From living the ‘perfect storm’ to helping people
After recovering from years of chronic pain, woman helps others.
Leah McCullough of Centerville struggled with chronic pain, depression and fibromyalgia.

Through lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, McCullough lost weight and is healthy today. CONTRIBUTED
By Beth Anspach
Contributing Writer


Chronic pain affects about 10 million people or more in the U.S. and it can be debilitating. Women are more affected than men and the condition often goes undiagnosed for years.

Centerville resident Leah McCullough’s pain started in earnest decades ago when she was an serving in the Army. She was young and had always wanted to be a soldier, so she threw herself into it with a passion.

“When I was a kid, I dressed up as a soldier for Halloween,”

McCullough said. “I joined the ROTC in school, and I loved the challenge of it and the physicality.”

McCullough started college as a biology major but ended up dropping out after two years, thinking she would change majors. She joined the Army reserves in 1986 and, after basic training, she began working long hours, taking on a part-time job and trying to finish her college degree by taking night courses.

She slept very little, maintained an active social life and began smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Both her diet and her lifestyle would soon take a toll on her health.

“I was living the ‘perfect storm’ for getting an autoimmune disease in my early 20s,” she said. “Then I started having symptoms like sore muscles and fatigue.”

McCullough, who had been a regular runner, found she couldn’t run any longer and she started experiencing all the symptoms of a condition called fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder that doctors say has no cure.

“I was transferred to Germany and was sick my entire first year there,” McCullough said. “I couldn’t do a big part of my job because it was so physical, so I had to end my military career when my contract was up.”

By then, McCullough said she could hardly walk and though she had undergone many medical tests while still in the Army, no one could give her a definitive diagnosis.

“I went to civilian doctors later and they said I could have MS (multiple sclerosis) or that it was psychosomatic or even that I was just constipated,” she said. “I got a desk job and just limped along.”

Her job eventually took her to Bosnia, where she no longer had regular access to the junk food and diet sodas she regularly consumed.

While there she was able to lose weight and started feeling a little better. But eventually she returned to the U.S. and the pain returned. She took so much sick leave that her supervisor insisted she go see a doctor.

Finally, in 1998, McCullough was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition that had only been given a name a decade before. After seven long years, she finally knew what was wrong.

“A year after I was diagnosed, a large piece of equipment fell on me and I became disabled,” McCullough said. “I was in bed about 12 to 16 hours a day for more than six years.

I just wanted to die.”

No amount of medications helped alleviate her pain and she became morbidly obese, pre-diabetic and hypertensive. She was exhausted after even the simplest tasks. Desperate to find something that would help, she began meditating and praying daily.

“Within six weeks, I had a dream that I was back at work and well,”

McCullough said. “I ended up meeting a holistic therapist who helped me recover.”

That therapist, Victoria Smith, claimed to have had fibromyalgia herself but was no longer in pain.

And McCullough began visualizing herself as healthy and well. Smith put her on a detoxification regimen and within seven months, she was off all medication and had lost 70 pounds.

“I never thought I could have any children,” McCullough said.

“But when I was 41, I found out I was pregnant.”

McCullough and her husband, Carl, welcomed a healthy baby boy, Mack, who today is 10 years old.

When her son was 3, she started writing a book, sharing her story with the hope of helping others suffering from pain. “Freedom from

Fibromyalgia: 7 Steps to Complete Recovery” was published in 2014.

Today, calling herself the “Fibro Lady,” she is also a public speaker and travels nationally to share her story of hope.

“Fibromyalgia is my story but it’s also a story about an under-served community,” McCullough said. “I’ve learned many lessons from helping people who really had no hope of ever getting better. And my message is simple — these lessons apply to anyone who wants to sleep better and have more energy. There is a way to eliminate chronic pain and go back to living your best life.”

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