The 14 Most Shocking, Wacky and Inspiring Celebrity Health Stories of 2012

It’s been another banner year for celebrity health stories.

From the shocking news of Whitney Houston’s death, to the inspiring story of Robin Roberts brave battle with a blood disorder caused by her previous breast cancer treatment, 2012 gave us some highs and lows that may not soon be forgotten.

1.  Paula Deen will break your legs and then sell you crutches

In January 2012 celebrity chef Paula Deen, the woman who claimed she never met a stick of butter or deep fryer she didn’t like, revealed that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes three years earlier.

And although she claimed she was coming forward in an effort to help others with the disease, she came under fire for (1) being a paid spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, makers of Victoza – a diabetes drug that Deen uses, and (2) still promoting her less-than-healthy Southern cooking style, even after she received her diagnosis.  NBC Senior Medical Editor Nancy Synderman called her behavior “egregious”, and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain tweeted:

Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later.

Six months later, Deen was showing off her 30 pound weight loss, earned with a low-carb diet and a push toward moderation in portion size.

2. Rosie O’Donnell and the “Widow Maker”

Comedienne and talk show host Rosie O’Donnell had a huge health scare in August. Shortly after helping a large woman who was struggling to get out of her car, Rosie felt aching pain in her chest and arms. She felt nauseated, vomited and had clammy skin.

stentingShe googled online for “women’s heart attack symptoms” and found she had several of them but , being in denial,  didn’t call 911. She took an aspirin instead.

The next day, she went to see a cardiologist (heart specialist) who did an electrocardiogram (EKG) and immediately sent her to the hospital. Further tests showed that Rosie had a 99% “widow maker” blockage in one of her coronary arteries and she was successfully treated with a stent.

Since then, Rosie has been telling her story to make women more aware of the symptoms of heart attacks in women. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

3. Katie, Demi and Gaga’s Bulimia Confessions


2012 seemed to be the year where a number of celebrities decided to share with us their past struggles with bulimia.

During an interview with singer and X Factor judge Demi Lovato (who had previously acknowledged her struggles with eating disorders), Katie Couric shocked viewers when she revealed that she too had had bulimia while “in college and for 2 years afterwards.”

Couric admitted to struggling with body image and “feeling like I wasn’t good enough or attractive enough or thin enough.”

I know this rigidity, this feeling that if you eat one thing that’s wrong, you’re full of self-loathing and then you punish yourself. Whether it’s one cookie or a stick of gum that isn’t sugarless … sometimes [I would] beat myself up for that… That is such a huge thing for people who wrestle with this.

Lady Gaga received a lot of negative attention when photographs showed her sporting a 25-pound weight gain:

I love eating pasta and pizza… I’m a New York Italian girl. That’s why I have been staying out of New York. My father [Joe Germanotta] opened a restaurant. It’s so amazing … it’s so freaking delicious, but I’m telling you I gain five pounds every time I go in there.

But Gaga remained unapologetic about her looks and now we now know why…

In September, she posted a picture of herself on her social media website,, dressed only in a yellow bra and underwear. The caption on the photo said  “Bulimia and anorexia since I was 15.”

She also announced that she was launching a new movement  “A Body Revolution 2013,” meant to encourage body acceptance:

My mother and I created the BORN THIS WAY FOUNDATION for one reason: “to inspire bravery.” This profile is an extension of that dream. Be brave and celebrate with us your ‘perceived flaws,’ as society tells us. May we make our flaws famous, and thus redefine the heinous.

4. Miley Cyrus says “Gluten is Crap”

Miley Cyrus certainly has a way of turning heads. Most recently it was by dying her hair blond and getting a dramatic spiky haircut.

But earlier in the year, a noticeably thinner Miley prompted concerns that the 19-year-old singer/actress was anorexic.

Miley countered that she wasn’t anorexic, she has just switched to a gluten-free diet:

But what’s more, she encouraged EVERYONE to get on the gluten-free bandwagon:

“@RealFloydCyrus everyone should try no gluten for a week! The change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing! U won’t go back!”

Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye, oats, and barley. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with gluten, that is, unless you have an autoimmune disease called celiac disease, or gluten sensitive enteropathy (GSE)!

Many confuse a gluten-free diet with a low carb diet (which may help you lose weight). Although it eliminates foods such as bread and pasta, it doesn’t eliminate other high carb foods, such as rice, beans and corn. A gluten-free diet is not a low calorie one!

5. The Feeding Tube Diet: A New Tool for Wedding Planners

Feeding Tube Diet

Some brides-to-be will go to any extreme to fit into their wedding dress.

A Florida physician, Dr. Oliver R. Di Pietro, claims that he can guarantee a weight loss of 10% body weight (approximately 20 pounds) in 10 days. He calls the plan the K-E Diet.

All you need to do is have a feeding tube inserted through your nose and be hooked up to a stomach pump!

6. An Epidemic of Vocal Cord Injuries or Why Adele Can’t Sing?

Why did so many singers, such as John Mayer, Adele, and Celine Dion, have to take “vows of silence” in 2012?

All suffered from vocal cord injuries and needed to rest their voices.

John Mayer had surgery to remove a non-cancerous growth on his vocal chord in September 2011, but it returned in March, forcing the singer to be “good to his vocal cords” and suspend his tour .  But in September, he underwent a second surgery to remove the granuloma.

vc_granuloma2A granuloma is a benign non-cancerous growth which is usually found at the back of the vocal fold. There isn’t a lot of soft tissue there to act as a cushion, making it more prone to trauma as the vocal folds vibrate against each other during talking or singing.

Vocal abuse or misuse, such as excessive use of the voice when singing, talking, smoking, coughing, yelling, or inhaling irritants can cause abnormalities of the vocal cords, such as nodules, granulomas, polyps, or cysts.

It makes you wonder whether the explosion of reality singing contests, where untrained singers are encouraged to “belt out” songs week after week, will lead to more “silent epidemics”.

7. Steven Tyler’s feet hurt (and painful to look at)

steven tyler2

In 2008,  Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler underwent surgery on his feet ”to correct long-time foot injuries resulting from his trademark athletic performance onstage.”

He had been diagnosed with a condition called Morton’s Neuroma, and was told by his orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Brian McKeon, that it would require  a number of surgeries to repair. The post-surgical pain was so bad, the he found himself back in rehab.

In a January 2012 interview with Oprah, Tyler told her that he took his gig on American Idol partially as a way to slow down,  get off the road, and rest his chronically painful feet.

steven tyler's feetAnd then-he showed her his feet!

Ouch, now we can see why he still has problems!

Morton’s neuroma is an injury to the nerve between the toes, which causes thickening and pain. It commonly affects the nerve that travels between the third and fourth toes. The symptoms include:

  • Tingling in the space between the third and fourth toes
  • Toe cramping
  • Sharp, shooting, or burning pains in the ball of your foot (and sometimes toes)
  • Pain that increases when wearing shoes or pressing on the area
  • Pain that gets worse over time

8.  Robin Roberts’ Stem Cell Therapy for MDS

In June, Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts announced that she had developed Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a blood condition in which the bone marrow does not make enough healthy blood cells.

It is believed that the radiation therapy Roberts received to treat breast cancer in 2007 is the likely cause of the disorder.

In September, Roberts underwent a stem cell transplant to treat her MDS. Her sister, Sally Ann Roberts, an anchor for WWL-TV in New Orleans, was an excellent match, and became the bone marrow donor.

Despite a slightly rocky course (Roberts was re-hospitalized in November when she contracted a virus) she has remained upbeat and doggedly determined to get back to her job on air.

Even more, Roberts has used her battle to highlight the desperate need for bone marrow donors, especially for minority and mixed race individuals. As part of this, GMA hosted a bone marrow registry drive at ABC headquarters in New York.

And it seems to be working.  According to Jeffrey Chell, CEO of Be The Match, 15,000 people had registered with the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDR) since Roberts announced her diagnosis. This is 11,200 more than the registry would normally receive in that period!

9. “Cake Boss” Mama Valastro & Lou Gehrig’s Disease

In July, the normally exuberant “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro, struck a much more somber tone when he announced that Carlo’s Bakery matriarch Mary Valastro, known to all as “Mama,” had been diagnosed with ALS, although known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.ALS

The season finale of Cake Boss, dealt primarily with Mama’s diagnosis.

ALS is a debilitating neurological disease.

In ALS, the nerve cells that control muscles (“motor neurons”) are damaged. Muscle cells depend on the stimulation from nerves to function, and without this stimulation, muscle cells weaken or die.

This leads to the classic symptom of progressive muscle weakness limiting the use of one’s arms, legs and even speech. Eventually the muscles required to breath become involved. Most patients die within 3 to 5 years from the onset of symptoms.

10.  Autoimmune Disease is like “Auto-Correct” Gone Awry

Christine Ha


Have you ever had an epic “auto-correct” fail?

You know, when you mean to text one thing, and the “auto-correct” on your phone changes it to something much more “embarrassing”?

Well, autoimmune diseases are sort of like that: Something that your body is supposed to do to help you when you’re sick, or to keep you healthy,  is now working against you instead.

An autoimmune disorder is a condition that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. There are more than 80 different types of autoimmune disorders.

This past year we’ve seen a number of celebrities dealing with autoimmune diseases:

  • Nick Cannon, America’s Got Talent host, was hospitalized in March after suffering from “mild kidney failure.” The cause was later found to be a kind of “lupus-like” kidney disease.
  • Singer Toni Braxton was hospitalized this month after a flare-up of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, which she had been diagnosed with in 2010.
  • Christine Ha became the first blind contestant, and winner, of Gordon Ramsay’s cooking competition, Masterchef. Her blindness was caused by an autoimmune disorder called Neuromyelitis Optica.

11. DWTS Cast got naked and cold. Why?

Dance professionals Derek Hough and Maksim Chmerkovskiy were afraid that their manly parts might freeze and fall off.  But afterwards, Maks said:

I would do it every day for the rest of my life.

Opera singer Katherine Jenkins hit a high note after she stripped down and exposed herself to ultra low temperatures. And Extra co-host Maria Menounos found a “cool” new way to treat her dance injuries which included 2 broken ribs and stress fractures in her feet.

The Dancing with the Stars cast were trying out a growing trend in sport injury therapy- whole body cryotherapy.  Imagine spending 2-3 minutes in a cryogenic chamber set to 270 degrees below zero, dressed only in cotton socks and gloves (guys get to wear cotton undies as well)!

In theory, this is how it works-

  1. The extreme cold rapidly drops the temperature of the skin.
  2. The body’s temperature regulating system wants to protect the body’s core temperature. It does it by constricting the blood vessels in the extremities. This shifts blood away from the arms and legs and towards the heart, lungs and brain.
  3. This blood becomes oxygen rich.
  4. When the body is removed from the cold temperatures, the oxygen rich blood floods into the skin and extremities as the body dilates the blood vessels. The extra oxygen helps with the healing process.

There hasn’t been many research studies to prove that it works, but it has been found to, at least, be safe.

12. Phillip Phillips’ Kidney Gets Stoned

phillip phillips

We all know that American Idol can be a grueling experience for its contestants. But imagine also dealing with a painful medical condition over the course of the competition…

Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips had to undergo undergoing eight surgical procedures for kidney stones during the live shows.

kidney_stone_agony_pain_misery-300x225A kidney stone is a hard mass developed from crystals that separate from the urine within the urinary tract. Normally, urine contains chemicals that prevent or inhibit the crystals from forming. These inhibitors do not seem to work for everyone, so some people form stones.

If the crystals are tiny enough, they will travel through the urinary tract and pass out of the body in the urine without being noticed. However, larger stones can get “stuck” along the way and cause severe abdominal pain.

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is the most frequently used procedure for the treatment of kidney stones. In ESWL, shock waves that are created outside the body travel through the skin and body tissues until they hit the denser stones. The stones break down into small particles which are more easily passed through the urinary tract.

13. Hyperemesis Gravidarum is Latin for “I’m pregnant and I’m barfing my brains out”


Throwing up has never been so glamorous.

According to The Washington Post, Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton also acquired the title “Our Lady of Hyperemesis Gravidarum.”

The Duchess’ hospitalization for severe morning sickness was a tip-off that she was finally bearing a royal heir to the throne.

Soon every entertainment and news show was focused on the story: Because hyperemesis gravidarum is more common in multiple births, is Kate carrying twins? If she is, how would the Royal Obstetrician decide which twin to deliver first, thus deciding the royal succession? If it’s a boy and a girl, should they try to take the male out first (even though new laws allow for a first daughter to become queen)?

14. The Bourne Erection and other prescription drug mishaps

kerry kennedyTom Brokawjeremy-renner-ss7-480x415


There were several high profile medication mistakes this past year.

In July, Kerry Kennedy (sister of Robert, Jr. and ex-wife of Governor Andrew Cuomo) was involved in a car accident after she was allegedly driving erratically on Interstate 684 in upstate NY. Although she appeared intoxicated to the officers on scene, a breathalyzer test was negative. Seems Kennedy accidently took an Ambien  (a popular sleeping pill) instead of her thyroid medication.

A few days later, The Bourne Legacy actor Jeremy Renner, took what he thought was Ambien to help him sleep on a trans-Atlantic flight. Turns out his friend had actually given him  Viagra (an erectile dysfunction drug) instead! Needless to say, Renner didn’t get much sleep, and spent a good amount of the flight with an ice pack applied to the swollen body part.

Even veteran newsman Tom Brokaw can make a medication error. In September, while appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Brokaw complained of “lightheadedness.” He was taken to a North Carolina hospital for an evaluation. Later, he sheepishly tweeted:

All is well. Early AM I mistakenly took a half dose of Ambien and made less sense than usual. Made a better comeback than Giants…

Perhaps the biggest prescription mistake of the year silenced one of the most beloved voices of our times.

On February 11, Whitney Houston was found dead in the bathtub of her hotel room, just a few hours before she was scheduled to perform at Clive Davis’s annual pre-Grammy party.

An autopsy revealed that Whitney’s death as an accidental drowning, but the same report noted that the singer had cocaine, marijuana, Xanax, Flexeril and Benadryl in her system as well.

Cocaine is a stimulant, Xanax is an anti-anxiety drug and Flexeril is a muscle relaxant. Benadryl (generic name: diphenhydramine) is an anti-histamine but is also the active ingredient in most over-the-counter sleeping pills because one of the drug’s main side effects is that it causes drowsiness.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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