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An Ancient Art | By Nomee Landis


When their son Austin began experiencing regular headaches, Dean and Denise Schmude did what most parents would do: They took him to see a doctor. But test after test revealed nothing that explained their son’s pain. Austin was healthy and normal. Physicians prescribed medications, but they caused unwelcome side effects. The headaches persisted. Two years later, 11-year-old Austin still gets headaches, but the Schmudes have discovered something that brings him relief: acupuncture. It has been a standard practice in Chinese medicine for 5,000 years and common in many Eastern countries, including Korea and Japan, for both people and animals. But in the United States, the medical establishment refers to acupuncture, naturopathy, therapeutic massage, chiropractic treatments and other remedies as alternative or complementary medicine. That could be changing – and right here, in Fayetteville. Kelly Gallop is a fourth-generation acupuncturist who quietly lives and works out of a red brick ranch house off Cliffdale Road. Born Hui Sun in South Korea, her father worked as a village doctor. So did his father and his father before that. They all performed acupuncture on their patients, plus their prized animals. In Korea, cows are more than livestock; they are valued and important family possessions, and Gallop recalls many childhood nights when her father would leave his bed to care for a patient or one of their animals. Now, Gallop is the wife of a retired soldier and a diplomate in Oriental medicine. She completed a five-year program in Oriental medicine in Los Angeles and opened her practice in 2005. “I enjoy it very, very much,” she said. “My patients, when they’re feeling better, that’s what keeps me going.” On a rainy afternoon, Gallop, dressed in a polka dot dress and wool slippers, stood over Dean Schmude, Austin’s father. The Schmudes began taking Austin to see Gallop shortly after arriving in Fayetteville more than a year ago from Las Vegas. After seeing a dramatic difference in his son, Dean, a communications officer at Pope Air Force Base, opted to try it himself. On a rainy Friday, he climbed up on Gallop’s table. Gallop began by asking questions and feeling for pain, moving her hands along Dean’s shins. Before she inserted a single needle, she had Dean spend several minutes lying still in the quiet room, focusing on deep breathing. When they were ready, Gallop cleaned several places on his body with an alcohol swab and then inserted the first needle near his left wrist. She turned the needle back and forth gently a few times and then asked him to bend his legs. How is the pain? “No pain,” Dean said. “I don’t feel anything right now.” She placed more needles in carefully chosen places on his body and spun them between her fingers. Dean never even flinched. The only downside to the Schmude family’s success with acupuncture is the cost. Because it is categorized as a complementary or alternative medicine, acupuncture treatments usually are not covered by insurance. But that may be changing. Some insurance companies have begun offering an acupuncture benefit. Twelve states, including California, New York and Florida, have passed legislation that makes it mandatory that insurance companies offer customers in those states acupuncture coverage, said Ginna Browning, a Raleigh acupuncturist and the president of the N.C. Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. A bill introduced early last year in Congress would provide such coverage for Medicare patients and all federal government employees. It was even discussed during the recent debate over healthcare reform. For now, most patients pay for acupuncture out of pocket. Prices for a session begin around $60 and go up from there. That makes Denise Schmude angry. “It is irritating that the only relief my son gets is from an unrecognized treatment,” she said. “But you see results, so you find the money.” Despite a lack of insurance coverage, millions of Americans have turned to acupuncture for pain management and for the treatment of colds and flu, allergies, arthritis, digestive problems, infertility and even smoking cessation and weight loss. While statistics are tough to come by, the 2002 National Health Interview Survey included questions about acupuncture. Of the 31,044 adults who responded, 4.1 percent said they had tried acupuncture and 1.1 percent, or roughly 2.13 million Americans, said they had recently undergone acupuncture treatment. In North Carolina, about 400 licensed acupuncturists are currently practicing, according to Paola Ribadeneira, executive director of the N.C. Acupuncture Licensing Board. That is an increase of about 100 since she assumed her position seven years ago. The licensing board ensures that each acupuncturist meets safety guidelines established by the N.C. General Assembly. To receive or maintain their licenses, acupuncturists must complete a three-year course of study at a nationally accredited school of Oriental medicine. They must also satisfy a continuing education requirement every two years when they renew their licenses. For medical doctors wanting to add acupuncture to their practices, the training standards are different. Rick Serano, chief of neurology at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, said he completed his acupuncture training in mere weeks. He provides acupuncture two days a week at his office off Walter Reed Road and performs the procedure on some of his patients at the hospital. Serano begins each acupuncture session with a good look at a patient’s tongue and hands and a check of the radial pulse. He uses this information plus details the patient shares to decide where to place the needles and how best to combine traditional Western medicine with Eastern treatment. Martha Wellons of Fayetteville came to see Dr. Serano seeking relief from a stubborn pain in her hip and lower back. She visits him every few months. The pain never fully disappears, she said, but an acupuncture session reduces her discomfort significantly for about two weeks. It took Serano a few minutes to decide where to insert the needles. Then he pulled one out of the package, told Wellons to take a deep breath and exhale. He inserted the tiny needle near her right heel. He placed another in her right ankle, one on her left lower calf, another below her sternum and one in her left hand. Wellons said she feels no sharp pains when the needles pierce her skin, just a dull ache when they hit their mark. But for Wellons and others who seek acupuncture, the benefits outweigh a few moments of discomfort. Acupuncturists tend to take a holistic approach, Browning said, and focus much of their attention on the prevention of illness and disease by assessing their sleep habits, diet, exercise regimen and total well being. “We’re going to take a look at the whole body,” she said. “We are very well-trained in healthcare. We have a good, strong foundation of knowledge about the human body.”