The Doctor Told Me He Could Not Believe It

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!


I have considered telling you my story for some time now, but for some reason I have never done so. I recently read the success story of the mixed martial artist named Abe Wagner and it made me decide to share my story as well. I am also a professional mixed martial artist, and while going primal has helped me in this venture, I also believe that it played a very large part in even allowing me to begin along it. So here is my long overdue success story.

It started about 3 years ago. I was playing rugby in college and was an alternate on the collegiate All-American national team. It was about this same time that I also started to become interested in mixed martial arts and training some in my free time as well as doing a few amateur fights. People would ask me for advice on nutrition and working out and I would regurgitate false truths. I’m sure that I would have continued down this road, but life sometimes seems to have us on a collision course. Quite literally in my case, as in I fell off of a ledge and landed head first on the concrete 12ft below. Being the sprightly young man that I was, I assumed that no real damage was inflicted in my fall. I “sucked it up” as my coaches told me to and continued along with rugby games and practices.

After a few months however, I could no longer pretend like everything was okay. I went to the doctor and told them that I thought I might had strained my neck. They decided to take a few X-rays and the results were quite a surprise to everyone involved. I had broken my neck in-between the C5 and C6 vertebrae. The doctors told me that I needed to have surgery. They took me to the hospital to go under the knife that day. But when I arrived at the hospital they discovered another problem; since I had gone several months with my neck broken, the damaged ligaments and muscles had healed around my broken neck. They could not perform the surgery until they got my neck back into alignment. They screwed a halo attached to a weight and pulley system into my head and laid me horizontal on a hospital bed. Every once in a while they would increase the weight pulling on my head to straighten my neck. After three days they said that it was straight enough to do surgery. I went in that night for surgery and they shaved off a piece of my hip and used it for a bone fusion in my neck as well as screwing in a small plastic support. When I woke up they called in the specialist who performed the surgery to talk to me. Being naive to my own reality and thinking I was invincible, my only concern was when I would be able to start playing sports again. He told me that I was lucky to be walking and that I would be in a neck brace for about a year and we would just have to see how my body took to the bone fusion. He then said that he doubted that I would ever be able to do high intensity sports again. I was not willing to accept that and quizzed him over anything I could do to help the healing process, and he told me just to be as healthy as I possibly could.

As far as fitness and nutrition went, I was under the impression that I was doing everything right. I was eating high amounts of protein, low fat, and lots of “good” carbs like rice, and pasta. I was taking all the stimulant-rich pre- and post-workout supplements that the bodybuilding forums said that I should be taking, and I was lifting 6 times a week in addition to my rugby practices. At the time I was 5’11 about 215 pounds and low body fat. As far as conventional wisdom went, I was extremely healthy. But since my diagnosis was grim I decided to look into everything that could possibly benefit me. I began researching what might help my recovery and stumbled onto At first I was just intrigued by how different of an approach it was from everything else I had come across. After reading for a long while, a lot of it seemed to make sense to me and I decided that I would give it a shot.

Over the next few months, I stopped taking supplements, stopped eating grains and legumes, and ate a high omega 3 diet with clean protein. I impatiently went to each checkup. The results slowly went from ambiguous to more and more positive, and then on the 7th month of being in my neck brace, the doctor told me he could not believe it but the bone fusion had completely filled in. The neck brace was removed (5 months ahead of schedule) and I was allowed to ease back into working out as long as I came in to make sure everything was coming along okay every couple weeks. Within a couple months I was back playing rugby and training mixed martial arts.

I had never done physical activity while primal before, but because of my results while injured, I decided to stay with it. I had lost some size which disappointed me at first, but became inconsequential once I realized how great I felt and how much better I was performing than I had before my injury. I stopped doing workouts that would restrict my movement and focused on playing. I finished my college rugby career and less than a year after getting out of my neck brace I made my professional debut in mixed martial arts. Since that time I have won 8 straight fights and I am one of the top unsigned prospects at my weight class. I am still in school at the moment and I use the winnings as my income while I continue my education.

The specialist who performed the surgery and monitored me post operation later asked my permission to submit my case to a conference. He said that it was one of the only instances he had ever heard of a recovery like I made on a case that severe. I have no doubt that the primal lifestyle played a huge role in that. Since switching to it I have recommended it to everyone close to me. I made a website for fighting a couple years ago so friends and family could keep up with my fighting. Your website has been one of my recommended links on my webpage since I first made it. I thank you for the knowledge you made available to me and it would be my pleasure to help Mr. Wagner spread the primal way of life throughout the MMA community.

-Trey Houston

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65 thoughts on “The Doctor Told Me He Could Not Believe It”

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  1. Great story! shared to Facebook…

    The part about how they straightened the neck was nuts though, agh, sounds like old school torture.

  2. What a fighter Trey! In the sense that you fought to heal & get healthier.

    Plus I always love seeing shots of my “home base”

    congratulations on another astounding success!

  3. Congrats, Trey. It’s incredible what the body can do when we feed it correctly and allow it to heal itself.

    Primal breeds supermen.

    1. Well, on that topic, I’d like to contribute that since going primal I’ve quickly beaten an otehrwise lifelong infertility 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for writing in. I am awestruck by your quick recovery. Just goes to show what our bodies can really do when properly fueled.

    Good luck on your school and MMA career.

  5. Geez Trey… to think you walked around with a broken neck for several months without realizing it… you sound like a badass. Happy to hear going primal helped you to stay a badass 🙂

  6. Thanks for having the GUTS to share your story. You also showed amazing willingness to take on views and ideas that were so OPPOSITE from what the bodybuilding forums and other “fitness/exercise” experts have recommended. Because you gave it a wholehearted effort, you got to see the benefits! WOW! good on ya’ mate!

  7. Wow, for a second there I felt like I was reading a story about Wolverine from X-men. I love stories like yours just as much as the weight-loss stories because they show that Primal living isn’t just a weight-loss tool, it’s a way to really tap into the amazing potential that the the human body has from a performance and recovery aspect. Thanks for sharing, you’re a true badass and an inspiration!

  8. Congrats, Trey. Truly inspiring.

    After such a dire prognosis, some people would give in to despair. But you didn’t. You took responsibility and studied with an open mind. And not only did you cure yourself, you opened the minds of those who were ready to write you off.

    Great respect to you. The lesson of your story for me is what the wise man said: die biting the throat.

  9. Yay for more pictures of shirtless semi-pro athletes! XD

    AMAZING story! We hear a lot about primal helping the internal-medicine sort of conditions in our body, and its heartening to hear examples of how even gross trauma can benefit as well. 🙂

  10. Damn, I’m with Becca on this one, I can’t imagine how you managed to walk around with a broken neck for several months.

    That’s one hell of a story.

  11. This story reminds me of why I stopped playing Football after the 8th grade. My insecure, flabby coach would tell us the secret to success was not “to be pussies” and then he would make a hand gesture of a vagina. I think even the most macho dudes on the team were confused given that our star kicker was a girl. What an idiot.

    I feel sorry that your coaches contributed to an atmosphere that made you afraid to take care of your body. I am so glad you rose above that and took your health into your own hands. Score another for Primal living!

  12. Wow. I bet all the muscle you had packed in around your neck saved your life (or at least saved you from quadriplegia) in that fall–probably held everything together!

    That’s a pretty amazing story. But next time, go get an X-ray if you get in a fight with a concrete floor, OK? MMA’s not going to be much help there…

  13. OMG! You broke your neck and had no idea!? That’s amazing!! Equally as amazing as the healing you’ve undergone. Great story!

  14. Excellent proof that a proper diet can help to heal trauma quickly. If only trauma hospitals (and all hospitals in general) would adopt more of a primal diet for their patients.

    I’m frankly weary of taking care of the tired, broken down bodies of our middle-aged and elderly who have no desire and no idea how to take care of their bodies.

    I do mention the primal/paleo diet to many patients, because diet is the last thing they think of to treat their conditions. Whether or not they respond or take my advice to heart is up to them.

    Excellent work Trey! Keep it up.

  15. Trey,
    Awesomely inspiring, true story. You live to fight another day! Rock on, man!

  16. Mark

    I love that your posts range from finding spirituality in nature to a mixed martial arts guy punching someone. And when someone is interested in Primal, I never send them directly to your site.

    Most of my friends would take one look at today’s success story and run in the other direction screaming “I don’t want to be a caveman!”

    The few people I know who would love today’s story would have read yesterday’s and say “Uh, what is this new age crap.”

    I’m not saying to change, by any means. I’m just saying . . . .

  17. What do you eat pryer to a big fight. I am a hockey player and I am used to eating pasta and drinking red bull before games to ensure that I have extra energy. What and when should i eat now to prepare for a game. I’m 3 days primal and look and feel better already.

  18. Thanks for sharing your story! I like that your story isn’t just about getting ripped – you were already that – it’s about feeling your best and knowing intuitively that you are now taking care of your body as nature intended!! And I love hearing about how top-level athletes manage the Primal lifestyle and their sports. Congrats on your recovery!!

  19. Too bad Rugby lost you – we need more Paleo Rugby players (which position are you playing?)!

  20. Trey,

    Your story has inspired me to finally make an appointment with a spinal specialist. 6 years ago I jumped off a cliff into the ocean while on vacation and seriously injured my neck. I’ve had so much pain since then and all I ever got were xrays. I think there is more to it than that, as it’s been 6 years and I still have severe pain. For instance, about a week ago I woke up and for whatever reason I now haven’t been able to turn my head properly and am in constant pain. I’m pretty much primal, although I do occassionally have some grain, and I do eat some dairy, although not much. That has helped, but I think I need to see someone who specializes in neck injuries so see if there was something that was missed in the xrays.

    Nice job on getting yourself and your neck healthy!

    1. See a chiropractor, really. That is the best thing you can do. And they do take x-rays so they know what they are dealing with before any manipulation.

  21. It is scary that a coach or someone “responsible” wouldnt insist on a proper exam for an injured player! How outrageous…Thank Heaven you survived and took matters into your OWN hands. Keep spreading the word…maybe someday the world will “get it!” Good luck to you.

  22. Trey, when you say “submit your case to a conference,” is he going to mention the primal diet, or just talk about the fast recovery?

    Which mountains are you standing on? Are those Vibrams that I see?

    I for one would love to hear if anyone was primal BEFORE being injured and if that would have mitigated the original injury. Probably very hard to run controls for…

    1. You should check out Dave’s story. He had major abdominal surgery and came through it with flying colors, all while being Primal before and after. He’s an ‘older’ guy too…

    2. Four months ago I was involved in a serious car accident. I had gone primal about six months prior. The er gave me a ct scan the night of the accident and all they found was a broken rib. I have since learned that not only did I break a rib, I broke my sternum, l5 vertebrae, right hand, and also have a hiatal hernia because of blunt trauma to my chest. I really should have died in that accident. About a month after the accident, I was back to work. My job requires a lot of lifting. Needless to say, people are pretty amazed at how well I was able to cope with the trauma and pain and get back on my feet relatively quick. I truly believe it is because of my diet.

  23. WOW. What a story. So happy for you that you healed from such a dangerous injury, and so quickly. Congratulations on beating the odds and making such a fantastic comeback! Best wishes 🙂

  24. Any concerns with the neck fusion WRT MMA? No limits prescribed by your physician?

  25. I just got home from school and checked MDA. I apologize for not posting sooner. I will attempt to respond to all the questions and comments now in one (annoyingly long) post.

    The first question posted related to how I was able to walk around for several months with my neck broken. To answer honestly, I believe it might have been more denial than anything else. The first few days after my accident were excruciating. I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning when I woke up and had to turn my entire body to face anyone who was addressing me. I however, was not ready to accept that anything serious could be wrong. I dealt with the pain for a couple weeks and it slowly it started to subside. I still don’t know if this was something that I manufactured in my head or if it legitimately hurt less; but either way my justification was that the injury was nothing serious and that it was healing. In the end I think it was only the juvenile fear of admitting that I could be hurt that delayed me from seeking help.

    Chase- You made a reference to Wolverine. While, I do have a plate in my neck now, unfortunately for me, the substance it is comprised of is far less durable than Adamantium.

    Several people placed blame on my rugby coaches for stalling me in seeking treatment for my neck. I harbor no ill-will and completely understand their position on the matter. If I would have made it seem like a more serious issue than I’m sure they would have sent me in for an examination. I was afraid to admit the seriousness of the situation to them and more importantly myself. I was entirely to blame.

    Uncephalized- You inquired that the muscle I had in my neck saved me. You are 100 percent on this assessment. More than one doctor informed me that if I had not been in shape at the time of the accident then I would have, without a doubt, been paralyzed.

    Rich- You asked about what I eat before fights. The weight I typically walk around at is close to 195 pounds. I cut to 185 for each fight. After weigh-ins I notice almost all of the fighters drinking large amounts of gatorade and eating pasta and rice. After I weigh-ins, I typically drink some coconut water and eat a normal meal. I know you are new to the primal lifestyle, but if you stick with it, I believe you will find that energy will not be something you struggle to obtain. My pre-fight meal is usually just the same as any other meal.

    Hill- You asked what my rugby position was. I played 8-man. I really miss rugby. I try and join in on tournaments with my local men’s team when I can but there was not many places to go with rugby after my collegiate eligibility was up.

    Jamie- I hope that you do seek a specialist. The only thing that delayed me was having to deal with the reality of being in trouble. If I would have addressed it early then I would have had a much easier time.

    Oxide- The doctor who performed my operation did mention my diet in his report of the case. He interviewed me thoroughly after asking my permission and I attributed a large majority of it to going primal.

    I hope that I have addressed everything thus-far. I will be more than happy to address any additional questions or comments. Grok on!

  26. Finnegans- I saw your comment after I posted my last response but to answer your question, the doctor said that because of how well the bone fusion took, it would take as much force to re-break my neck as it would to break anyone else’s neck for the first time. They placed no limitations on me after they cleared me. Although I would not suggest falling onto the concrete headfirst.

  27. Great inspiring story. These success stories keep me motivated. I love being in the primal lifestyle & I love watching MMA!

  28. That is so great that you gave your body prime healing ability. and awesome pics

  29. Awesome story!!! Also, another example of how going primal helps everyone look HOT! Haha! Grok on!

  30. Wow what a great story! Thanks for sharing Trey. Good luck with your fighting career.

  31. Absolutely astounding and inspiring!
    Perfect example of fitness and true nutrition to heal what conventional wisdom knows not.

  32. Amazing! That halo sounds like rough stuff. Incredible that you didn’t damage your neck even worse during those months before you had it treated.

  33. Trey, I would also not recommend rolling over a pickup at 4 am off the highway in the middle of nowhere PA. That’s how I broke MY c2 and c3, 19 years ago, in fact. I was on a road trip with my boyfriend and he fell asleep at the wheel…They hauled us into the hospital (which I have no memory of, except for, “I really hurt my neck”) and let me go the next day! I spent a week or so in PA trying to figure out how to get home…and laying low. Hurt so bad! When we got off the bus at home, my Mom had come to get us, and said my head was on crooked, and we were going DIRECTLY to the hospital. Turns out, I was a millimeter and a sneeze away from being paralyzed the whole time. Long story not so short, I had the Halo “reduction” they called it, in one day, 34lbs they hung from my head (bit by bit) to unlock that mess.They had never done it at my hospital before, and had a full contingent of students. Philly collar for 3 months.I refused the fusion. I had good mobility, (considering, lol) Right back to work and play. I will mention that I suffered for many years afterwards from awful (debilitating) muscle spasms, and pinched nerves, until I finally found my chiro, who took x-rays and baby steps with me (don’t touch my neck!!), put me in a special sleeping pillow, which is popular now, (square sides) and I see him rarely these days.
    Now that I am an old, 38 year old woman with a couple of kids, a hubby, a full time job and back to school, I am hoping that the last 3 years of Primal/Paleo will go a long way to preventing deterioration and frailty in my later years. (I also had knee surgery 6 times on my right knee, but a story for another day) I did actually see regeneration of bone on x-rays(knee). This was 20 years ago…why don’t we hear more about what the body CAN do, if given the raw materials?
    Sorry for the wicked long post, so many similarities I had to share. You don’t hear about these every day!
    Best of luck Trey! Thank You for sharing your story

    1. I wanted to add that have been blessed with robust good health and strength..even after all that. It sounds dubious, I know! No one knows I have ever had these injuries, unless I tell them, and people always guess my age 10 yrs younger! Wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t spent my youth drinking, smoking and generally chasing a good time? My goodness, the possibilities…but less fun stories for the Grandkids someday!

  34. Awesome Story! Glad that the neck injury didn’t cause more damage. Another reason to be primal

  35. Thanks for the inspiring story, Trey! Can you give us an idea of what your diet looks like on an average day? I’m always intrigued to see how very athletic people actually eat on a primal diet. Thanks again.

  36. Tried to check out your website but it says “bandwidth limit exceeded”. You need to extend your limits!

  37. Trey –
    I work in healthcare IT now, but have years of experience as an operating room nurse, and prior to that, a paramedic. I gasped when I saw that x-ray, and I suspect everyone in healthcare who saw it in person did, too. You are beyond fortunate to be alive and not a quadriplegic. Obviously, as bad as that x-ray looks, your fracture was stable enough to support you, or you wouldn’t be here.
    I have assisted in placing that halo on, and in many spine fusion operations. It sounds like they did everything right with you. And your recovery is a testament to you doing everything right afterwards. Congratulations and good luck in the future. That was inspiring to continue to move to the Primal way of life. 🙂

  38. NOW…continue on the path…BE SMART…Dont get hurt like that again and GROK ON BROTHER!!!!!>>>>

  39. Juliemama- Thank you for sharing that with me. Definitely many similarities there. So glad that your recovery went well. It has always amazed me how resilient the human body can be if we allow it.

    Jon- My diet on a normal day varies greatly. I have Mark’s first cookbook as well as his quick and easy meal cookbook. What I normally do is pick out several recipes with similar ingredients and I buy enough to last me the week. Since I’m busy with school and fighting I usually triple or quadruple the ingredients required so that they will last me for several days. Each week I try and pick recipes with a different base of ingredients than the week before. I would not say that I eat much differently than any non-athlete primal eaters. If I have had a hard workout then I will add in sweet potatoes or eggplants for a little extra carbohydrates. I do snack throughout the day if I feel the need to. I usually stick to a little fruit, greek yogurt, or macadamia nuts and cashews. If you want more detail than that then I will be happy to write down my specific meals for next week. I am going to sit down tomorrow and decide on them and go to the store to get the things needed to prepare them. Just let me know if you would like me to relay that information for you.

    dragonmamma- I fixed the problem with the website. It was just a simple website that I made a little while back. I did not realize that I had a bandwidth limit on it.

    JavaJohn- I appreciate it. I have a fight at the Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa on the 18th of November. Hopefully with another win or two I will have the opportunity to compete in the UFC.

  40. Trey: Thanks so much for the info! Yes, that would be great to see a week’s worth of meals. Thanks again.

  41. Wow I’m amazed!!! This really gives me hope that I can recover from my low back and SI Joint injury! I’m pretty far gone already but I’m hanging in there.

    Hypothyroidism, chronic pain with LOTS of pain meds and other meds… bi-polar II generalized anxiety and panic disorder… all on top of starting out at 300 lbs at 5’10.5″… I’m down 35 lbs as of today and somehow am managing to continue to lose weight on antibiotics and prednisone…

    I’m taking supplements form adrenal and thyroid support and just starting to feel better. I started 7/25/11 just before major surgery… I even got cellulitis after surgery but managed to get out of the hospital the next day and completely healed on time inspite of the infection!

    Sorry this was so long, I just needed to let you know I needed your story!

  42. Great story of triumph over adversity. Reading things like this reaffirms my belief that 99% of us are capable of success over our somewhat trivial pains and aches. I’ll look forward to seeing Trey on the Pay Per View on the UFC sometime.

  43. incredible story and photos! glad you were one of the lucky ones and didn’t have permanent damage. the blog is awesome i’ll def be back

  44. Jon- I apologize for being a couple days late with this. School had me a little bogged down at the beginning of this week haha. As far as meals go though, I usually have my first workout before classes in the morning and I eat my first meal after the workout. On monday my first meal was primal hot cereal, which is pecans, almonds, bananas, and coconut milk blended together, heated up and topped with berries. I usually have a cup of green or oolong tea in the mornings with my first meal. My second meal was tahini chicken salad.(chicken,olive oil, sherry vinegar, carrots, radishes, parsley). I was a little hungry a few hours later and ate some broccoli with almond dressing(one of my favorite snacks) After my evening training session I ate two large bowls of spinach coconut milk soup, with shrimp. I typically make one or two large pots of soup a week. It is really nice to eat something like soup after a hard training session because I have sweated quite a bit and want fluids anyways. Plus it is very easy to make large portions of soup to eat throughout the week. That was everything for Monday. I also take omega 3 and multivitamins each day, but those are the only supplements that I take besides an occasional protein shake if I just absolutely don’t have time for anything else.

    Today I had a berry pancake for breakfast. It’s kind of like a souffle topped with berries. Very easy to make and very tasty. I snacked on some portobello mushrooms stuffed with advocado and bacon a few hours later. At lunch I ate steak with romesco sauce and a simple spinach leaf salad topped with a few veggies, almonds, and olive oil. After training I had smoked salmon and asparagus egg wraps with a side of basil coleslaw.

    As far as the rest of the week goes, I made very large portions of each meal and will alternate between them throughout the week. It is what I do almost every week just because of the time constraints involved with my current schedule. I also usually snack on something small once or twice a day. Depending upon how rushed I am it, might just be something as simple as a handful of nuts. If I run out of one of the meals that I prepared or if I want something else then it is very easy to mix up a spinach leaf salad topped with veggies and a protein, or I always love veggie omelets topped with avocado. It is really up to you how complex or simple you want to make this whole thing. I hope this helped some. I am happy to address any more questions that you might have. You can email me if you would like so we dont have to keep checking the comment section for it.

  45. Myree- I am touched that my story was able to help you in an even, miniscule way. I wish you the best of luck in your recovery and ask that you remember to trust in your body.

    Barber Ballantyne- Glad you enjoyed the blog. I had stopped updating it for a while because I had not been fighting due to school but I am back to updating it regularly now.

  46. Congrats Trey! I’m very proud of you 🙂 Pictures look great as well…are those the Colorado mountains I see!