Episode 14: Finding Hope and Courage Amid Lyme Disease

George Popovici

Cindy Kennedy, FNP, is joined by author and speaker George Popovici, who shares his journey from being an award-winning safety engineer who had it all in the prime of his life, to his desperate eight-year search to find out why he had fallen ill. After seeing 42 physicians, Popovici finally discovered that he was suffering from late-stage Lyme Disease…often misdiagnosed as ALS, chronic fatigue syndrome or multiple sclerosis.

Finding Hope and Courage

In the process, he met Maureen Hancock, who told him that there was a purpose behind the illness: He was to bring together stories of hope and healing to inspire people who are desperate and ready to give up hope. He realized that his suffering was part of God’s plan to encourage him to reach out to others who were in need of help. George shares inspiration and guidance to others who may be suffering and discusses his book “Angels Walking With Us.”

The book tells the story of Popovici’s quest for answers and treatment for a disease which affects hundreds of thousands the world over. His courage and persistence allowed him to meet and collect stories about divine interventions, miracles, and phenomenal healings from the many people who gave him hope over the course of his illness. You can learn more about the author and “Angels Walking With Us” at his website.

Transcript of Episode 14: Finding Hope and Courage Amid Lyme Disease

Cindy Kennedy: Hello my listeners out there. You are listening to another episode of Living With Lyme. I am your host, nurse practitioner, Cindy Kennedy. We have a really nice guest today. I’ve met him outside of the podcast world, and he is an award-winning author. He was a safety engineer back in the day, and he has an interesting story and a wonderful basis for his story that he’s going to explain to us. His name George Popovici. He has written the book “Angels Walking With Us,” and it tells a story of George’s quest for answers and treatment for a disease. I’d like to introduce you to George Popovici. Good morning, George. How are you today?

George Popovici: Good morning, Cindy, wonderful to be with you.

Cindy Kennedy: It’s so nice. You have been so warm and welcoming, and you’ve been so good to me, and helping me out, and learn a lot more about your journey, and how it compares to so many people out there. I’d like to hear a little bit about what you went through. Then we’re going to go on and talk a lot about your book, and how you have learned the process of healing even though you’re still battling your Lyme disease.

George Popovici: Sure. Back in 2005, a picture of health, young family, very successful, a lot of traveling, I’ve been around the world, cohesive family doing things as a unit like many, many people do, everything was moving ahead, and all of a sudden, I got deathly ill, and went through whole series of physicians and medical facilities trying to figure it out. Of course, I’m an engineer, so that’s crippling in and of itself, so this had to be solved. I had many physicians who were friends of mine that I knew socially. We golf together and socialize together. Many of them were perplex. They knew something was wrong. They couldn’t quite put their finger on it.
Seriously, three-and-a-half years of going through what I call the spin cycle finally, found a doctor who was an out-of-the-box thinker. He determined through various testing that I had advanced neurological Lyme disease, and the disease had rooted itself throughout me entire nervous system and through my body, because we know it’s a very systemic disease. Through that process, I started very aggressive treatments both domestically and abroad. Of course as you know, as a medical professional, that many of these treatments are deemed experimental. Over the course of the last 12 years, much of what I’ve done has been in and out-of-pocket expense, and many of the patients that I speak to and sufferers in various diseases have told me how they’ve spent their life fortune. In my case, it’s $350,000.

Cindy Kennedy: Yeah, that’s nothing to sneaker at. That’s a lot of money, and for people, they’ve had to work seven, eight, ten years to actually make that, and you’re talking about having to just spend that.

George Popovici: Absolutely. I find it so difficult, and I’m very empathetic to those who really need help, want to find the best resources. Lyme disease is a very obsequious disease in many ways, because although since this has happened to me in 2005, the awareness level is much greater. Back then, it was more mysterious. There were protocols that physicians thought you would be given and you would recover. Well, that’s not always necessarily the case. We know that in many situations, you could have identical twins. Both of those twins would be given the same therapy. One twin does very well, the other one not so well. It’s a very individualistic type healing process.
Along the way, I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve learned a lot, seen the best doctors I believe in the world, and they all talk to each other. What I did was I developed a book. My book [inaudible 00:04:35], it was published in 2013 and sold thousands of copies. The purpose of the book is first to explain my story, so it gives those sufferers an understanding that they are not alone, because it’s a very lonely place and you know this, especially speaking to Joe and the other podcast that you’ve done. It could be a very lonely place, even though you have a lot of support around you.

Cindy Kennedy: Right.

George Popovici: I wanted to achieve that in the first part of the book. The second part of the book is amazing, because there’s a quite famous woman who told me years ago when this first happened. She said, “You are going to go through a lot of things, and you’re going to publish a book and help thousands of people, and you’re going to write stories of faith, hope, and miracles.” I looked at her and I said, “You’re out of your mind. I’m dying and whatever you’re on, I want some of that.”

Cindy Kennedy: Who was that?

George Popovici: Her name is Maureen Hancock.

Cindy Kennedy: Who is she?

George Popovici: Maureen Hancock is a lady that has some special gifts. I referenced her in my book. She did tell me these things. She gave me the hope that I needed to achieve that goal. This is part of what my talk is about today, about having belief that you will be well. As these things happen in your life, accepting them into your life in a loving way and an accepting way, and in a useful way to help somebody else. In this busy world that we have of the internet, cellphones, imagery, I think my book is a way for folks to stop, take a moment, take stock of what their life is really about, and go forward with a lot of courage as they battle any type of condition, system, position in life, et cetera.

Cindy Kennedy: Yeah, you know, I’ve been encouraged by your book and simply because there’s a lot of time, energy spent on how to get better, but that’s the physical portion of it and yours is pretty much that emotional portion. If you cannot help yourself heal on an emotional level, I don’t think physically you’re going to be able to heal. Do you agree with that?

George Popovici: Absolutely. We know that the mind controls the body and 95% of what we think about is in the subconscious. It’s subconscious control. I learned this from Dr. Lee Cowden who is an amazing man. He’s my physician and he mentors doctors now. That’s his primary function is to go around the world, and actually when I went to Munich Germany three times to be treated, the doctors there knew him very well. He actually had been there and brought patients there for treatment. Dr. Cowden told me that if you do not get your mind well, and he told me this early on when I saw him many years ago. He said, you need to get your thoughts straight or else your body will not follow. You’ll never be well, so you’re a hundred percent correct.

Cindy Kennedy: My thought is that when you are just so not well, and your body feels so poorly, it’s so hard to wrap your head around it, because every day is like a groundhog day. You keep waking up and saying, “Oh my God, it’s the same as yesterday,” and that leads to a lot of depression. It leads to a lot of anxiety. You hold that all in and it’s hard to process that unless there is a step by step way to do that. Do you have any idea about that step by step way to do that? What do you do right from the beginning?

George Popovici: It’s a vicious cycle and you’re a hundred percent correct Cindy. I know you’ve seen patients who present this way, because it’s exactly in that order mostly that happens. As you go down that what I call the dark hole and I was down there, it was impossible for me to even believe I could be there 10 years prior. Just not even on my radar screen. In my case, you have to have some belief system. Even if it’s saying to yourself positive affirmations that you will find a way, you will make it through. Theodore Roosevelt always said, “It’s not the person who wins, it’s the guy who gets into the ring and fights it out.”
The folks that lose their fight or their will to fight generally do not do well and in some cases do not survive. We could go back to Dr. Bernie Siegel, “Love, Medicine, and Miracles,” which was written back many years ago how he tracked patients who had a zest for life, who had love around them, who wanted to survive. They generally did better. Negative people, people that were very sad that didn’t have any coping skills were not able to dig deep for it, generally did not do well.
There are some things that I suggest and in my talk as you have heard my talk, it’s a very powerful talk about what you can do for yourself, because ultimately, even though you have a whole support system around you, it could be a spouse, it could be family members, it could be friends, it could be anybody, ultimately you need to face it yourself with help from others, but you have to acknowledge it and battle it yourself.

Cindy Kennedy: I guess what you’re saying is that if we have treatment for either a Lyme disease or chronic illness, because your book relates to anything over a period of time, even if it’s an illness that is going to be wrapped up in six months, it’s all about that belief, that learning to get that energy that you’ve lost to bring it back in. I think that centers that treat this, et cetera, they should really, rally focus in on your emotional healing and not so much, “Take this, take that. Do this, do that.” Really, therapy and either talk therapy or even some sort of support system outside of your family, I think that would help people. I think that’s another realm that people should consider, don’t you think?

George Popovici: Absolutely. It’s completely part of the process. Again, to your point, it’s not just about illness. It could be a trauma. I speak to many people who have lost their loved one, parents who have lost children, folks that are in complete financial distress. Any trauma can change the cellular structure of your body. I’ve heard stories of people getting bad news on the telephone and literally collapsing right there. It happens all the time. In my book, I discuss the emotions of illness. Christopher Reeve, you may remember him as Superman. He a very vibrant man. I met him. I knew him. He had his accident and after his accident, his wife took very good care of him for 10 years. They started the foundation. He passed away and she was gone within 18 months.

Cindy Kennedy: Yeah, broken heart syndrome.

George Popovici: You can die of a broken heart, absolutely. It’s a hundred percent true. Doug Flutie’s parents for all our New England listeners. Boston College graduate, went onto the New England Patriots. His parents died within three hours of each other. When you’re deeply involved in a belief system and in love, we know that love is the number one healing force. That’s a hundred percent true. Behind that is laughter. We’ve heard about people who actually laugh themselves well. If you only look at the dark side at your medical bills, at the appointments you have coming up, and to your point, allopathic medicine says, “Take this pill, do this.” It’s procedural to get you well. They don’t necessarily address that other component, which is so critical for a chronically ill patient or somebody who is just plain old sad as a result of a trauma.

Cindy Kennedy: People always talk about being, especially when you’re at that point where no one knows what’s wrong with you and everybody’s looking at you and you’re being told a variety different things, and then I think friends, family they tend to pullback a little bit. They don’t know what to do. Once you are in treatment, maybe the diagnosis took a while, but you’re feeling resentful for these people to back away from you. How do you fix that? How do you heal that? How do you just forgive these people?

George Popovici: You and I have both felt that and I’m sure almost every patient has, not just relating to our melody, but many other. As a result of that, it takes a lot of courage and a lot of internal energy to look at it, I say it’s flying 30,000-feet. You have to fly 30,000-feet above yourself. When you’re in it, you don’t see it so well, but when you’re above it, you can look down on it and I discuss this in my talks. Separating yourself and your feelings and looking at yourself saying, “Okay, this is happening to me and these people mean well,” and they really do mean well. They just don’t know how to handle it.
As a result of that to your point, they get somewhat confused, somewhat reserved, and you’re all looking for this very strong support at that time when you’re spiraling downward. You know what I’m talking about, because you’ve been there when things look very bleak and you don’t have a definitive diagnosis, and you say to yourself, “Am I crazy?” A lot of people ask that question and-

Cindy Kennedy: Yeah, what is wrong?

George Popovici: What is wrong? Why can’t they figure this out? We sent men to the moon back in the ’60s. What’s happening here? Why can’t this be determined? We know specifically with Lyme disease is a hundred things we know and a thousand we don’t. As a matter of fact, many physicians say it’s hard to put a name on this. As much as we know about it, there’s so much more we don’t. If you’re in stress, if you’re upset, if you’re crying, I cried for three months straight. One of the doctors told me, “A couch potato only falls about 18 to 20-inches, because they’re laying on the couch. When you’re a high flier and you drop to the bottom, that’s a big fall.”
Emotionally, you collapse, because every dream you had, the pattern of your life and you can relate to this, everything gets disrupted. It’s like the brakes go on. To further that, there’s no specific solution. What happens is you end up in this place like a limbo, I call, “The Twilight Zone.” You don’t know which way to move and neither do your support system. Having something to hold onto, a goal, writing the goal down, faith, believe, some sort of system where you can set a target and work towards that target will try to help you from falling down that dark place.

Cindy Kennedy: Yup, I agree. Previous podcast with Ruschelle Khanna. She’s a psychotherapist and her illness with Lyme and her total belief in God and the circumstances and what she held onto really helped her heal. In the Christian belief, God has three angels, has Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. What do you think about people being a portion of these angels in their life? Maybe some of their spirit carried in these people who come into your path and actually help you and direct you? How do you feel about that concept?

George Popovici: Personally for me, in Christian traditions is what you’re referring to, of course that goes back to 4,000 years of scripture, right? In any belief system and going back to what you’re saying, many people believe as I do that everything happens for a reason. There’s a purpose for all of it. We don’t understand it. This is something I discuss in my beliefs. Not everybody shares that belief, but I’ve known it since I was a young boy. I didn’t really understand what was happening to me, but I knew after I could step away from it that my life has changed the lives of so many people as was predicted by somebody else. It’s really cemented into this timeline, a grounding rod for people to feed off of as they go through their serious time and holding onto that to something, whatever it might be.
The other thing I talk about Cindy, while we know we’re being helped by others because you’re an angel in many ways by taking this responsibility of this podcast to educate and help others. The focus, the common thread of all these people, the people who run groups, the people who have podcasts, the people who publish books, the excellent physicians, it’s all about helping the people. As you move through this, to your point, many of them are angels, because we are energetic beings. We are completely made up of energy, right?

Cindy Kennedy: Right.

George Popovici: 70% carbon, 30% water, that’s what we’re made up of. In a cellular sense, when we talked about these traumas and how the physical body reacts to stress, fight or flight, when we talk about hormones and talk about the various changes to the body as a result of illness and stress, the mind being the most powerful of all the organs in the body, because it’s the central computer. If you can start grasping for some ray of sunshine, some past memory that was wonderful, birth of a child that you, you know the most elating time, a marriage, winning the lottery.

Cindy Kennedy: Oh yeah, how many people do that?

George Popovici: That’s a joke. I threw that out there for you Cindy.

Cindy Kennedy: That’s okay. It’s funny.

George Popovici: Because of our inside jokes. Some positive thing that they remember, a grandparent holding them, hugging them.

Cindy Kennedy: Oh, that’s sweet.

George Popovici: Some significant event in their life and trying to keep a positive focus. Even if it’s a past event or a future one, making new friends, going to someplace where somebody puts their arms around them. I remember when I met Dr. Cowder for the very first time many years ago, this big tall text and he put his arms around me and he said, “I’m going to get you better. We’re going to get better. Together, you’re going to get better.” He gave me a ray of hope. Without any hope and my book focuses on that. If you don’t have hope, you can never heal, and without hope it’s a very despairing world, so you have to have hope.

Cindy Kennedy: Here you are many, many years out of having treatment and you’re still going through treatment and you’ve written this book, and you’re touring, and you’re talking, and you’re visiting, you’re doing all this stuff, you’re traveling a lot. On a typical day, what’s George’s typical day like?

George Popovici: I still work, so I find that to be very important for me, because that’s a big part of who I am. I try to stay engaged with the society as you do. I think that’s very important. It gives me a purpose on a daily basis. Then secondarily is to take these calls that I get from literally all over the world and encourage people. I remember one patient was from Switzerland. I got him to a medical facility in Europe and happenstance, it was my neighbor who was flying down to Curacao to go on a diving trip. The man next to him was crying. He said, “You know, my 19-year old son, we don’t know what’s wrong with him. He has this, he has that.” He says, “You need to speak with my friend George.”
I got him the medical treatment he need and he’s doing much better today. You see how the threads are connected into a fabric? That’s the piece that most people miss, so you are linked in some way to somebody else or the larger picture. That’s what my book talks about. It gives through that process a lot of folks hope to know that even though they are suffering in that moment and there’s arguably much suffering in this world, but if you look at a hopeful side of it that you will come through it, you can get pushed to the other side of it and you will do good as a result of it. It will give you that strength to push through.

Cindy Kennedy: I think that people need to understand that you have to have skin in the game. You have to work for yourself. You can’t rely on other people to do anything for you. I read something recently that all relationships in life may not be forever. Some relationships become very unhelpful, unhealthy, or for the most part toxic. We have to be able to separate ourselves. We have to be able to focus and be mindful and to move forward in a way that we know will be more healthy for our own being.

George Popovici: I speak about this in my talk about relationships. I developed a slide, which I love. It’s one particular slide that I very much like. There’s a little dot in the middle and it’s you. Next to you is probably your spouse if you’re married. Now, the next ring out is your children. Then outside of that is your sisters, your brothers, the aunts, the uncles, the cousins, and it keeps going out, coworkers, friends, acquaintances all the way out. Each relationship is unique to your point, okay? It could be a mother to a daughter, a father to a son, an uncle, somebody who is involved in your life.
Now, not all of these relationships to your point are helpful to you as you go through this, because remember what my opening statement was as we introduced this in this podcast is, it’s up to you individually, even though you have the support network. Where I think a lot of people lose hope is when they see these people who are supposed to be supportive of them be confused, upset, and in some cases indifferent towards what they’re going through because it’s a long process. That-

Cindy Kennedy: Yeah, and that’s something that hurts for a longtime.

George Popovici: Oh, I’ve seen it break people down to the point that they may not even recover. A tip here and what we just discussed is that you have to reach inside and understand that you are powerful, you are a person, and that you should not be contingent on the feelings of somebody else, because when you get into a position like this, you have to dig deep inside of yourself and look for that help. In my case, it’s praying. I have a wonderful affirmation. I’ve set it for years, and I think it’s very powerful.
What I say is to myself, when I start finding myself paddling backwards a little bit, going down the hill instead of up the hill, this is what I say, “The light of God surrounds me. The love of God embraces me. The power of God protects me, wherever I am, God is.” So in that way, I never feel alone, because people around you, we put so much emphasis on physical relationships. A husband, a wife, a child, I don’t know what’s going on with mom. I couldn’t even tell you, but hey, I’m going to the mall. See you and do you have $20?

Cindy Kennedy: Right.

George Popovici: Then you’re standing there saying, “What just happened?”

Cindy Kennedy: I know.

George Popovici: This person should be empathetic to me, but it’s not necessarily the case, because in their mindset, their lens is different than yours. You do have to forgive them. I talk about forgiveness. It is undoubtedly the hardest thing to do. You do have to learn to forgive. It doesn’t mean you have to throw yourself over somebody, but you do have to learn to forgive them, because if you don’t and you harbor that resentment to your point, in your heart, it’s going to harm you in ways you don’t even know.

Cindy Kennedy: I think that is the best suggestion that anyone can take. I think that is a great point. I think that’s also our main talk today. That is exactly what people needed to hear. Before we finish off, I got a couple of questions for you. George, what ticks you off?

George Popovici: Oh, Cindy, really you’re amazing. You crack me up, because I think we really understand each other. I think it’s those people that don’t have situational awareness. When they see that somebody is really hurting, I speak to a lot of groups and I see people. It’s invariably one or two people, could be a very young person. I just recently spoke to a very young lady who had to leave university. She’s wheelchair bound and cannot continue on with her studies. Talking to them, encouraging them, and letting them know that, and this particular patient had a good sense of that God was in control and that she was going to battle through it.
I think people that lack that when they see somebody and they’re not empathetic or sympathetic towards them, I think just smiling, lending an ear, doing something kind for somebody. It doesn’t have to involve anything monetary. Just a kind word or a kind act I think is really what we need. The people who are indifferent really tick me off.

Cindy Kennedy: That is good. Now, we both have been handed some lemons and we could become sour, but I know for both of us we’ve made lemonade out of those lemons. What do you see your lemonade being?

George Popovici: Oh, I’ve been making the lemonade for years and as I mentioned, Angels Walking With Us, Faith, Hope, and Miracles for that one patient who is sitting alone by themself wondering what just happened to them and what they’re going to face, reading these amazing stories of strangers that came to me and told me these stories as it was predicted, all true, just to give them hope. Because I will say it again, if you do not have hope, if you lose hope, healing will never follow, never.

Cindy Kennedy: Oh, that is so awesome. I’ve been encouraged by all your stories and I know that people will totally enjoy your book and also your website is available through my resource page, because you are helping support my cause. I want to thank you again for joining me. I hope to see you real soon.

George Popovici: I hope to see you soon too. We have many speaking engagements coming up, and if anybody is interested, just go to www.angelswalkingwithus.net, which is hosted on your page. You can like me on my Facebook page and you’ll see all the events upcoming.

Cindy Kennedy: That’s great. I want to thank you again and I want to thank my listeners, because without you listeners, we are not going to educate, collaborate, and advocate for you. This is the way you get your learning, because it is truthful, and it is honest. I thank everyone. If you have not subscribed to the webpage, please go to www.livingwithlyme.us. It’s dot US, because Lyme affects all of us. I want to thank you again. You’ve been listening to Living With Lyme with your host, Cindy Kennedy. I’m signing off and wishing everybody a great day. Take care all. Bye-bye.