Gunhild Stordalen, the high-profile Norwegian doctor and environmental activist who fell deathly ill late last year, was back in the public eye this week. Her trademark long blond hair is gone for now, but the newly bald Stordalen remains determined to survive.
She taped an appearance first for state broadcaster NRK’s popular talk show Skavlan, which was due to be aired Friday night. After telling newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) about the sudden onset of her disease last fall, she’s now appearing in other publications and speaking openly about her struggle.
Stordalen, age 36, is married to hotel and real estate investor Petter Stordalen and the couple had the financial resources to seek alternative treatment for her rare disease, systemic sclerosis, that wasn’t offered in Norway. She spent November, December and half of January at a hospital in Utrecht in the Netherlands.
Her treatment included removal of stem cells that were frozen, then a heavy round of chemotherapy that wiped out her immune system, followed by re-injection of her stem cells. She was released from hospital in mid-January and is now undergoing rehabilitation. The danger isn’t over, but the prospects are good.
“It’s almost as if I have to pinch myself in the arm that I’m really sitting here,” she told talk show host Fredrik Skavlan. She said, though, that it will take up to two years before her immune system is restored, “and I don’t know if I’ll have a relapse, but things are going in the right direction. Coming back to some sense of normalcy is almost unreal.”
For Stordalen, accustomed to a jetset lifestye, normalcy involves her work with a variety of social and environmental causes, not least her EAT foundation, which seeks sustainable solutions to global problems facing food and health. That initiative has attracted high-powered backers including royalty and top politicians. She received an award for her EAT efforts from WWF last fall, presented by King Carl Gustaf of Sweden.
She says she doesn’t know what she would have done with the help and support of her husband. “Petter is positive, so he tried to find small glimpses of hope,” she told Skavlan. “He’s good at focusing on the positive, but he quickly realized this was serious, and that there was no treatment available for us in Norway.”
Stordalen said she fully realizes how fortunate she is, all things considered. “There are many who don’t get treatment for systemic sclerosis,” she said. “I’ve been incredibly lucky that I could travel abroad and get it.”