By all accounts, Jenny McCarthy has led a charmed life. Her bombshell looks and outrageous sense of humor took her from Playboy magazine's Playmate of the Year to a successful career as a comic actress and television personality.
While married to director John Asher, Jenny gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Evan, in May 2002. Her new child helped give birth to his mother's new career, writing about motherhood with honesty and humor.
"I've got stretch marks. You know, that glow in the dark for some reason," McCarthy said.
Her three books about pregnancy and babies became bestsellers, and in 2004 the next book in her series was already planned: McCarthy would now write about toddlers. But that book would never be written, because McCarthy's nearly perfect life began to crumble.
"I found Evan seizing in his crib," she told ABC's Deborah Roberts. "He was foaming at the mouth and his eyes rolled back."
McCarthy rushed 2-year-old Evan to the hospital. After a few days of multiple seizures, doctors concluded that Evan had epilepsy, but McCarthy was not convinced. Her maternal instinct told her that something was still wrong.
Angry and skeptical of the medical advice she had been given, McCarthy went to a second neurologist who gave her an earth-shattering new diagnosis: Her son has autism.
McCarthy didn't know anything about autism, and just after receiving the news, she had to rush to New York to promote her book "Baby Laughs." She had to try to act bubbly and happy while she was secretly living a private hell. Evan was often raging out of control and her marriage was slowly falling apart. Desperate for help, McCarthy turned to the Internet and soon discovered a controversial Web site offering a possible solution.
"Autism is reversible? How can that be?" she recalled thinking.
Coming Out of the Cloud
McCarthy began to learn about the theory held by some parents of autistic children that a gluten-free, casein-free diet was very helpful for their children. She discovered that many parents of autistic children believe that the proteins in wheat and dairy wreak havoc on their children's' brains. Though mainstream doctors are skeptical, McCarthy found an ally in pediatrician Dr. Jerry Kartzinel, the father of an autistic son himself, who specializes in treating autistic children.
Kartzinel said that for autistic children, gluten and dairy act as a morphine-like substance; they react by becoming either lethargic or giddy after consuming these products. McCarthy immediately started Evan on the diet and said she was astounded by the changes she saw in her son.
"As the weeks went on, I noticed my kid coming out of this cloud," she said. "He said to me, 'I want to go swimming.' My kid was only saying one word things. My kid just said a freaking sentence. Not only that, his eye contact was then on."
From that initial breakthrough, progress slowly but steadily continued. Sarah Scheflin, Evan's speech therapist, said, "When we first met, [Evan] would flap his hands, he would zone out. If I said what's your name, he would say, 'Name.' He was clearly autistic."
'A Little Hope'
Two and a half years later, with medication, daily therapy, a special diet and other supplements, 5-year-old Evan has made a remarkable transformation. His speech therapist notes that he came from not being able to answer a question to having a full conversation.
While there is little scientific evidence to support the wheat-free/dairy-free diet, other parents of autistic children swear by it and there is a study under way at the University of Rochester medical center. Most mainstream doctors, however, remain skeptical. Some suggest that perhaps children like Evan were not autistic to begin with.
McCarthy remains hopeful and feels blessed by her son's progress. She is finally ready to talk publicly about her ordeal in her new book.
"I'm here to say, hey, here's a little treatment with a little hope," McCarthy said. "Because no one offered me any and look where my kid is today."