High Folks: La Kia Gooch is Fighting to Stand Out

This Muscular Dystrophy patient continues to overcome her illness through her love of cannabis and patient advocacy.
High Folks: La Kia Gooch is Fighting to Stand Out
La Kia Gooch (right) and her fiancée Danielle Timmons (left)/ Courtesy of La Kia Gooch

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our newest bi-weekly column, High Folks: the cannabis-infused version of Humans of New York, in which we take an intimate look at people’s relationships with our most beloved plant. The connection between humans and cannabis is primal, dynamic, and profound. But it’s something that’s increasingly overlooked in the new age of weed. So in an effort to combat the superficiality of cannabis in the social media-age, High Times is proud to present to you a collection of work that highlights one of life’s most beautiful gifts: connection.

It’s New Year’s Eve at an undisclosed location in the heart of downtown Atlanta, Georgia. La Kia “Illuzions O’Grandeur” Gooch emanates jubilant energy as she rolls around in her wheelchair. She spent the days leading up to Dec. 31 prepping for her second annual New Years Eve gala with her fiancée, Danielle Timmons.

As the hostess of a five-course cannabis-infused dinner, the muscular dystrophy patient and cannabis advocate just finished concocting CBD-infused champagne. A few bites of the first course (an infused spiced butternut squash crab bisque) combined with the medicated bubbly had Gooch on her feet. She was ready to ring in 2019 with some of her closest friends—and me. 

For me, eating a cannabis-infused dinner prepared by a private chef is unfamiliar, yet intriguing. But for La Kia, a self-proclaimed “healthcare snob,” this type of self-care is necessary for her wellbeing. And self-care, she explains, has been central to her wellness since symptoms of her disease came on after a tough day at band camp decades ago.

In the summer of 1989, 13-year-old Gooch was getting ready to start as a freshman at Wilmington High in Wilmington, Delaware, when she began experiencing symptoms of muscular dystrophy. There was little the doctors at Nemours/ Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children could do.

“I lost my whole sophomore year to this illness,” she says. “They sent me to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia because they couldn’t figure it out at AI Children’s in Delaware. So they sent me [to Philadelphia] knowing something was wrong but they didn’t know what… They took an immense amount of time to try and figure it out.”  

By the time Gooch was 28-years-old, she was raising her 10-year-old daughter and working at MBNA America in Newark, Delaware. And like that day at band camp, she began experiencing new symptoms after a day on the job. Gooch had Supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT—a condition characterized by an abnormally fast heartbeat.

“I had been a vegetarian or vegan the majority of my life, so I had no apparent risk factors,” she says. “The doctors ran a lot of tests in the beginning and nothing came up, everything came back negative.’

Eventually after receiving blood tests results that showed her CPK cell count was at 50,000, Gooch’s doctors sent her to the University of Pennsylvania, where she was officially diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.

“If I’m being honest, I was in denial,” says Gooch. “I was flat out in denial when they first told me. It took a while to really wrap my brain around it. It wasn’t until I wound up needing my first wheelchair that I decided that I could no longer ignore this.”  

Getting a cannabis prescription was a chance to, as Gooch says, “carpe-fucking-diem” after years of being sick and in pain.

In January 2012, Gooch moved from Delaware to New Jersey. She explains that, in order for her to live, she had to leave home. So, she went to the Garden State and set up a new healthcare team. But by the time she got there, she was sick as hell.

“Initially, there was no cannabis conversation with my providers,” says Gooch, “and I exhausted all of [the] standard protocol options…My [muscular dystrophy] continued to be out of control because it was not well managed. We could not come up with a good treatment plan that worked and my doctors got frustrated. I spiraled down to the point where I’d been hospitalized long enough that I was admitted to hospice.”  

At this point, Gooch’s doctors staged an intervention with her. The high dosage of opioids being pumped into her body was killing her. Her doctors suggested she get on a medical marijuana treatment plan. She was shocked and wary, but says her healthcare team eventually appealed to her sense of logic.

“I grew up in the ’80s, so the ‘Say No To Drugs’ campaign worked on me,” Gooch jokes.

Dr. Uma V.A. Dhanabalan, a family medicine, occupational, and environmental medicine doctor (and cannabis activist), met Gooch at the 2016 Cannabis Awareness Society expert panel in Brooklyn, New York. Dr. Uma believes cannabis should be the first line of defense in states that have legalized cannabis.

“Cannabis is not an entrance drug, it is an exit drug from pharmaceuticals, narcotics, and alcohol,” says Dr. Uma. Her patient-focused healthcare group, Total Care Healthcare THC, advocates that the use of cannabis isn’t just healthcare—it’s self-care.

Getting a cannabis prescription was a chance to, as Gooch says, “carpe-fucking-diem” after years of being sick and in pain.

“I learned to use cannabis as an apothecary to treat each individual symptom that my [muscular dystrophy] presented,” she says. “When I went back to New Jersey I was better than I had ever been… [But] I had to make my doctors understand that this wasn’t about me getting high. It was about me getting the best treatment. And, clearly, it worked. It was undeniable—they could not deny results. Period.”

Two years ago, Gooch met her fiancé Danielle Timmons on the app Plenty of Fish. Timmon’s sister, Amy Glidewell, died six years ago from Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, a strain of the disease that has a 100 percent mortality rate.

“I was actually scared to help care for La Kia because I lost my sister,” says Timmons. “I wasn’t sure of how [muscular dystrophy] progressed and things like that…So I was a little bit scared at first. But La Kia is an amazing person, so it was kinda hard to resist giving it a shot.”

Timmons keeps La Kia on a strict 24-hour, seven-days-a-week cannabis regimen, which includes salves, tinctures, a dry herb vaporizer, and lots of micro-dosing.

Gooch says she feels blessed to have loved ones constantly surround her in support. Her non-profit, Team Illz, is an organization that does patient and provider advocacy, and volunteering and fundraising for muscular dystrophy awareness.

“La Kia is not only advocating for all patients, but she’s especially advocating for minority patients,” said Erica Pukatsch

The name, Gooch explains, is an homage to multiple things, like her grandmother’s catchphrase, “What ails ya?” As a child, Gooch misinterpreted it thinking her grandmother was saying, “What ills ya?” It’s also an ode to the classic Beastie Boys album License to Ill.

Team Illz is full of cannabis enthusiasts like Andre Livingston, who was curating a 420-Tasting Menu in Delaware when he met Gooch. He is now Gooch’s personal chef. Damon Sanders, who has known Gooch since the second grade, is also a part of the non-profit.

“At first, I was shocked to learn that cannabis was a part of La Kia’s treatment plan, but later, the shock wore off and I really thought about what she’s been dealing with all these years,” Sanders says in a Facebook message. “To me, it makes perfect sense for her to advocate for medical marijuana because I’ve never known my friend to be a conventional thinker—in fact, I’ve always known her to be fully comfortable with challenging the status quo.”

Erica Pukatsch, Regional Manager of Canna Care Docs’ Pennsylvania and Delaware Region, says she’s met many patients dealing with multiple diseases, conditions, and symptoms, but none as unique as Gooch. Pukatsch says having outspoken patients is powerful in cannabis spaces.

“Simply put, every single voice matters,” Pukatsch says. “I believe that La Kia is not only advocating for all patients, but she’s especially advocating for minority patients,” said Pukatsch over email. “These patients are often much more hesitant to seek [medical marijuana] as a means to treat their ailments due to the years of racial disparity when it comes to consequences surrounding the possession and use of cannabis. To me, La Kia represents as a formidable leader for this group as well as all patients.”

Currently, Gooch is working on a weekly live radio show Twice Baked with her fiancé. She’s also working with the Oregon legislature to set up domestic trade to deliver more medical marijuana supplies to patients in states like Delaware. On top of that, she’s the Acting President of the Delaware NORML Women’s Alliance. Gooch also works as a cannabis consultant and life coach for chronic and terminal illness patients who use medical marijuana. She’s doing this all while spreading awareness about muscular dystrophy.

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