Saying it saved her, Abate brings holistic healthcare to LES

Catherine Abate and her son, Kyle Kliegerman, onboard the Oct. 22 fundraising cruise for the holistic healthcare clinic at 150 Essex St. Photo by Bob Buchanan

Catherine Abate and her son, Kyle Kliegerman, onboard the Oct. 22 fundraising cruise for the holistic healthcare clinic at 150 Essex St.
Photo by Bob Buchanan

BY HEATHER DUBIN  |  Alternative medicine is gaining increasing acceptance in the Western world. In the case of Catherine Abate, president and C.E.O. of Community Healthcare Network, she not only accepts alternative medicine — she firmly believes it helped save her life.

Diagnosed with stage-four uterine cancer in May 2012, Abate’s positive experience with holistic medical practices prompted her to bring these same modalities to Community Healthcare Network’s Downtown Health Center, at 150 Essex St. on the Lower East Side. The nonprofit C.H.N. provides medical care to underserved New Yorkers at 11 federally qualified healthcare centers.

In an interview last week, Abate spoke about the new Essex St. integrative health center — which will incorporate alternative therapies with traditional medicine — as well as about her own personal journey regarding her condition.

Abate has always worked in public service, striving to help others. An attorney, she is a former New York state senator, and before that was the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Corrections.

C.H.N.’s Essex St. center caters to 6,000 patients a year. According to Abate, this population has “a tremendous interest” in acupuncture, herbal supplements and medication, but lacks access to them.

“Medicaid and private insurance doesn’t cover it, and there’s a great need,” she said.

State, city and federal grants help cover the cost of medical services currently offered at the center. While there is a sliding-fee scale based on income, patients are never turned away.

Abate noted that C.H.N. centers are sited in the poorest and most underserved areas of the city. They have sites in every borough except for Staten Island.

The Essex St. center offers complete primary care, pediatrics, nutrition, social services and other basic medical care. While these services will continue, Abate wants to add holistic medicine as an integral component to improve patient health. The program is in the planning process, and Abate anticipates the revamped facility’s opening next February.

“It’s the perfect site to do this,” she said.

The demographic the center serves is mixed ages with the majority of patients under age 50, while the ethnic breakdown is mostly Latino and Asian. Abate also noted that many patients suffer from chronic diseases, such as asthma, obesity, hypertension and diabetes. These patients are familiar with and eager to try alternative therapies that could potentially benefit them.

Thanks to federal money, additional exam rooms have already been constructed to accommodate the expanding center. As part of the holistic approach, there will be more time focused on personal nutrition. Yoga, acupuncture, energy healing, reflexology and meditation will also be part of the new program. Abate wants patients to take ownership of their care, and she thinks these modalities will help them do this.

“We want the patients to feel better about their care, and improve communication between them and their provider,” Abate said. Three years ago, she started a health literacy program. Results show patients, during an office visit, do not receive useful information that encourages them to go home and change their lifestyle, which is often essential for dealing with their health problem.

“Whether it’s positive thinking about their healing, stopping smoking or eating healthy, or cleaning up their home environment from mold, or whatever,” she said, “there has to be better communication to really make them a partner in their healthcare.”

Abate feels this improved informational dialogue empowers patients, providing them with more balance and control, which will improve their overall health and well-being.

She understands this firsthand.

“I don’t think I’d be in the shape I am in today if I didn’t use the complementary and alternative-use therapies,” Abate said.

Her initial diagnosis, following her first operation in June 2012, gave her 12 months to live. Abate, who is in her mid-60s, turned to Western medicine for surgeries and chemotherapy, and saw an immunologist, which is a field she wants to implement at the center. But she also went to a life coach and energy healer, who taught her the power of the mind.

“Mind, body and spirit come together,” Abate said. “Everyone has the power to heal themselves. I had a lot of healing, and I’m not saying chemo didn’t have something to do with it. But even my oncologists would say, ‘It wasn’t just the chemo.’ ”

One doctor told Abate that he thought her mind was one of her most powerful weapons in her recovery.

The healthcare C.E.O. believes visualization, diet and acupuncture all help effect a change of attitude toward life.

“It adds up, I’m feeling strong,” she said. “I’m not totally cured yet, but I’m on the right path.”

Abate still receives some low-dose chemo treatment, but she has spent many months playing tennis, and, as she put it, is doing “quite well.”

She partially attributes her health status to alternative therapies.

“I’m not suggesting people turn away from Western medicine,” she said. “I’m suggesting Western medicine becomes that more effective when you also utilize holistic and integrative approaches.”

She used to receive holistic treatments weekly when she was sick, but now only goes every couple of weeks. Abate does practice daily visualization and takes herbal supplements.

“I wake up with gratitude every day,” she said. “I see the beauty in things and in people, and the promise of the world.”

To help foster this same hopefulness for others, Abate has submitted grants for the holistic program. She wants the therapies to be free or low-cost for patients.

With that goal in mind, a boat cruise fundraiser around Manhattan was held on the evening of Tues., Oct. 22, with 240 people paying $250 per ticket. Demonstrations of alternative therapies were conducted onboard the boat.

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Crystal Healing: Stone-Cold Facts About Gemstone Pseudoscience

By Christopher Wanjek, LiveScience Contributor   |   October 10, 2013 05:37pm ET

Crystal healing is an alternative medicine technique that employs crystals and other stones as conduits for natural healing energy.  The stones are said to channel positive energy into the body to cure or protect against disease while removing negative energy. 

Crystal healing philosophy taps into the traditional Asian concepts of life-energy (chi or qi) and chakras, which are vortices of this life-energy said to connect the physical and supernatural elements of the body.  Yet because crystal healing so often is incorporated into the practice of astrology, soothsaying and modern witchcraft, as well as the belief in reincarnation, intelligent extraterrestrial life and the lost city of Atlantis, even ardent proponents of alternative medicine tend to dismiss it as a useless therapy, if not ludicrous.

No studies have ever demonstrated any therapeutic value for crystal healing.  At a purely scientific level, there is no evidence that disease is caused by poor cosmic energy flow — positive or negative — or that crystals and gems can be differentiated by chemical composition or color to treat a particular ailment.

Nevertheless, healing crystals remain popular at health spas and at New Age health clinics, often incorporated into related practices of massage and Reiki.  Healing crystals may help induce relaxation, although this would have nothing to do with the physical (or spiritual) properties of the stones used but rather the relaxed atmosphere in which a crystal healer works.

Patients should note that crystal healing is tied intrinsically to the occult.  That is, the stones used are not said to be beneficial because of the chemicals they contain — phosphate, copper, silicates, etc. — but rather because they are conduits for a supernatural healing force.

Rarely is crystal healing used to treat any serious disease; even so-called certified crystal healers would be barred by law to practice medicine without a license. 

How it’s supposed to work

Crystal healing proponents assert that crystals and gemstones — largely by virtue of their color, shape, and texture — have properties that facilitate healing.  Often these properties are referred to as spiritual or magical energy.  More recently, some crystal healers have used the term vibrational energy, incorporating a concept of quantum mechanics, although incorrectly. 

In short, crystals and stones are said to mediate a type of life-energy called qi, which according to some tenets of traditional Eastern philosophy is an unseen healing force that pervades the universe.  That said, crystal healing as practiced today is largely a modern Western alternative medicine practice. 

Crystals and stones are assigned various properties, albeit not universally agreed upon by crystal healers.  Amethyst is said to be beneficial for the intestines; green aventurine helps the heart; yellow topaz provides mental clarity.  Colors red through violet are associated with seven chakra points on the body.

A crystal healer may place various stones or crystals on your body aligned with these chakra points, roughly in the regions above the head, on the forehead, on the throat, on the chest, on the stomach, on the gut, and on the genital area.  The stones used and their positioning may be chosen for the symptoms reported by the patient.  This is all influenced by the healer’s knowledge of, and belief in, the chakra philosophy of disease and energy imbalances — a concept largely dismissed by practitioners of modern medicine.

Crystal healing also involves the use of amulets, that is, crystals and stones worn on the body or placed under pillows to ward off sickness, to shed negative energy, and to absorb positive energy.

Crystal healers become healers by passing a certification course, often offered over the Internet from unaccredited “natural medicine” universities or clinics.  Some accredited health organizations also offer crystal healing certification.  Although the doctrines of crystal healing imply the ability to cure life-threatening and chronic diseases, such as cancer, a certified crystal healer in the United States would have no more legal authority to treat medical conditions than, say, a massage therapist. 

Rock-solid belief

Crystal healing, more so than most elements of complementary and alternative medicine, is based on a system of beliefs in the supernatural — that is, the mysterious and the unexplainable — and proponents are not easily dissuaded. 

Proponents often express disgust or frustration with modern medicine, despite its success in raising the quality of life for billions of people, through the development of vaccines, for example, which save millions of lives per year.  Proponents also state that much of what we know of the physical world today would seem magical to humans 200 years ago and that chakras and life-energy fields are merely beyond the limits of our detection. 

Crystal healing itself is an unregulated practice, and crystal healers need not demonstrate any knowledge of basic biology to receive certification.

Some medical doctors tolerate crystal healing to a limited degree, seeing it as a therapy that can induce relaxation, which ultimately is therapeutic for stress management.  Those seeking a crystal healer, however, should be careful not to forgo legitimate treatment for life-threatening disease.

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