• Where to go for treatment
By Naomi Klouda
Feeling sluggish and don’t know why? Want to feel better, more energetic, get blood pressure or stress under control?
The Seldovia Village Tribe Wellness Center, now open to appointments with a doctor of “functional medicine,” and a naturopathic doctor, hope to fill a gap in Homer. Dr. Robert Downy and Dr. Abby Laing have an approach to treating an array of illnesses and preventive medicine that is described as an “East meets West” philosophy of wholeness.
Each appointment in the new wellness center is designed to be soothing, healing and welcoming in specially designed rooms, said SVT Health Center Director Becky Noble.
“We wanted this to be a welcoming atmosphere for a whole wrap-around of services,” She said. “Outside, we’ll have a healing garden that will also be a teaching garden, with native herbs.”
Inside, exam rooms don’t have a clinical feel so much as a cozy one. Carpets from Blackberry Bog, round tables with chairs for consultations and a therapeutic exam table that is more a therapeutic bed. SVT Executive Director Crystal Collier had in mind that a healing atmosphere would be important in the design of the new center, Noble said. Lighting, art, water fountains, massage rooms, music and even a sauna are part of that milieu.
“A lot has been written about healing atmospheres that some places you go to just make you feel good to be there,” Downy said.
Downey is new to Homer, having recently joined SVT Health and Wellness as medical director. He practiced 10 years in Montana and spent two years in Kotzebue as an attending physician at a Native health center there. He specializes in integrative and natural medicine, and is a board certified family physician.
A native of Homer, Laing is a graduate of the National College of Natural Medicine. She practices naturopathic medicine focusing on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatment.
“Most medical problems have a natural or elemental avenue you can apply or a conventional western medicine angle. It will vary according to the problem how much of one or the other will matter,” Downy said. There’s no doubt that symptoms will need a diagnosis for starters, with lab work and examinations. But how the Wellness Center goes about that is different from what patients traditionally see, starting with a full hour of consultation with each patient.
“We will match the patient with an approach. The approach of functional medicine gives us a bigger tool box,” Downy said. At times, the illness will require a pill or surgery. Other times, such as in cases of controlling stress, the prescription might be long beach walks, meditation and yoga.
For his own part, Downy entered the specialty field of “functional” medicine in order to understand how to reach behind what causes illness.
Today’s society is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of people who suffer from complex, chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental illness, and auto immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. Physicians usually apply specific, prescribed treatments such as drugs or surgery that aim to treat the immediate problem or symptom. But the acute-care approach lacks methodology and tools for preventing and treating complex, chronic disease. In most cases it does not take into account the unique genetic makeup of each individual or factors such as environmental exposures to toxins and the aspects of today’s lifestyle that have a direct influence on the rise in chronic disease in modern Western society.
“We look at diet, exercise, yoga, herbs and training, but also have science to back the approach to functional medicine,” Downy said. “Functional medicine argues you should recognize clinical imbalances in inflammation or how the immune system functions. A number of patients get to a point where they are exhausted, and the usual diagnoses to find the problem show no underlying problem that can be treated.”
At that point, it’s time to look at nutrition, sleeping habits, exercise and other lifestyle activities to find the area of imbalance.
“Sometimes people are just stressed out. I’ve written many prescriptions through the years for going fishing,” Downy said. “People need to laugh more. Laughter is healing.”
Downy and Laing prescribe herbs, massage, even acupuncture at times.
Laing said when she meets a new patient, she interviews them and examines lifestyle aspects like diet.
“I want to get an in-depth picture of what the person is exposed to, and I get lab reports,” Laing said. “I want to remove anything that is offensive to the person, by doing lifestyle modifications and treating them with botanicals and pharmaceuticals.”
They see children and teens as well as all age groups. Today’s children particularly have a challenge to their diets as they eat what’s quick rather than what’s good for them. Obesity is seen in the population more than ever before.
“I like to look at what is setting (young people) up for success or failure. If they eat a sugary cereal in the morning, they are not being set up for success. They’ll have a crash one or two hours later, and of course, they’re going to have an attention issue at school. The teacher will start seeing them shaking their legs, fidgeting,” Laing said.
There’s also a need to offer more services to people healing from cancer and chemotherapy. “There are foods that will feed cancer and there are foods that will repress the production of the cancer cells,” Laing said. “The big piece that’s missing in cancer care is how to prevent the re-occurrence. But the science is there now to show how.”
The Wellness Center offers free or low-cost seminars each Thursday at 7 p.m., open to the public that get into the mind-body-spirit connections for “happier living.”
Downy gives a TLC: Therapeutic Lifestyle Change and Functional Medicine workshop Thursday. Jenifer Dickson, a certified healing foods specialist, will talk about gluten-free living on Sept. 6. Chaplin Judith Lethin will hold a wellness talking circle on Oct. 4. All of these classes take place in the new conference room at the wellness center.
“These services are usually thought to be available or accessible only to the wealthy, but we want to treat everyone,” Downy said. “We take Medicaid and Medicare. Good health should be available to all.”
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