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October 1, 2010

Alternative Therapies for the Disabled. ~ Kristin Beale

A Story of Courage and Integration.

When she was 9, Chanda Hintonʼs life dramatically changed.

While her 14-year-old relative babysat her, his friend picked up a gun. The gun discharged, hitting Hinton in the back of her neck. The blow injured her spinal cord in the C5-C6 vertebrae.

Because her accident happened at such a young age, Hinton feels she had an easier transition from the lifestyle of an able-bodied person to that of one paralyzed from the neck down. Hintonʼs physician prescribed her an array of narcotics.

When Hinton reached 21, her disability began taking a serious toll on her health. Her weight dropped to 59 pounds, she had chronic pain and a drastically reduced immune system. The combination of these factors led Hinton to undergo lengthy stays in the hospital and recurring visits to the doctor.

“When I was 21, I started having a lot of chronic pain in my abdomen, lower back and chest,” Hinton says. “My physician was treating all of my spinal cord injury related conditions with only medications. He treated the symptoms, not the causes.” Hintonʼs physician prescribed her narcotics to treat the pain. Instead of the intended results, the medications caused Hinton to lose a dramatic amount of weight, become bed-bound, be fed via tube, and eventually be hospitalized.

“Thatʼs when I decided I had to find another outlet to give love to my body, which was being ignored,” Hinton says.

Search for Integration

Hinton and her family talked with a doctor and lifelong friend about their concerns. Chanda’s sister Crystal suggested she try integrative therapies. This was the beginning of Hintonʼs journey into and exploration of four primary therapies: physical, massage, adaptive yoga, and acupuncture.

Each of the therapies, she says, gives her something different.

“While acupuncture assists with my digestion, massage therapy increases my blood circulation, preventing pressure sores,” says Hinton. “Physical therapy keeps increasing my strength and mobility, and yoga deepens my mind-body connection.”

Hinton saw a dramatic and almost immediate result from the new approach she was taking to her healing. Among other things, her pain decreased, her digestive system regained health, and she had improved muscle mass.

“The therapies caused a dramatic increase in my quality of life,” Hinton says.

Along with reducing and in some cases eliminating the necessity for medication, the integrative therapies strengthened Hintonʼs mobility and athleticism.

“Now, I kayak and handcycle,” she said. “I have clarity in my mentality and hope now.”

In an effort to educate other people with spinal cord injuries about the advantages of integrative therapies, The Chanda Plan Foundation was born.

Quest for Funding

The Chanda Plan Foundation is a program established in 2006 that attempts to compensate for lack of funding toward integrative therapies by providing eligible individuals financial support. Lasting three years, a pilot program will be available for people with spinal cord injuries in the Colorado area. The goal of the pilot program is to improve the quality of life by reducing the need for continuous and ongoing care through expensive procedures. By expanding choices of care to preventative health services (i.e. acupuncture, massage therapy and chiropractic care), the State of Colorado can measure overall cost savings for the state compared to on-going expenditures (i.e. pain medications, hospitalizations, etc.) that would have been spent for the same population absent the pilot program.

“There is a need for other people to be educated about integrative therapies,” Hinton says. “The Chanda Plan foundation educates as well. Lack of funding, I think, is the reason most physicians turn to medication first.”

Along with educating people and providing funding for people with spinal cord injuries, there are a collection of other goals the program aims to achieve. Decreasing pain and depression for people with spinal cord injuries is at the top of the list, a likely outcome of successful integrative therapies. Another mission is to increase employment among people with spinal cord injuries. This will be yet another eventuality of successful therapies.

“We intend to work alongside Medicaid to help people get coverage on alternative therapies,” Hinton said. “Then it will be on the ‘main menu’ of services that insurance covers.”

While Hinton receives treatment from each modality once a week, she suggests receiving therapy at a minimum of every other week. Because therapies can become expensive, Hinton prefers to stagger the frequency of therapies, introducing the body to a variety of stimulation and incitement.

“For example, a person can do acupuncture every other week and massage therapy on the weeks they donʼt have acupuncture,” Hinton says.

More to come

Along with the therapies mentioned above, The Chanda Plan Foundation offers adaptive yoga and craniosacral therapy. The organization received a grant from The ASMBA Star Foundation to do a 9 month adaptive yoga course (starting in January 2011) for 20 veterans with spinal cord injuries (i.e. paraplegics or quadriplegics). The focus of the program is to provide veterans living in the Denver metro area free access to this annual program, which teaches principals of movement after paralysis. The program is modeled after Matthew Sanford’s Vet Programs in Minneapolis and will improve a mind-body connection.

Since the Chanda Plan Foundation  started five years ago, Hinton says, participants have shown amazing progress. “I love the hope that integrative therapies bring,” she says. “I believe so strongly in them because they saved my life.”

Funding for The Chanda Plan Foundation comes from donations, fundraisers and grants.

For more information or to donate, please visit The Chanda Plan Foundation website.

Kristin Beale is a freelance author from Richmond, Virginia.  You may find more of her work in the United Spinal Association’s Action Magazine.

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