Ryan Sutter finally has a clearer answer for the "almost-paralyzing fatigue" and severe health problems that he has dealt with for the last year.
The former Bachelorette winner, 46, has Lyme disease that was triggered by high levels of mold in his body, he shared on his wife Trista Sutter's podcast, Better Etc., on Tuesday. Ryan explained that after going through a litany of testing and blood work over the last year, doctors determined that his body is susceptible to taking in mold toxins, which he is frequently exposed to as a firefighter.
"It seems to be that what happened is that my immune system was weakened through exposures to toxins and especially to mold," he said. "There are other people in the fire academy that probably had the same exposures who aren't dealing with these exposures because their genetics are stronger, they're able to get rid of the toxins easier."
As the mold toxins brought down Ryan's immune system, it likely resurfaced past infections that his body ordinarily would have been able to fight off, he said. Testing determined that along with positives for Lyme disease and mold, he also was positive for COVID-19 and Epstein-Barr virus, a common illness that causes mononucleosis.
Presley Ann/Getty Ryan Sutter
"On top of being exposed to mold, I was also dealing with these long days, with exhaustion, dehydration; all these other things that weaken your immune system," he said of his job as a firefighter. "So my immune system was weakened, making it difficult to fight off infections, or what it seems like, allowing prior infections that my immune system had been able to sort of suppress and keep down, to resurface."
"I now essentially have Lyme disease — it seems like something that I will always have, it's just that now I know, and I will try to build back my immune system to fight it off. And Epstein-Barr — I showed that virus, and this weakened immune system may have allowed that to come back in. On top of that, COVID, I tested positive for that."
The process of finding a diagnosis, though, was lengthy and difficult for the entire family.
"It's been hard," Trista said. "It's a really difficult thing to see the person you love most in the world struggling. And he's a big, strong guy, and oof — to see him get emotional and feel hopeless, in that all I could really do is advocate for him, so that's what I did."
Noam Galai/Getty Ryan and Trista Sutter
At different points throughout the year, the Sutters thought that Ryan could have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or at one point, they considered lymphoma. They were able to get him in to see an oncologist, but a full body scan was clear.
"It was a weird feeling, because your cancer screening comes back negative and you're like, well that's great, I don't have cancer, but then on the other side of that is well, what do I have?" Ryan said. "There's still no answers, and you're still not feeling better."
After that test came back negative, the couple decided to share on social media that Ryan had been struggling for months. That led to comments from people all over the world who had similar issues and offered suggestions for doctors and illnesses that Ryan could have. Though the response was "overwhelming" at times, with people calling their home phone and his firehouse, Trista said it was "instrumental" to finding a team of doctors who could help and, eventually, a diagnosis.
Ryan is now working on treating his illnesses and is starting to feel better. For Lyme disease, patients can go on a "pretty heavy dose" of multiple antibiotics for several weeks, but he opted to instead try making dietary changes.
"What I'm doing is avoiding, as best I can, gluten, dairy and refined sugars," he said. "I've added a ton more fruits and vegetables to my diet, things that are easily digestible … I've gone on specific diets and things to try to alleviate a lot of those things so my internal organs can function more efficiently and begin to fight back some of these viruses and bacteria that they were able to hold back prior to going through this last year."
After just a few weeks on this plan, Ryan is seeing improvements.
"I truly believe that we're on the right path now, and I'm very thankful for where we are and for everyone that's helped us get there, whether that's the doctors, or family support, or even all the people that have written in on social media or in other avenues," he said. "Things are looking up."