By peoplestaff225
Updated April 03, 2009 09:00 AM

Far before giving birth to her first child and becoming an advocate for autism, the name Jenny McCarthy conjured a completely different image in the mind. Shortly after Jenny welcomed her son Evan Joseph in 2002, the new mom “dialed back the whole sex kitten thing,” and eventually found herself a part of “the girls team,” as she was cheered on by a new audience: fellow parents. “When I went public about his autism, I gained credibility as a passionate mom,” she tells the April issue of Shape magazine.

That same passion, says Jenny, was the motivation behind her ultimate decision to forego her usual “good girl and rules follower” tendencies and dig deeper for answers to her son’s illness. “When the doctor said there was no hope, I decided to listen to myself, rather than an authority figure, for once,” she shares. Certain that with her help Evan “would be able to fight this thing,” Jenny recalls her breaking point after witnessing her baby boy suffer a seizure and quickly slip into cardiac arrest.

For Jenny, the possibility of losing her son as a result of his attacks as a baby is all too real. “The only difference between Evan and Jett Travolta (whose family hasn’t responded to claims that he had autism) is that we were able to revive Evan,” she says.

While her devotion to the cause has stirred the pot more than once in the media, Jenny’s message to the naysayers is simple: she will not be defeated! “I just want to continue to tell my story and to teach parents,” she explains.

In her quest to cure her son from autism, Jenny has been open about the drastic changes — eliminating gluten and dairy — she has made to Evan’s diet, all in an effort to improve his symptoms. In addition to the strict regimen working wonders for her little boy, Jenny — who since follows the same diet plan — shares that she has watched her extra pregnancy pounds melt off! After gaining far more weight than she had imagined during the nine-month stretch, the combination of Weight Watchers matched with her new approach to eating healthy left the former model thrilled. “I thought I might be 170 when I left the hospital [after giving birth], but no, I was 200!” she reveals.

Evan is Jenny’s son with her ex-husband John Asher.

Source: Shape; April issue

— Anya