The ancient aphorism, “Physician, heal thyself” is something Dr. Lilly-Marie Blecher and Dr. Joanna Hooper have brought full circle. After experiencing their own complex and somewhat intractable diseases, both physicians did indeed heal themselves. And now they offer their expertise to the Taos community through a functional medicine clinic.
Functional medicine addresses the whole person, they explain, not just an isolated set of symptoms or diagnosis. It’s a systems approach tomind, body, emotions, spirit, environment and lifestyle influences. Blecher (pronounced BleKKer) is an ND, Naturopathic Doctor, and DOM, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, who worked 13 years at the award-winning public health clinic Outside In in Portland, Oregon. She is also a board member of the fledgling organization Integrative Medicine de Taos founded by the late Dr. Loretta Ortiz y Pino in 2015.
Hooper is an MD, a board-certified family medicine doctor in Taos. She received her medical degree from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and did her residency in Oregon. She has worked on UNM’s Family Medicine faculty and is currently on staff at El Centro Family Health Clinic in Taosthrough Aug. 1, when she will join Blecher full time at their new clinic.
They opened Taos Whole Health Integrative Care clinic April 3 at 1337 Gusdorf Road, Suite O, two doors down from the popular AuraFitness Studio. They expect to get their nonprofit, 501(c)(3) status by next year, which, with successful grant writing, will make access to care available to many more people in the community than a for-profit business can afford to offer.
Both physicians have been working in Taos for many years and after a mutual patient introduced them they began collaborating and “referring patients to each other like crazy,” Hooper said — something they both say is actually unusual in Taos.
“Knowing only what the medical model needs, you really do a person a disservice by forgoing one modality for another,” Hooper said. “We realized we were providing an elevated level of care through collaborating, and by bouncing ideas off each other, we get to look at the same patient through two or three different paradigms,” Blecher said, adding that Hooper is not attached to “typical” over-prescribing of pharmaceuticals.
“There are certain patients Western modalities don’t treat,” Blecher pointed out. “Maybe it’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or tick-borne illness — usually prescribed with long-term antibiotics,” a practice becoming less and less effective and even dangerous the longer patients are on them.
Hooper’s own bout with breast cancer popped up a year after she had a thyroid cyst diagnosed and treated. Unwittingly, she assumed she needed more physical activity and increased her workouts at the gym, “generally creating more oxidative stress than less” as she had originally intended.
“I wanted somebody to look at the whole picture,” she said of her own situation. “I had a sneaking suspicion something was wrong with me and I wanted somebody to help put everything together and give me support.”
She found naturopathic doctors in Durango, Colorado, who helped her with supplementation and emotional support to do just that. “The issue was that things were going on and weren’t being addressed,” Hooper said, going to all the specialists, like the oncologist, and each “was in their own little silo.” She wanted a primary care provider to put it all together.
“Unifying is the primary approach for naturopathic medicine so the organism is able to thrive — it’s like the ‘Yoga of health care,’” Blecher explained, something that finally helped her through her own healing process a decade ago.
“I came into sick body, chronic bronchitis since childhood; a mold exposure; bad IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) from antibiotics, steroids — all the meds. I had an autoimmune disease where canker sores are all over the inside of your mouth. A Chinese medicine doctor gave me a 10-day herbal tea and resolved it.
“I did a naturopathic protocol of food avoidance to heal leaky gut syndrome and maintenance. I couldn’t hardly eat anything for years. Then, I finally did a homeopathic remedy and broke out in a rash all over my body and it all disappeared. The IBS went with it, too. It’s been 12 years since I’ve had any more issues.”
The Institute of Functional Medicine website notes the scientific support for the functional medicine approach to treatment can be found “in a large and rapidly expanding evidence base about the therapeutic effects of nutrition (including both dietary choices and the clinical use of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients such as fish oils); botanicals; exercise (aerobics, strength training, flexibility); stress management; detoxification; acupuncture; manual medicine (massage, manipulation); and mind/body techniques such as meditation, guided imagery and biofeedback.”
“We can choose the whole host of modalities, as many tools as we have access to,” Hooper said, describing the best of both worlds, where the integrative health care they provide combines the specialization of the medical model, plus Oriental medicine and the holism of naturopathic medicine. They intend patients to be engaged in a collaborative relationship, underscoring the individual’s role in self-care and self-knowledge, teaching responsibility for life choices and compliance with suggested changes. Monitoring the patient’s journey to healthful living and providing support and education are equally as important as diagnoses, testing and therapeutics.
The new clinic has six treatment rooms, a lab and a common area for teaching, such as Ayurvedic education. Blecher said the duo is blessed to have people working together to make the space beautiful with lots of plants, new floors and ceilings. They will be treating all age groups, “from womb to tomb” or “cradle to the grave” as many family practitioners are wont to say, and will be accepting insurance by August 2017.
To make an appointment, call (575) 776-7806. For more information, visit taoswholehealth.org.