My husband Thom and I just returned for a month long stay just south of Rosarito Mexico on the Baja coast. Our rental condo offered us lovely cool temperatures without the need for air conditioning, outstanding views, great food and wine, a regular routine of beach walks, and something completely unexpected—lots of conversation about local alternative health therapies. After hearing a couple of amazing stories about people who experienced dramatic healings, we discovered what many who live or visit south of the border already know, medicine in other countries has advantages. What caught my interest most of all was the fact that even though people are flying in from around the world to take advantage of certain cutting-edge techniques, the vast majority of Americans will never even get a second opinion when faced with a medical crisis. What makes a few willing to make the trip while most of us stay home?
About five years ago a very good friend of ours named Richard began experiencing major back pain. Years went by with Richard trying just about everything he could to overcome his declining health. He explored solutions from steroids and cortisol shots from an M.D., to chiropractic adjustments, reflexology, massage and acupuncture. Still his pain continued to get worse until he could not walk without a cane and stooped over like a man much older than his 65 years. Eventually it was decided that he needed surgery in order to have chance for a normal life. But by that time his health had so deteriorated that the doctors were worried that he wouldn’t survive the surgery.
That’s when Richard heard about experimental stem-cell treatment being done in Ensenada, Mexico. Just a short hour drive from Rosarito is the Ensenada Health and Wellness Center. While stem cell therapy is illegal in the United States, no such restriction exists in Mexico. Richard visited the Center and after talking with the founder, Michael Hino, Ph.D. about the potential of stem cells, he began treatment. Almost immediately his body responded positively and he was able to walk again. Within six months he returned to his HMO doctor in the States to be evaluated for the surgery that was originally recommended. The doctors were amazed at his overall recovery although they did not want to talk about stem cells. The surgery was successful and six years later, Richard is walking and living happily in Rosarito full time.
While the stem cells did not completely heal all the problems with Richard’s back, they did repair four out of five of his issues including rejuvenating and rebuilding the pads of his vertebra giving him his height back. To complete his healing he required traditional back surgery. But most importantly, because his health had been restored with stem cells, he was not only able to bounce back from extremely poor health, but he was able to heal well after his surgery.
Now Richard is a big cheerleader for stem cell therapy and speaks highly of Dr. Hino and his clinic. He has also recommended the treatment to others suffering from a variety of illnesses including Parkinson’s disease, cancer, arthritis and heart disease. Richard is convinced without a doubt that he is alive and healthy today because of the treatment he received that would have been impossible in the United States.
Another success story comes from a woman named Sandy that we met during our visit. Sandy originally heard about alternative treatments in Mexico after receiving a diagnosis for a brain tumor. When doctors in her home town in Utah started dosing her with a pill form of chemotherapy, after she specifically requested no chemo, Sandy took her health into her own hands and went to Mexico. She originally attended a health clinic in Tijuana that offered mainly dietary treatments for her condition. Later she underwent a treatment at Sanoviv Medical Institute just south of Rosarito.
Sandy is now tumor free and feels she owes her life to the treatment she experienced at Sanoviv. Rather than submitting to an invasive and damaging chemotherapy for her condition, Sandy feels that the integrated approach offered by Sanoviv is a better alternative. With a huge staff of a wide variety of health practitioners including traditional M.D’s, Sanoviv prides itself for treating each patient as an individual and basing treatments to fit the person. Sandy is also a cheerleader for the Institute and recommends it to everyone who needs healing.
So what’s the problem? Unfortunately the American Medical Association and most doctors in the U.S. consider such treatment to be irresponsible and downright dangerous. And sometimes they might be right. Snake Oil Salesmen are a part of American history and anyone who claims outrageous cures are easy to suspect. (Anyone heard of what Dr. Oz recently admitted to a U.S. Senate Panel?) Obviously not everyone who claims to be able to heal us is honest or correct. But how do we know the difference?
The American Medical Association states that unless an appropriate number of medical studies and trials have been done proving a treatment works, it is not valid and never recommended. Traditional doctors are also concerned that people will ignore their advice or delay treatment in search of alternatives and reduce their chances of remission or cure. In addition, they worry that alternative medicine could “interfere” with any treatment they recommend. While traditional doctors are now willing to admit that “certain” alternative methods might be helpful regarding pain management and quality of life issues, those recommended choices only include massage, acupuncture, meditation and yoga.
So because there are no traditional doctors being educated in medical schools in alternative therapies, and certainly no studies or trials being done by drug companies, any treatment that doesn’t fit mainstream gets bad press. And who would pay for such studies? Of course, as Upton Sinclair says, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
So, why would any of us try alternative medicine if regular doctors caution against it? I have had two major health issues in my life, one requiring surgery for a broken shoulder after a motorcycle accident, and another after a golf-ball sized gallstone was plugging up my gall bladder. I gratefully went to a surgeon when I needed to and got the good quality care I expected. I wasn’t interested in something alternative and didn’t even look.
But unfortunately, not every visit to the doctor is as clear-cut and easy to resolve. And let’s face it, some of us have what oncologist James C. Salwitz says is a “deep mistrust in the objectivity of the ‘physician-medical school-pharmaceutical-government complex.’” But even more than that, research done by JAMA in 1998 claims, “…the majority of alternative medicine users appear to be doing so not so much as a result of being dissatisfied with conventional medicine but largely because they find these health care alternatives to be more congruent with their own values, beliefs, and philosophical orientations toward health and life.”
Let me be very clear—I’m not trying to convince anyone to stick with traditional medicine OR to try something alternative. What fascinates me is how people are able to choose—especially when faced with a life and death decision like cancer or another debilitating disease. In Richard’s case he didn’t have much to lose by the time he went to see Dr. Hino. But Sandy?
Interestingly enough, Sandy mentioned that her mother-in-law had been diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer just a couple of years ago. Sandy and her husband went to the hospital to support the mother and father and offer help when it came to making treatment decisions. The doctor recommended aggressive chemotherapy to begin immediately. Unfortunately, when Sandy and her husband suggested an alternate approach or at least a second opinion, the mother, father AND doctor became extremely defensive. The next day, the mother told Sandy that she didn’t want to do anything to upset her father, and would do just as her doctor told her. Six weeks later the mother was dead.
So what is it that makes a person choose? I’m not saying it’s easy—I just can’t help but wonder what it takes for a person to say yes to one and no to another. What it reminded me of was when I attempted to have an end-of-life talk with my parents before they passed away. I wanted to know what they wanted and how it should be handled if they were ever unable to decide themselves. Instead, they just pooh-poohed me away and refused to talk about it.
I think that’s what happens in most cases with severe illness or disease in our culture. We don’t want to talk about it. We want to go to a doctor who will handle everything for us and give us a pill, or sign us up for some treatment and that’s it. We don’t want to think about it. Unfortunately that isn’t always what’s best. Plus, like Sandy’s mother-in-law, we don’t want to disturb those around us so we just go with whatever program is laid out in front of us. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
I’m not sure what I would do if I were faced with cancer or some other disease, but I do know that there are alternatives. And now, so do you. Second opinions are critical. People you can trust to help you make choices are essential. Giving ourselves a little time and space to research and process is also very important. Think people, think.
We do have choices all around us. Some are across the border and involve a little travel, and some are as close as a change of heart and mind. SMART Living is all about staying awake, aware and conscious about the choices and decisions we face—especially when it concerns something like our own health. Ultimately, the best healings come when we arrive at a place of peace about our choices and know we did what we could with what we have.