Editor's note: This article was first published Aug. 20, 2018. We're bringing it back today, Jan. 11, in observation of National Milk Day.
By WENDY SUARES, KOKH
LUTHER, Okla. (CIRCA via KOKH) — There's hope for parents of children battling a mysterious illness coming from a surprising place in Oklahoma.
Milk might hold the key to curing certain auto-immune conditions, but not the kind of milk you're 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," said 10-year old Hannah.
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That feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you look in someone’s eyes and you know. Something isn’t right. It’s been over 3 weeks since the last antibiotic. We thought we were finally out of the woods. Her leg looks great. She’s not limping. She’s been perfect. And then suddenly it’s like she’s giving up. Like that scene in the Never Ending Story, with the horse in the swamp of sadness. She looks like she’s just quit trying. Stopped eating. Stopped caring. And we don’t know what to do. Yes, we’ve called the Vet. Yes, he will come and do everything in his power to pull her from this swamp of despair. But I don’t know how this story ends. And it’s hard. We love our animals. We have precious kids waiting on their milk. And we love them too. And baby Clyde, he knows something isn’t right with his momma. So much depends on her being ok. And sometimes there’s nothing else to do, but know that one day, at the end of this story, it’s all going to be ok. This world is temporary, and thank the Lord for that. . And if you haven’t seen The Never Ending Story, you should. It’s a classic. . #pray #snowwhite
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 Auto-immune 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 Traywick.
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, Oklahoma, from all across the country to get their hands on the milk for their sick kids.
Circa sister station KOKH-TV 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 auto-immune disorders, like PANDAS, using decades of research done at the University of Oklahoma. 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."
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A few months ago we did a sales fundraiser for Donkey Milk money for a child who needed it and his parents couldn’t afford the gas money to get to our farm for their free gift jar. That night, I was laying in bed and this crazy idea popped into my head that maybe we should add an option on our website for people to donate milk money for kids. It was one of those ideas that makes you get out of bed and do it right now...the ideas that are so uncomfortable they must be from God (because if it were up to me, I would rather have ideas at 7am with a cup of coffee, thank you very much.) And still, I doubted anyone would give... Today, a few months later, you all have given over $4,000 in Milk money. That doesn’t include the first free jar of milk that you all give to each sick child that comes to our farm when you buy our soap and skincare. And, the most exciting thing is, I just tallied up donations and gifts, and we still have $988 worth of milk to give!!! I kind of want to wrap up the milk in Christmas paper and have a milk gift tree and invite the kids for paleo cocoa and carols with Kramer on the farm. I just need to clean the house first. And shovel poop. And decorate for Christmas. Thank you all. Whether you gave $2 or $500. It makes a difference to these families. I wish you could see them smile through their happy tears when I tell them of your generosity...but instead, this pic is the next best thing. Yes, donkeys do smile. And hug. And why not? They’re VIA around here. (Very Important Animals.) Thank you all. 🎄💕🥛🙏🎄 If you’d like to donate to help more families, or buy one of the last available bars of our donkey milk soap for Christmas, go to www.dulcededonke.com . . #pediatricautoimmuneneuropsychiatricdisordersassociatedwithstreptococcalinfections #asd #autoimmunedisease #donkeymilk #dulcededonke #holistichealth #give #giveback #givebackfridays #christmas #christmasgifts #oklahoma
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 Traywick. "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, 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 auto-immune 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.