Minnesota’s first ME/CFS doctor on a mission to expand care to ‘everybody who has the disease’

Minnesota’s first ME/CFS doctor on a mission to expand care to ‘everybody who has the disease’

Minnesota’s first ME/CFS doctor on a mission to expand care to ‘everybody who has the disease’

Dr. Ruby Tam was literally one of a kind in Minnesota when she started treating patients suffering from myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME/CFS.

It’s a debilitating disease associated with profound exhaustion, and it’s recently become intertwined with long COVID.

RELATED: No treatment, no cure: Patients await answers about debilitating disease related to long COVID

Tam’s journey began with one of her family medicine patients in 2015. She couldn’t figure out what was causing their persistent fatigue, which was debilitating enough to keep them out of work. Tam said her patient ultimately had to seek that answer across the country.

When they returned with an ME/CFS diagnosis, Tam’s world was changed.

Remembering back to her inability to diagnose that first patient, she said, “I thought to myself for a moment, ‘Oh, my goodness, I did not learn that in medical school. Maybe I’m missing something.'”

After a bit of digging around, Tam said it turns out ME/CFS is not taught in many medical schools.

“So no doctors knew what it was,” she said. “And apparently, it has been going on for decades, and a lot of the patients were undiagnosed and were just told that it is in their head.”

Following the discovery, Tam decided to teach herself and treat her patient at home in Minnesota.

“So we kind of learned the disease together,” she said, adding, “And then the word spread really quickly.”

Soon after, she started taking appointments from ME/CFS patients driving in from neighboring states and beyond.

“All over,” Tam said. “Just to make the drive to come up and see me, and I was very shocked.”

As interest grew, she retired from her family medicine job and started her own clinic, ME/CFS Clinic Minnesota, where she diagnoses and treats patients for free. The free part is key, Tam said.

“Most patients are not able to work. They even try to apply for disability and unfortunately, a lot of insurance and disability companies do not believe them,” she explained.

Jeffrey Beyerl is one of Tam’s patients. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS interviewed him over Zoom to conserve his energy, but even that wouldn’t have been possible not too long ago.

“The last I worked was 2016 and then, after that, I progressively got worse until I was at a point where I was struggling to chew food,” Beyerl said.

“If you push yourself a little bit, it’ll compound negatively until it gets to a point where, I mean, it was difficult to think that life was worth living at that point,” he continued. “It was just constant pain, an inability to do anything and an inability to feel emotions. It can get very dark.”

Beyerl said things started looking up in the last year, ever since Tam started using an osteopathic massage therapy called the Perrin Technique “to help patients drain the inflammation from the body,” according to Tam.

“So he was one of my pioneer patients that got on it,” she added. “And now, [he’s] getting very good.”

“She’s a resource that is so precious, you just can’t quantify it,” Beyerl said, expressing thanks for Tam.

Now years into her journey, Tam said she’s still just one of three doctors in the state who know how to properly treat ME/CFS.

As her waiting list grows, she said she’s been bending the ears of her patients and any doctors and physical therapists who will listen about what she’s learned.

“I believe there is a place for all of us in this world to make the world better than when we first came,” Tam said. “And I feel like if I already have experience doing that, I owe everybody who has the disease a responsibility to get the care they need to them, either myself or educate their local providers and practitioners to help get them better.”

In September, Dr. Tam is hosting a seminar in the Twin Cities alongside the doctor who invented the Perrin Technique.

Click here for more information about the seminar, or here for information for patients seeking help.