping it will help her fight multiple sclerosis. She was diagnosed with MS in 1994.

During the next four years, little by little, the former Lawrence hairdresser lost her ability to work and drive and now depends on a scooter to get around her home. The disease worsened and for the past three years she's been unable to walk. She spends most days in a reclining chair.

She's been in the care of a neurologist, an MS specialist, at the University of Kansas Medical Center since she was diagnosed. Proctor, 55, hasn't mentioned bee stinging to her doctor.

"I take all of the medications she gives me, and there's nothing she tells me to do that I don't do," she said sheepishly. "I just don't think she'd be too interested in hearing about my bee therapy." Scientific evidence

A long statement issued by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society indicates it's not a honeybee fan.

The society financed a study to find the biological effects of purified bee venom injected into laboratory mice previously infected with an MS-like disease.

"The results of this treatment," the statement reads, "did not ameliorate (improve) the disease and, in fact, they suggested a worsening of disease, although not statistically significant."

The study was done by Dr. Fred Lubin at Philadelphia's Allegheny University.

After reading the pros and cons of bee-sting therapy in print and on the Web, Proctor and her daughters, Jessica Proctor and Monica Markway, called a bee-sting disciple in Bartlesville, Okla.

Kathy Oliver is only too happy to talk about bee stinging.

"I've been called a voodoo princess, a quack and some have said I practice witchcraft," Oliver said in a telephone interview. "I don't call myself an expert; all I know is what happened to me and what I've seen happen to others."

In a gentle Oklahoma drawl, Oliver cautions people not to compare their own healing to hers.

"I'm a Christian and I prayed for God to heal me, and he didn't, so I said, 'OK, Lord, either you're going to do it or a person will come to do it for you,"' she said quietly.

One Sunday evening Oliver and her husband were watching a TV show in which Tulsa attorney and honeybee therapist Jim Lloyd demonstrated stinging as a remedy.

"I was 30 years old, had MS, was in a wheelchair, blind in one eye and had horrible pain in my hand," Oliver said. "My husband and I were in Jim Lloyd's office the very next Friday."

Oliver said that after her first stinging, much of her pain was gone. They bought a honeybee hive and during the next 10 months her husband stung her 2,000 times. They hauled bees on their New Mexico vacation so they wouldn't miss stingings.

Now walking and pain free, she said her brain scans showed no lesions on her brain.

"I changed neurologists, the scars on my brain are gone and he still won't say I'm cured," she said, chuckling. "Maybe he doesn't believe in bee therapy because it's not medicine."

Oliver speaks at bee meetings around the country. She asks for traveling expenses but receives no fee. She doesn't charge for sting therapy or advice and produces no literature on bees.

"You can't put a number on the number of stings it takes," she said. "Six months, a year, two years do it diligently keep at it and little by little you'll get what's wrong back and don't give up on the bees - bees won't give up on you," she said.

A young voice could be heard in the background.

"That's God's miracle baby, Skyler," the 42-year-old Oliver said. "He's 22 months old and is the love of our lives."

Proctor and her daughters were encouraged after talking with Oliver.

"Jessica came in one day and said 'Mom, we're going to do bees,' and I told her if she'd arrange it, I'd do it," Proctor recalled, eyes misting over.

Setting up three one-hour rounds of stinging a week was complicated.

Ten volunteers showed up for the first sting meeting. All were stung on their knee to test for allergic reactions. Some itched, there was minor swelling, but no one had difficulty breathing.

They were shown how to catch bees in a jar with soft-tipped tongs and how to make them sting.

"I told them I was committed to the therapy but was not too excited about being stung by bees," Proctor said.

She toughed-out her first bee assault July 26.

"I didn't feel anything, but I couldn't watch them sting me, still can't," she said.

That first night she was stung six times, on her right wrist, hand and elbow. Her right arm had been rigid for some time, clamped tight against her chest, her hand made a fist near her throat. "It was almost choking me," she said.

She couldn't budge it with her left hand.

"Right after the first stings, my right arm loosened up and I could pull it out real easy," she said, beaming.

The sessions were set for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The stings increased by two each session until they reached 20.

"We stayed at 20 for a couple of months, and worked up to 40, two at a time," Proctor said.

Bee pollen, raw honey, royal jelly and propolis (bees make it from tree bark resin) topped off by megadoses of vitamin C have been added to her daily diet.

After the third week of stinging, Proctor began bruising, her feet and hands swelling, and she itched.

"Every inch of my skin itched. It was horrible," she said rolling her eyes.

Benedryl was out of the question because it would counteract the effect of the bee venom. Experienced stingers said her choices were honey or Preparation H. She chose the latter.

"The salve only lasted a few minutes, but I didn't want to cover myself with honey and stick to everything," Proctor said.

Sometimes during the stinging process there are five or six people crowded into her small bedroom. She's motionless but chatting. Ice packs numb the stinging areas.

While Proctor is being iced, Monica's husband, Greg Markway, is in the bathroom catching bees in jars with soft-nosed tongs. The buzzing can be heard in the bedroom.

He emerges with a bee and heads to a spot pointed out by volunteer Kathy Lewis, who logs the areas to be stung. Her other job is to remove each stinger 15 minutes after the sting.

Lawrence beekeeper Mark Bradburn, who attends church with Proctor, donates the bees from his hives.

"I used to hate having to run to the store to get some bread or milk," she said, tearing up, looking out her window, "but right now I'd love to get up and get in my car and go to the store by myself, buy my own groceries, clean my own house, wash my own hair simple, little things."

She said that before she began stinging, she would tire after a few hours in her recliner and looked forward to going to bed.

"I just feel better and stronger. People tell me I look better," she said. "On my last visit to the doctor she told me three or four different times how well I was looking and that I hadn't gotten weaker."

She spoke about "apitherapy" hospitals she's read about in Europe and Asia where diseases are treated with bee stings.

"We're committed to doing this for two years, she said. "I believe in God, and I believe this is good for me. I'm hoping and praying and believing in a miracle, but if that doesn't happen, it's still made me closer to God."

© Copyright 2002, The Associated Press State & Local Wire