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Growing Doses of Acceptance for Complementary Medicine

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Jill Franklin's story is a tribute to the power of human spirit. It also exemplifies the state of complementary and alternative medicine in Canada.

Jill Franklin's story is a tribute to the power of human spirit. It also exemplifies the state of complementary and alternative medicine in Canada.

In 1990 the then 48-year-old mother and author was struck by a car while walking in Vancouver and thrown five car lengths. She awoke in the hospital to a brain injury, multiple shattered bones, and soft tissue injuries.

Padding provided by her backpack was what saved her life.

Six months in a wheelchair was only the beginning. When everything her doctors and specialists recommended didn't provide the expected relief, Jill tried craniosacral therapy, prolotherapy, acupuncture, massage, and energy work.

At last, her body began to heal. The pain began to recede. She started sleeping better. During the day, however, Jill battled with the provincial insurance corporation to recognize the role complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments played in her recovery.

Jill's legal fight lasted seven years, but eventually insurance was ordered to pay for everything.

Health Care in Transition

Who wants to bet we'll see more Jill-like stories in the media, cases of people turning not just to CAM but also defending its use? One-fifth of Canadian adults visited an alternative medical practitioner in 2003-up from 15 percent a decade earlier, according to Statistics Canada. Chiropractic was most popular (11 percent), followed by massage therapy (8 percent), acupuncture (2 percent), and homeopathy or naturopathy (2 percent).

Interest in alternative therapies doesn't show signs of slowing and has sent a strong message to medical gatekeepers. There's a new patient consciousness in town.

A 1998 survey found 10 out of 16 Canadian medical schools taught about CAM in their curriculum, but only two instructed students about alternative therapies. The same year, 84 of 125 American medical schools offered stand-alone courses on various holistic therapies. Clearly, educational institutions have seen a trend of the future. Western medicine is under increasing challenge, resulting in intense changes to North American health care.

Viable Alternatives

Meanwhile, consumers know what we want. Had Jill Franklin stuck only to accepted treatments, she might still be off work, unable to sit for more than 20 seconds at a time due to pain. Instead, she gradually returned to a physically active life and wrote Auto Accident Survivor's Guide for British Columbia (Stone Mountain Books, 2005), a must-read for navigating the medical-legal-insurance system.

Jill attributes her healing to a blend of things. Her inner strength pulled her through. A physiotherapist taught her to walk again, and a simple bean taped to an acupuncture point on her inner wrist reduced pain, as she puts it, "better than all the medication in the world."

What is . . . ?

Acupuncture: The insertion of fine, sterile needles into specific points on the body as identified by Chinese medical theory, which promotes energy "chi" flow.

Carniosacral therapy: A subtle type of body work that integrates energy and touch and corrects imbalances of the craniosacral system, which includes the head, spinal cord, and sacrum.

Prolotherapy: The injection of sugar and anesthetic into ligaments or tendons to encourage blood and nutrient flow, which stimulates healing

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