Patients Who Take Charge

by Janice Guthrie Times are indeed changing–and all because of you. In our society, the traditional structure of the doctor-patient relationship is being transformed by patients like yourselves who are no longer willing to assume the passive role, but choose instead to be “active patients,” educating themselves about their condition so that they can become partners with their physicians in the management of their healthcare. Herb of Corona del Mar, California, is typical of this new breed of medical consumer who fortify themselves with information, explore all treatment options thoroughly, and then commit themselves 100 percent to the treatments that make the most sense to them. Because of a bone disease in his hips called avascular necrosis, Herb had walked with crutches and lived pain for two and a half years. Discouraged after more than a year of unsuccessful treatment, Herb contacted one of the new health information services now available to provide him with information about his hip condition. Included in his report from the service was an article about a new experimental treatment called hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) that had been successful for a disorder similar to Herb’s. Herb contacted the doctor who wrote the article and asked if this therapy might be beneficial for his condition. The doctor replied that the HBO has not been proven effective for avascular necrosis, but he felt that in Herb’s case it was worth trying. Herb underwent 28 HBO treatments over a period of six weeks. For nine months following the treatments he continued to use crutches, while he gradually increased his weight bearing. He also began swimming a mile three to four times a week, and on the days when he didn’t swim he did 500 sit-ups and 250 push-ups! Today, Herb walks without crutches or a cane and is free of pain. X-rays taken a year after the HBO treatments showed evidence not only of a halt in the deterioration of the hip bones, but also show areas of new healthy bone tissue replacing dead bone tissue. In a letter to the health information service he used, Herb stated, “Without the article you sent me on hyperbaric oxygen treatment, none of my progress would have been possible.” Another patient who took charge of his healthcare is George of Valley Stream, New York. In 1985, diagnostic tests revealed that George’s right carotid artery was completely closed and his left artery was 50-79 percent obstructed. (The carotid arteries are blood vessels that begin at the large artery of the heart and run straight up through the neck.) Surgery was recommended to clean the fatty deposits from the left artery, but surgery was not an option for the artery which was totally obstructed. George was told that he was a prime candidate for a massive stroke. George then sought second, third, and even fourth opinions. He also began reading everything he could about carotid artery disease. He ordered a comprehensive research report on his condition from a health information service. George’s reading left with many concerns about the recommended surgery. He learned that the operation itself caused strokes in 15 percent of the patients, five percent of whom died as a result. There were also growing charges that the surgery was often done unnecessarily. He also learned about a highly controversial alternative treatment for arterial occlusion called chelation therapy. Intravenous chelation therapy is touted as a chemical method of cleaning out arteries and removing plaque. There has been considerable opposition to this therapy from both the American Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration. It is an unproven therapy–time-consuming, and expensive–factors George had to weigh carefully. George decided to pursue the chelation therapy and found a physician experienced in the procedure. This physician stressed the importance of lifestyle changes, changes which George had already decided were necessary. George increased his intake of fiber, decreased his meat consumption, and reduced his fat intake considerably. He exercised daily on a stationary bicycle that also exercised the upper body. After six months of chelation therapy and adherence to his new dietary and exercise regimen, Doppler tests revealed that the obstruction in George’s left carotid artery was now 33 percent, a significant decrease from the original 50-79 percent occlusion. Today George’s gains remain stable. He continues to follow his exercise and nutrition program and to have chelation treatments once a month. The next time you or a member of your family is faced with a medical problem, remember these stories and join the ranks of the “active patient.” You may want to explore treatment options yourself or you may choose to enlist the services of a health information service. These services can provide information on treatments, research, resource organizations, and the leading medical experts connected with your disorder. Most of the services are holistic in orientation–providing information on both conventional medical treatments and alternative or adjunctive treatments such as naturopathic and homeopathic treatments, acupuncture, and mind-body approaches. Janice Guthrie is president of The Health Resource, a medical research service she founded in 1984. She was a researcher and administrator in higher education before a diagnosis of cancer spurred her to develop this business as a service to others with medical problems. She was one of the contractors in the recent U.S. Congressional study of alternative cancer therapies. She can be reached at (800) 949-0090 and thehealthresource.com. Article provided by the American Holistic Health Association.