Donkey strong: Family discovers major health benefits from donkey milk
LUTHER, Okla. (KOKH) -- There's hope for parents of kids battling a mysterious illness coming from a surprising place right here in Oklahoma.
Milk might hold the key to curing certain autoimmune conditions, but not the kind of milk you are probably thinking about.
It's not your typical Oklahoma dairy farm. The fresh milk served up daily at the Traywick house comes from donkeys. American mammoth donkeys, to be exact.
"It actually tastes pretty sweet," says 10-year old Hannah.
It's an unlikely family business they didn't see coming just a few years ago.
"I went to school for interior design," said Saundra Traywick. "This wasn't part of the plan."
That 'plan' was rocked when Hannah got a common case of strep throat. Their bright, bubbly 6-year-old changed, literally, overnight.
Saundra said, "It traveled to the brain and caused PANDAS disease."
PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neurological Disorder Associated with Strep throat. Hannah's immune system was attacking her own brain. Symptoms include OCD, ticks, anxiety, aggression and behaviors associated with autism.
The Traywicks turned to donkey milk, a natural option that's not so uncommon in other parts of the world.
"It was within 24 hours that we saw a big difference," said Saundra.
What appeared to be a cure for her child has grown into a farm of 14 donkeys and counting.
"It's exhausting," she said. "It's a lot of labor. They're not like cows. You can't just take away the baby."
It's illegal to ship donkey milk, so families travel to the farm near Luther from all across the country to get their hands on the milk for their sick kids.
We turned to medical experts to find out what they say about this.
"We hear those stories," said Dr. Craig Shimasaki. "And we know of patients who have gotten well."
Shimasaki created the first blood test in the world to screen for treatable autoimmune disorders, like PANDAS, using decades of research done at OU. He's hoping his lab, Moleculera, can study donkey milk, isolating the key ingredient that seems to calm kids' immune systems.
"It wouldn't surprise me," Shimasaki said. "Because this is an immune disfunction. And half of the immune system, or two-thirds, is in the gut. So it would make sense if that does prove to be the case."
The Traywicks always provide the first jar of milk free. And to help cover the cost for families who can't pay, they sell a line of soaps and skin care products called Dulce de Donke.
Turns out, donkey milk is good for skin issues, too.
"A lot of people say, 'Oh, just milk a donkey.' We would've quit so many times if we weren't doing it because of love," said Saundra. "There's no other reason we'd be doing this."
Hannah is staying healthy by following a paleo diet and drinking her donkey milk. Still, Dr. Shimasaki says many kids aren't being properly diagnosed, and are instead being treated for behaviors instead of the root cause. He's trying to spread awareness about these treatable autoimmune disorders. And spread some hope. Just like the Traywicks.
"I want them to know it really works," said Hannah. "It's really good. And it works for a lot of kids."
What works for Hannah, could one day end up in a pill form, helping countless others.
If you'd like more information on why donkey milk might be a miracle cure or you are interested in getting some of the Traywicks' products, go to dulcededonke.com.
To learn more about Dr. Shimasaki's test to diagnose PANDAS and PANS, visit moleculera.com.