Acupuncture Blog

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Find the original article on Elizabeth's Medium page 

A follow up on my Open Letter to the creators of POSE

Last year the Coronavirus pandemic kept me and other “non-essential” workers at home. I kept myself busy. I watched POSE seasons One and Two on Netflix. I read The Great Believers by Rebeca Makkai, a novel centered in 1980s Chicago at the height of the AIDS epidemic. I talked on the phone with other acupuncturists on unemployment.

After binge-watching POSE, I wrote an open letter to the show’s creators. I wanted one scene that includes acupuncture. A big ask, I know. I did get my article to a college classmate who worked as an editor on POSE. She had no idea that acupuncture was widely used in the 80s and 90s to support people living with AIDS and to manage side effects of medications. Since then I have connected more acupuncturists who shared their stories with me.

In 1987 four Chicago acupuncturists and one nurse emptied whatever was in their pockets. With $240 they started the AIDS Alternative Health Project (AAHP). “Everything we were doing was absolutely illegal, says AAHP co-founder, Mary Kay Ryan. As an acupuncture student, she watched her teacher, Jake Fratkin, get arrested. “An acupuncturist couldn’t even rent an office…Once we started these free AIDS clinics, the idea that anyone would raid an AIDS clinic was off the table. It politically would have been fucking suicide to do that.”

 

photo by Jennifer Griffin

Ryan and her AAHP colleagues came of age in the 60s. Ryan said goal was to challenge a healthcare system that costs money and to raise standards of care. They were influenced by the Black Panther Party, and other Revolutionary groups, who started free medical clinics.

“We made the hospitals look like complete shit.” Ryan recalls working with a patient who had sores all over his body. “It was because he was in the hospital for twelve weeks and no one bathed him because no one wanted to touch him.” Patients got better care from acupuncturists running free clinics. That made them demand better care from their doctors. “The patients kept saying [to their doctors] these people aren’t even making any money. They’re starving and they’re nice [to us]. And you guys make boatloads of money and you treat us like shit.”

AAHP co-founder John Pirog was mentored by Dr. Mike Smith director of The Lincoln Detox in the South Bronx. Lincoln was the first acupuncture based outpatient chemical dependency program in the country. Pirog also volunteered at St. Basil’s, a free clinic on Chicago’s Southside. St. Basil’s was founded by Austrian physician Dr. Eric Kast. Kast was a Marxist born to Jewish parents who converted to Christianity. He collaborated with Black Panther leader Freddie Hampton on establishing free medical clinics.

 

Photo by Sawyer Bengtson

 

AAHP moved around to a few different locations. They started in a church basement. They moved into a tiny cold office because it was free. The best arrangement was using the same offices as their private practices. “We were very busy when we first started. We had a six month waiting list.” Unfortunately this meant that people died while on the AAHP waitlist.

In 1990 Ryan split with AAHP over philosophical differences. She and co-founder Arthur Shattuck started a new clinic. They opened the Northside HIV Treatment Center (NHTC) in a fourth floor office of an old bank building. In 1994 they wrote the book Treating AIDS with Chinese Medicine.

Many doctors were skeptical of acupuncture. But some doctors were supportive. They snuck her into the Masonic Hospitals after hours to treat patients on their death beds. A few doctors also snuck her and Shattuck into meetings with other doctors. “There must have been 20 doctors there who were completely cynical. One doctor sneered at Arthur and asked “What do you mean by increasing energy?” Shattuck described a particular patient’s response to acupuncture treatment. “We mean that a patient who had been in bed for 12 weeks was unable to get up and go to the bathroom without help. Then he had acupuncture, and then he could get up and go back to work. That is what we mean by increasing energy.” The rest of the doctors laughed at their dismissive colleague.

AAHP and MHTC worked because of direct patient involvement. Patients painted and renovated treatment rooms. They ran the front desk and did the laundry. Fundraising was always a challenge. They got by on some grants and donations. It was hard to get funding for acupuncture, which was illegal to practice until 1999. The NIH and the City of Chicago encouraged Ryan and her colleagues to apply for funding only to turn them down.

Ryan moved on from NHTC shortly after publishing her book. She was raising small children and treating patients in her private practice. In the late 1990s she moved overseas and taught acupuncture at a college in Ireland. The work that she started in 1987 with her colleagues carried into the early 2000s. AAHP changed it’s name to Alternative Health Partners (AHP). They continued to provide acupuncture and massage therapy until 2001. AHP and NTHC even ended up renting offices in the same building in the late 90s.

Today, Community Acupuncturists offer treatment in group settings like AAHP and NHTC. Some practitioners started out at AAHP and NHTC as volunteers. Tatyana Ryevzina practiced shiatsu in Chicago and volunteered at AHP. Later, she moved to the Bay Area to study acupuncture. She co-founded Sarana Community Acupuncture in Albany, California. Robert Hayden volunteered at NHTC as a student at Midwest College of Acupuncture. Now Hayden runs Presence Community Acupuncture in Hollywood, Florida. Hayden had some poignant experiences at NHTC, “One night I treated one of my regular patients. When he left, he told the front desk receptionist that he felt completely at peace. He passed away later that night. We were the last people who saw him.” He also recalls a patient who was in charge of laundry service. “He was skin and bones and had sores on his face.” When that patient disappeared for awhile Hayden assumed that he had passed away. The patient returned to NHTC looking unrecognizable because he was taking protease inhibitors. “He was healthy and plump. I thought, ‘is this the same guy?’”

I wrapped up my conversation with Mary Kay Ryan talking about Bernie Sanders. We both agree that a for-profit medical system will never truly embrace acupuncture. “Acupuncturists need to join the fight for Single Payer Healthcare,” says Ryan. “If it ever passes and we are not there to help, acupuncture won’t be part of it.”

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Written, recorded and demonstrated by Elizabeth Ropp, LAc.

Thanks to many of you, we put out eleven acupressure videos on our YouTube channel while we were closed last year due to the pandemic. Our acupressure for constipation video has the most views, 9,700 to be exact. That is 30 times more than any other video on our YouTube channel.

I wondered why that video was particularly popular compared to the others. I dug a little deeper and found an article by an MD cardiologist on Stat News.

“Constipation is widespread among Americans. Almost everyone experiences constipation at some point in their lives, with a recent survey showing that 16 percent of Americans and a third of those older than 60 suffer from chronic constipation. It’s the reason for millions of clinic visits each year and more than 700,000 emergency department trips. The number of people admitted to the hospital primarily for constipation has more than doubled since 1997. The cost of that care, along with what we spend on over-the-counter laxatives, runs into the billions of dollars.”

There is clearly a need for resources and tips to deal with chronic constipation. I made a follow-up video: Acupressure for Constipation, Part 2. Please, stay tuned for a third video.

The techniques in the latest videos come from The Self-Shiatsu Handbook by Pamela Ferguson and Chi Self-Massage by Mantack Chia. Both books are very user-friendly guides for using self shiatsu, a form of acupressure, and massage for everyday ailments.

Other recommendations we can offer for ease of constipation and indigestion are:

-Regular exercise, as you are able, especially climbing stairs and walking uphill.

-Put your feet on a step stool while you are sitting on the toilet. This will simulate a squatting position which is more natural for emptying the bowels.

-Herbal teas such as peppermint, camomile, fennel, and ginger. You can also sip on warm water with fresh lemon juice, honey, and a pinch of sea salt.

-Plenty of vegetables and whole grains, especially in the form of easy to digest soups or stews.

- Raw sauerkraut and pickles as a condiment to meals to help improve intestinal flora. You only need a forkful with each meal. You can find them at most health food stores, like A Market, Whole Foods, and the The Concord Food Co-op.

If you are experiencing opioid-induced constipation, be sure to let us know during your next acupuncture treatment. We can address constipation and chronic pain in the same treatment.

If you have more suggestions for acupressure videos that you would like to see, be sure to let us know.
You can email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or let us know during your next visit to the clinic.

 

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POCA (People's Organization of Community Acupuncture) is a 501(c)6 non-profit that MAS had a hand in starting back in 2009.

It's purpose is to support existing Community Acupuncture clinics - like MAS - and work towards creating more of them.

The organization has done this in the past by offering micro-loans to students and burgeoning clinic-owners, launching a school (POCA Tech), hosting many educational events and webinars and much, much more.

POCA achieves this through many hours of volunteer work and paid memberships of modest amounts.


In order to support this great work, MAS has always aimed to support POCA members in practical ways. 
So for this year's POCA membership drive (through May 31st), we've pledged to offer POCA members a free acupuncture treatment during their birthday week.  Just bring in your membership card when redeeming the freebie.

So please consider joining POCA as a Community Member - and get a free treatment on MAS. 
This is our way of supporting POCA and you too.

 

pocamas

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EDIT: We managed to find a great acupuncturist to join the staff. We're really excited to welcome Lauren Smith, LAc to MAS this June!

 

Yes, we know the clinic schedules are becoming tighter and more difficult finding openings to plug yourself into, with the clinic schedule in Manchester still operating at 50% capacity.

We also know this is not ideal. Take solace knowing we are taking steps to help the crunch:

 - Paused taking on new patients.

 - Working hard to find a terrific licensed community acupuncturist to join us working in the treatment room in Manchester.

Once a new colleague is in place, the schedules will expand.


If by chance you catch wind of an acupuncturist who's looking for a sweet, supportive, salaried job - send them our way to talk!

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Written by MAS acupunk, Elizabeth Ropp

 An ode to blankets....oh, how we miss them.

Right now we still have at least a month of winter left. But let’s face it, spring can feel just as cold and damp as December, January, and February. When we first re-opened in July after being closed for four months, it didn’t seem like a big deal that we couldn’t offer the usual stacks of blankets.

Then Fall came...and now Winter.

COVID has changed and upended everyone’s lives globally. When folks ask how we are doing here at MAS, in the grand scheme of things we really can’t complain. We are grateful to be working. Yet, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we are missing staff members and our schedule has significantly downsized. We miss how easy it used to be for patients to walk in or call at any daytime hour to make an appointment. And until this week, I never thought about just how much I missed our fleece blankets.

One particularly prepared patient reminded me when she lugged in four blankets and a pillow. I am not saying that all of you must now show up with four blankets and a pillow, so please don’t take it that way.

For the first time in almost a year, that one patient allowed me the opportunity to provide our signature MAS blanket burrito-cocoon. It almost brought tears to my eyes. I thanked her for reminding me of what my job used to be before COVID happened.

The burrito cocoon really is a MAS innovation. I learned it 10 years ago from Andy when I joined the team. Since then, Andy has taught other acupuncturists and acupuncture students who practice all around the country. There is a video of him demonstrating the burrito technique on the internet somewhere. I believe it is as therapeutic as the treatment itself. This is the best way, we have found, to keep you warm - if you tend to run cold - while also keeping you comfortable during your treatment.

Under COVID, some of these little personal details had to be set aside. We now launder every sheet that covers our recliners after each patient. If we added blankets into the mix, we would not be able to keep our attention focused on the patients and the treatment room. We would also have to be laundering blankets for several hours after each shift, which is not practical for our staff.

Spring will be here soon, and as the ground thaws and we can put away our heavy coats, I may not miss the blankets quite as much.

But at this moment, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the ways things used to be.

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To all - this year especially - who have rested in MAS recliners, who've paid for your visits, brought your own blanket, who've put your trust in those little needles, and who continue to find your way to MAS - now with a mask on - in order to do your work ...

To all who reached out to check in on us via email or with a phone call, who brought us delicious treats, who hopped on a zoom call, who pointed us in the right direction, who offered relief, and asked after MAS employees and friends no longer present ...

To all who provided generous donations, who jumped in to work alongside us, who shared information, who nominated MAS for grants and awards, who signed that petition, who generously offered your time, your thoughts, your camaraderie and your video-making talents during the Spring shutdown ...

Please accept sincere appreciation for sticking together.

On behalf of the Staff and the Board of Directors at MAS,

Andy Wegman,
executive director and staff acupuncturist

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Written by MAS staff acupuncturist, Elizabeth Ropp, LAc

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Dear MAS Community,

I've been waiting for two years for Mia Donovan's film Dope is Death to be released. It is available for online streaming starting November 11 through November 19. It’s cheap. Sign up today. I did. When I saw it in July I paid twice as much to stream it, a decision that I have zero regrets about, by the way. This documentary is that good.

From DOC NYC:
With blight ravaging New York City in the 1970s, the Young Lords and Black Panthers fought for radical change in their communities. Through the leadership of Dr. Mutulu Shakur—Tupac Shakur’s stepfather—these activists created the first acupuncture detoxification program in the United States. While the legacy of the program has long been maintained by the residents of the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, the individuals responsible for its creation have suffered from decades of state-sanctioned persecution.

Mia Donovan also put out the Dope is Death podcast. I listened to one episode this afternoon and I am hooked.

At MAS, we’ve known about the history of ear acupuncture for some time. If you’ve been with us for a while, you might have picked up a copy of the Radical History of Acupuncture in America. Our friend and colleague, Greg Jones from St. Pete Community Acupuncture, wrote it.

We recently shared some fantastic acupuncture videos created by Harvard researcher, Eana Meng. Her videos are still available on The Harvard Asia Center website.

I met Eana in the fall of 2018. I was running a free weekly ear acupuncture clinic at Hope for New Hampshire Recovery. She was writing her senior thesis about acupuncture and the opioid epidemic. I gave her a copy of The Radical History of Acupuncture in America. Our meeting shifted her research. She narrowed the focus of her work to ear acupuncture and it's global transmission as a kind of "First Aid." First aid is the keyword. Lay practitioners can also practice it.

Meng's and Donovan's work gives me a long-awaited sense of relief. Community Acupuncturists have shared this history in our communities for many years. I am happy that this history is now becoming more well known. “Each one, reach one. Each one, teach one.”

Check out the videos. Listen to the podcast. Join us for a collective (socially distanced) film screening of Dope is Death this November.

All power to all people.

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We'd like to offer a heartfelt 'Thank You!' yet again to the United Way of Greater Nashua for offering a helpful grant to MAS - Nashua, as part of their COVID Emergency Relief Fund for Greater Nashua.

Home United Way of Greater NashuaWe appreciate the support during this challenging financial time.

Due to the (understandable) restrictions imposed on businesses by the NH State COVID re-operating guidelines, your support is indespensible while we operate below ideal capacites in MAS clinics. 

If you value the services provided at MAS Manchester or Nashua and are in the position to offer support, please do. And to the many folks who have and continue to do so, we are deeply grateful to you.

All donations are welcome, including the charitable gifting of real estate.

As a 501(c)3, gifts to Manchester Acupuncture Studio are tax-deductible

Thank You!

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Written by Elizabeth Ropp
Edited by Eric Zulaski

 

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Jewel Thais-Williams

We almost never see acupuncture in movies or on TV. I want to celebrate whenever I see a movie about an acupuncturist. When I learned about Jewel Thais- Williams’ life through the documentary, Jewel's Catch One, I was humbled to see such a brilliant, awesome, force of nature who would dedicate herself to bringing affordable acupuncture to “the hood” of Los Angeles. That’s why I dedicated my last blog post to review the movie and to indulge in my fantasy of having a one-on-one interview with her. So now I must write a follow-up blog post, because I actually got the chance for a REAL interview with Jewel.

A great synopsis of the documentary, taken from the film’s website follows:

“Jewel’s Catch One’s documents the oldest Black owned disco in America and establishes the legacy of businesswoman, activist, and healer, Jewel Thais-Williams, who stood up against hate and discrimination for 42 years. The story of Jewel and “The Catch” celebrates four decades of music, fashion, celebrity, and activism that helped change the course of our country by breaking down racial, social, and cultural barriers. One of the original safe spaces for both the LGBT and Black communities, The Catch also served as a refuge for many during the AIDS crisis. As her club grew to become known as the "unofficial Studio 54 of the West Coast,” Jewel became a national role model for how to fight discrimination and serve the less fortunate.“

Filmmaker C. Fitz teamed up with Jewel originally to make a three-minute video for an awards ceremony honoring Jewel as Woman of the Year. They realized quickly that they needed a full-length documentary. The film covers eight years of interviews with Jewel, Rue, close friends, patrons of The Catch One, and her acupuncture patients. This movie also features US Representative Maxine Waters, Grammy-Award winning singer, Thelma Houston, and Actress Sharon Stone.

Just like the filmmaker had to make a full-length movie about Jewel, I needed to write a 2,000 word blog post.

I stumbled onto Jewel's documentary purely by accident. I asked if her acupuncture school or any acupuncture associations know about the film, Jewel’s Catch One, and helped to promote it.

Unfortunately the answer is No.

I am disappointed, but not surprised. Even though the acupuncture profession in the U.S. is small, many things divide us: geography, competition, practice styles, language barriers, business philosophies, apathy, and interpersonal conflicts.

I enjoyed the film so much that I watched it twice. I was dying to ask Jewel what patients ask me all the time: “What made you become an acupuncturist?”

Jewel is 81 years old. She has worn a lot of hats in her life. Before she became her own boss, she worked at several grocery stores, including the supermarket across the street from what became The Catch One. She even did a brief stint working in corrections at a women’s jail.

“It didn’t suit my personality at all to order people around.” says Jewel.

She said many of the women who came to the jail were arrested for being homeless or drunk on the street. After 30 days they were given fifteen dollars and released. “And of course in the next two or three weeks they’d be back. At the time I was in my early 20’s and some of the women were old enough to be my grandmother. So no feel-goods there.”

Jewel is a natural entrepreneur. She opened a women’s boutique with her sister. This allowed her the flexibility to set her own hours and complete her college degree, majoring in history.

“I thought eventually I would teach high school or maybe even college level history. American history.”

Instead, Jewel made history. American history.

Jewel had no bartending experience prior to owning a bar and a night club. She had to learn on the job because of a regressive state law in California that prohibited women from tending bar unless they owned the bar. I did some research and learned that this is not that unusual. In the 20th century several states and cities had laws or ordinances that excluded women from the bartending profession. In the 1950’s, Black women in Chicago fought against the City Council for their rights to tend bars. White women bartenders did not stand with them. They all lost their jobs as a result. The moral of that story is listen to the Sistahs.

During the 1970’s, Jewel had to deal with cops arresting her bar patrons for being gay in public. In the 1980’s, The Catch One was destroyed by fire. The local fire department refused to investigate. This is part of a pattern in our country's shameful history of destroying Black-owned businesses. The most famous and devastating example happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Nonetheless, Jewel persisted. It took her two years to bring back the Catch. She re-opened in 1987 and ran it for another two decades.

Again, this brings me back to Why acupuncture? Why not politics? Jewel was well known and loved for The Catch and for her advocacy during the AIDS epidemic. Jewel entertained the idea of running for local office. She would have won. She even considered running for US Congress in her district, until her friend, Karen Bass stepped up. She ultimately decided that running for office wasn’t what she wanted to do.

In the 1990’s, Jewel’s therapist, the renowned Gay-Rights Activist and mental health expert, Dr. Donald Kilhefner, suggested that she go to acupuncture school.

Jewel was a good fit in her acupuncture school. Once again, Jewel used her skills to advocate for marginalized people, in this case it was her teachers. Many acupuncture schools in the US hire Asian doctors who bring a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience. However, tensions arise between instructors and students when instructors are still building english language proficiency.

“I spent a lot of my time when I was in acupuncture school interpreting for my Chinese professors. Some students organized a little group and went to the Dean and said they wanted that [teacher] gone. My objection had to do with English speaking instructors who had just graduated from school are now teaching...I felt like we’d be missing out.”

Acupuncture school was a good fit for Jewel. She has always been interested in natural remedies and supplements.

Jewel seeks out opportunities to learn from traditional medicine practitioners when she travels. She has spent time learning from folk healers in The Bahamas, Bali, and South Africa. Her family used folk medicines and natural over-the-counter remedies.

“We grew up with traditional African medicine being translated from slavery times.”

Many of the remedies that Jewel described are common folk remedies used around the world, some of which are still used in over-the-counter remedies today. Camphor is used in ointments today for chest colds and muscle rubs. She also mentioned Musterole, an ointment that works like a mustard plaster to relieve a cough and chest congestions. Her family used castor oil to relieve constipation.

“There were seven of us kids. I think we all had perfect attendance at school.” No one wanted to have to be subjected to the natural remedies.

Jewel is proud of her track record of rarely getting sick. She never missed school due to being sick. She got the flu in 1978 and then again 20 years later in 1998.

“By the time 2018 came, I just loaded down with all the vitamin C and jin yin hua (Japanese Honeysuckle), and Herbal Resistance Formula.”

In 2005, Jewel went to New Orleans to provide acupuncture to communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina. This is where she got trained to use NADA’s Ear Acupuncture Protocol. NADA is a five point ear treatment originally developed during a heroin epidemic to treat withdrawal from heroin and methadone. NADA is practiced in the US and all over the world by acupuncturists and lay practitioners for all stages of addiction recovery, behavioral health, and to support resilience and emotional well being after a traumatic event like a natural disaster. “Not only did we treat the survivors. We treated the rescue workers. We were in the shelters and in the schools that were converted into sleeping quarters for rescue workers.”

Jewel’s non-profit clinic, The Village Health Foundation, makes acupuncture treatment affordable in her Los Angeles neighborhood. Representative Maxine Waters praises Jewel’s acupuncture clinic. Waters says “It has been said that Jewel could be in Beverly Hills charging a lot of money for acupuncture.”

I asked Jewel why it’s so unusual for acupuncturists to make treatments affordable. Jewel agrees that affordable acupuncture is rare. “The people who can afford it will go to Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. They’re not coming to the hood for a treatment. And those folks in the hood that come to the hood clinic can’t afford to pay Beverly Hills prices.”

Jewel wants to share her gift with her local community. She explains that people of color, particularly Black and Brown people, have negative experiences in conventional Western medicine health settings due to bias from doctors who are not trained to be culturally competent. She described her own negative experience when seeing a cardiologist.

“They don’t look at you.” she says “With people of color, they just load them down with medication. ‘[A doctor might say] You’re blood pressure isn’t high, but it probably will be, so here, take this statin medication.’”

Jewel and her immediate community are staying healthy during the pandemic. Earlier in our conversation we talked about how COVID has disproportionately affected people and communities of color.

Jewel also remarks “For us, for Black folks, Asians are just as racist as white people can be towards us.”

Like most Community Acupuncturists, I subscribe to the concept of Liberation Acupuncture, which basically boils down to the fact that the only way that acupuncture works is if patients can afford it. Jewel was not familiar with this term before we spoke. But she connected with the concept immediately. She sees herself as a liberation acupuncturist.

Acupuncturists are wondering what we can do to make our clinics welcome to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) patients. New Hampshire is 94% White. Yet, Manchester (and Nashua) have always been immigrant cities. New Hampshire’s newest Americans are from Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Jewel has spent her life creating inclusive spaces for everyone, which makes her a great person to ask for advice.

“Go to where they are. Go to their festivals and churches.” When Jewel first got started as an acupuncturist she had a mobile clinic with a colleague. They would treat patients for several hours at an AIDS prevention clinic and they ran a weekly pop-up clinic at an outdoor market.

Jewel explains that “there is such a high degree of needle phobia among Black folk and Brown folk. Big time. I have to talk to a lot of folks. I praise them for having the courage to even try it.” Jewel spends a lot of time educating and starting with some of the least sensitive points like Large Intestine 11, in the fleshy area of the elbow. “It’s a big deal. But once they get it, it’s like ‘Oh my God.’”

Jewel describes the Each One, Teach One approach to providing healthcare for her patients.

“Try to meet the people where they are. With each person that we enlighten then there is a possibility of them enlightening other people.”

The Village Health Foundation is closed temporarily due to the pandemic. Jewel provides care to her patients using telemedicine and her staff mails out herbs and supplements. Jewel plans to start a blog to stay in touch with patients and share health tips. I am not alone in saying that I wish all the best to Jewel and the staff at the Village Health Foundation. May you reopen as soon as it is safe to return to work.

If you would like to make a donation to support the Village Health Foundation, you can do so at this link.

Jewel’s favorite music is featured throughout the film. Her top favorite artist is Sylvester. One of her top favorite songs is Another One Bites the Dust, by Queen.

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