My son’s acupuncture treatments began when he was just 9 months old. Mary insisted on making home visits in order to treat him in a familiar setting where he would be more at ease. Russell was enchanted with Mary, fascinated by her long dangly earrings and the wooden meditation beads wound around her wrist. Drawn in by her gentle spirit, he would crawl onto her lap to get a closer look. She always insisted on sitting on the floor of the rustic milk barn where we lived in order to be accessible to a crawling baby. This also placed her within reach of our pack of curious cats and dogs who would maul her in a good-natured sort of way before plunking down beside “their” baby to keep watch.
I shared with Mary that my son had been born with a birth defect (spina bifida) and subsequently diagnosed with an inherited fatal disease (cystic fibrosis). She listened patiently and then explained that Traditional Chinese Medicine doesn’t recognize or diagnose disease in the same way as conventional medicine in the West. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, a blockage to the flow of chi (or universal energy) or an imbalance of the five elements (water, wood, fire, earth, and metal) result in the compromised function of organs or a diseased state. This malfunction or diseased state can then be corrected by stimulating acupuncture points, a treatment that rekindles the flow of chi and rebalances the five elements. The body is then in a position to heal itself.
Our bodies heal themselves every day. A cut closes, scabs over, and then disappears. A headache goes away, a bladder infection resolves, a broken bone sews itself back together. Doctors may intervene, medication may be ingested, and surgery may be required—but the essential correction is made by the body itself. Given the correct circumstances and stimulation and support, the body heals itself. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the same belief, it just offers a different kind of stimulation.
From the start, Mary was very tender and relaxed with Russell. She would gently lay him down on the floor and roll him onto his stomach to treat his back, or tenderly cradle his foot in her hand while she quickly inserted and then removed an acupuncture needle—talking quietly to him the whole time. Russell’s older brother, Gus, just five years old at the time, watched these treatments with wide-eyed fascination.
Unlike babies or small children receiving shots at the doctor, Russell never once cried or recoiled from Mary, and no one had to hold him down. One time she treated a point located on the top of his foot and he immediately convulsed into giggles. There was no other explanation for his spontaneous joy than a lovely sensation of energy rippling through his body. Mary and I dubbed the point—where he was treated any number of times thereafter and always with the same effect—his “giggle point.”
Mary most often treated Russell’s water element, but also his wood, earth, and metal elements. (She observed that he already manifested plenty of fire, so this element rarely required stimulation.) By treating and rebalancing his water element, Mary was working to strengthen his spine. This was a critical goal given Russell’s spinal cord defect and corrective surgery. Treating his water would also keep his electrolytes in balance (a big problem with CF) and generally balance all of his bodily fluids. There is also a taste associated with each of the elements according to Chinese medicine. The water element is associated with salt. Due to excessive sweating associated with CF, salt intake is a major issue in the context of cystic fibrosis. Both our CF specialist and our acupuncturist encouraged Russell to eat salty foods. The doctor’s aim was to replenish the sodium chloride that was lost through excessive sweating, while Mary’s aim was to strengthen Russell’s water element, bones, and overall vigor, and ultimately help him to get the most out of his inherited vitality and constitution. Interestingly, being by the sea—a setting that combined water and salt—rejuvenated him like no other place.
The wood element is considered one of the most important pediatric elements because it promotes growth during the enormously critical period of childhood and also serves to bolster the immune system. The CF doctor had told us that good growth was a significant factor in a child’s long-term prognosis. By treating Russell’s wood element, Mary strove to promote growth and to also protect him from the daily onslaught of bacteria and viruses that threatened to develop into serious infections in his lungs.
The earth element, also considered a vitally important pediatric element, is associated with digestion and assimilation functions. It is especially important to treat when children have a condition that can lead to “wasting,” something that can happen with CF. Russell’s lack of weight gain and growth was due to insufficient enzymes and poor metabolism of nutrients. By treating and rebalancing Russell’s earth element, Mary was working to increase his appetite and strengthen his capacity to metabolize food and assimilate essential nutrients. Russell’s “giggle point” on his foot, which she treated often, stimulated this earth element.
Finally, the metal element is involved with the taking in and letting go of energy at all levels. It is associated with the important elimination functions of the colon and the lungs, both pertinent in Russell’s case. By treating his metal element, Mary was working to strengthen the capacity of his colon to absorb nutrients and to eliminate waste. These treatments also helped to strengthen the capacity of his lungs to inhale and exhale, so that he was able to take in greater quantities of oxygen and empty his lungs more fully. This element also helped him to clear his lungs of the lethal mucus typical of CF. Another function of the metal element is to create a protective layer of energy on the skin, called wei ch’i, which helps to generally protect against an invasion of germs.
How Acupuncture Helped to Renew My Son’s Health
When he was first diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, Russell was a very sick little baby. In addition to manifesting all of the classic CF symptoms, he was also diagnosed with failure to thrive and insufficient growth. The CF mutation had created mucous plugs that blocked my son’s pancreatic duct, preventing pancreatic digestive enzymes from getting through to his small intestine. He nursed around the clock, but the breast milk he ingested went right through him, leaving him constantly ravenous. By the time he was diagnosed, he had essentially stopped growing due to malnutrition. After he was diagnosed, the doctor started him on enzyme supplements, which I gave him disguised in a spoonful of mushy baby food before each nursing. These enzyme supplements immediately reduced his steatorrhea (severe diarrhea), and he started to gain weight.
About nine months after Russell started acupuncture treatments, I began to notice a distinct pattern. He was just over a year and a half by that time. He had endured a second long winter fraught with chronic ear infections and almost continuous antibiotics. His acupuncture treatments, usually geared toward rebalancing his water or wood elements, finally began to have a noticeable and positive effect. Each time he was treated, his appetite and energy level increased that same day. By the following day, the mucus in his nose had lessened, his coughing had decreased, and smiles, giggles, and his true happy nature would all reemerge. This rebound, little by little, would then slowly dissipate such that, as the three-week intervals between acupuncture treatments came to a close, his nose would be runny again, he would be coughing again, and his energy level, mood, and appetite would all be low.
Thus, by the time Mary came back to our home to treat Russell again, he was generally run-down and cranky again. Somehow his sickly state never discouraged her. Even though she didn’t witness the improvements that I observed between treatments, she would listen carefully to my reports of Russell’s temporary rebound and ask me for as much detail about the steady subsequent decline as I could remember. (This is a perfect example of how a parent’s observations are valued by alternative healing practitioners.) The acupuncture treatment he then received at the appointment would turn the decline around completely in a matter of minutes, transforming Russell back into a happy, energized, and hungry baby.
At first, I dismissed the improvements that I observed with each treatment as wishful thinking. How could a tiny little needle inserted into one tiny little spot make a baby feel so much better? How could treating a point on his foot clear up the mucus in his nose or strengthen his appetite or improve his mood? It wasn’t logical! Yet I witnessed this dramatic transformation over and over again with each successive treatment. Eventually, when the positive turnaround started to last longer and longer between appointments, the apparent lack of logic no longer mattered.
Once four full seasons of acupuncture had passed, Russell’s uplift spanned the full three weeks between treatments. At that point, the aim of his treatments was no longer to improve his condition, but instead to sustain the good results. I still didn’t understand how acupuncture worked, but I couldn’t deny that it was working. Everyone noticed the improvement in Russell’s energy and mood and appearance—even the doctors. There was no way to explain away his rejuvenation as the power of suggestion, particularly since he was a baby and pre-verbal. And even if my positive attitude towards Mary and acupuncture caused a temporary lift in his mood, this couldn’t possibly be the cause for his physical improvements over time.
The Amazing Outcome
When Russell was diagnosed, he was a very sick little baby. I was cautioned that he would continue to be sick and that his symptoms would only get worse. I was told that he would soon develop chronic lung infections that would cause irreversible lung damage and, eventually, premature death. In his case, however, none of this happened. Not only did his symptoms not grow worse as predicted, he got better—much better! By all accounts, by age five, Russell was in excellent health. (A photo of my son horsing around on a jungle gym with a wide grin on this face reveals his renewed vitality and good health.) Though acupuncture was not being credited by the skeptical members of our family or the doctors, everyone felt compelled to applaud the steady improvement in my son’s health. The doctors were puzzled by his astonishing rebound; I was certain it was the acupuncture.
Now two decades later, my handsome son stands six feet tall, weighs in at 175 pounds, and continues to be in extremely good health. After graduating from college in 2014, he went on a month-long solo trek through Uruguay and Argentina. This summer, he and his best friend from college took a 3-week road trip across the U.S. He texted me from Mount Rushmore, San Francisco, Austin, Nashville—ecstatic about the beauty and breadth of our country. He has a few short weeks to relax and pack before leaving for California (by plane this time), where he’ll teach at an after-school program just outside Santa Cruz as part of the AmeriCorps Program.
Russell’s CF doctors at Hopkins currently rank him in the top 5th percentile of patients his age with CF. Many young adult CF patients have undergone multiple organ transplants by age 20. The doctors are thrilled that Russell is in such good health, and there is no longer any talk about the years of suffering ahead or a compromised life expectancy. The doctors remain surprisingly lacking in curiosity, however, as to why he’s so healthy, and they show zero interest when I try to talk to them about alternative healing. Too bad. I am certain that acupuncture has helped my son to defy the odds.
In August 2014, I attended a presentation about ongoing research being conducted in South Korea on Acupuncture meridians. A visiting scientist shared videos that his team had made of the interior of live animals in which blue dye that had been successfully injected into meridians. The dye distinctly differentiated the meridians from neighboring blood and lymph vessels. I am optimistic that these documented findings, which are being widely distributed, will be the proof that western doctors claim to need to convince them that Acupuncture is truly a physical science.
Acupuncture is not the only form of alternative healing that has renewed my son’s health. UP NEXT: Homeopathy
[Dr. Beane’s writings about Alternative Healing are excerpted from her memoir, Embracing The Dragon: A Parent’s Journey To Reclaim Hope, which describes the enormously positive impact that alternative healing treatments have had on her son.]Alternative Medicine