At 19, many would think they’re at the prime of their lives. They’re young. No major responsibilities yet. And a whole life laid out in front.

Now, imagine all that changed after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.

That’s exactly what happened to former national level speed skater, Crystal Phillips.

Within three days, Phillips lost feeling from her chest to her toes, lost bladder control, had double vision and was told she would never speed skate again.

Branch Out is a local neurological research foundation started by former national-level speedskater Crystal Phillips. Audio profile by Courtney Ingram

Phillips, still a teenager with her entire life planned out, was determined to get back to skating and continue her race to the 2010 Olympics.

She began drug therapy which included a daily injection. She would start feeling better and then would relapse over the course of five years.

Phillips became a nutritionist and noticed once her diet had changed, her relapses were fewer and further apart.

Optimistic and closing in on the finish line, Phillips qualified for the 2010 Olympics.

But again, she was met with another setback. That summer, she lost vision in her left eye again and was told by her doctor that she would likely be in a wheelchair within the next two years.

As her doctor went into detail about the new recommended drug treatment, Phillips made a life-changing decision.

“My eyes sort of glazed over and I made the decision that this just wasn’t for me,” Phillips says. “I’m going to go off my drugs. I’m going to treat this thing naturally.”

Phillips dumped the drugs and eight months later she made it six spots off the 2010 Canadian Olympic team.

Today, more than seven years later, Phillips is 100 per cent drug and relapse free, but through her journey, she discovered there were gaps in the medical system that deserved attention.

Phillips started up the Branch Out Neurological Foundation in 2010 and became a catalyst for non-pharmaceutical research and therapies.

Some of the alternative methods that Branch Out has funded research for are the Ketogenic diet — which has been known to stop epileptic seizures — and biofeedback therapies, which involves using music and a walking app to stop the freezing symptom in Parkinson’s patients, according to research conducted on the therapy.

 Photo-2-webThe Branchy Brew will be featured on Last Best’s menu until 2020. Photo by Courtney Ingram

Phillips reached out to the Last Best in Calgary to fundraise for an annual summit hosting neurological researchers from around the world in 2018 and a research center by 2020.

Phil Brian, a brew master and longtime friend of Phillips from Last Best, modified her favorite brew into the ‘Branchy Brew’ to help fundraise and bring attention to the cause.

“This is a new and developing area of research that’s got some serious legs, it’s the kind of stuff that a lot of people wouldn’t have taken seriously five years ago,” Brian says. “And yet, evidence is showing that there are alternative ways to treating these disorders and Branch Out is at the forefront of that.”

Martin Donison, videographer and volunteer for Branch Out, thinks it’s the best approach.

“The human body is an amazing machine, it was designed by nature to take care of itself,” Donison says.

According to, Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world. Phillips also says Alzheimer’s is dramatically on the rise.

“That not only means more people are suffering but we’re not going to be able to afford it in a public healthcare system if we don’t start preventing it now,” she says.

The Branchy Brew will be on tap at Last Best until 2020 and $1 from every sale will go to Branch Out.

The editor responsible for this piece is Brett Luft, and can be reached at

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