November 18, 2008
By Magdalene Perez
When Juan Shutte began feeling heat and pains in his face and back, he went to a clinic, but doctors told him they couldn't find the problem.
That's when Shutte, a Peruvian immigrant who owns a cleaning business, read about Dr. Melissa Robinson in a Spanish-language newspaper.
Robinson's practice, Natural Solutions for Health, uses nutritional counseling, diet and exercise planning, thermal massage and dietary supplements to heal the body without prescription drugs or invasive surgeries.
Shutte, a pot-bellied man who looks much younger than his 70 years, decided to try it. Within two months, his blood pressure lowered and his symptoms significantly subsided, he said.
"I had gone to the clinic for a few months and I didn't feel any different," Shutte said. "Now I'm coming here, and I feel a little better. The medicines she gave me helped calm the pain a lot."
Robinson, one of many doctors in the small but growing field of naturopathic medicine, has helped build her private practice in Stamford by offering her services to the Hispanic community at affordable rates.
Early in her practice, Robinson discovered Hispanic patients were drawn to the type of natural medicine she offered. Now most of her business comes from Hispanics, she said.
"I feel like we're really fulfilling a need in the community," Robinson said. "They're helping me, so I can build this business."
Robinson operates out of a single-room office on Glenbrook Road above a Chinese restaurant and decorative glass shop. Shutte had an appointment Saturday, part of a routine of biweekly visits for the past two months. Robinson began by interviewing Shutte, mostly in Spanish, with the help of a translator.
"Como estas?" Robinson said, asking, "How are you" in Spanish. "Are you taking your medicine?"
She went through the routines of a primary doctor - taking blood pressure, listening to Shutte's heartbeat, taking his weight. But instead of writing a prescription for blood pressure medication, which Shutte once took and disliked because of side effects, Robinson recommended he supplement his diet with fish peptides, flax, pumpkin seeds and cucumber.
That will help Shutte's symptoms, Robinson said. For another problem, his weight, Robinson gave Shutte worksheets to record his diet for the next two weeks and advised him not to eat late at night. When he returns, they will figure out how to improve his nutrition, Robinson said.
After the visit, Robinson summed up the philosophy of naturopathic doctors.
"We all believe the body has a natural ability to heal itself," she said.
As a practitioner of alternative medicine, Robinson said she is sometimes marginalized. Some insurance companies do not cover her work, and it can be difficult to connect her patients with low-cost access to specialists for X-rays, blood work, MRIs and other services, she said. Sometimes patients need treatments, such as surgery, that are out of her realm, she said.
But Robinson's philosophy of using herbs and natural cures is one that many people from Latin America are quick to embrace, said Ingrid Fallaque, Robinson's translator and intermediary with the Hispanic community. Many Hispanics are familiar with natural remedies from their own countries and feel more safe using them than taking pills, said Fallaque, who is from Peru.
"When I talk to people, that's the most important thing for them," Fallaque said. "They grew up with it. Even my own mother used to give me herbs for everything."
Robinson's approach goes beyond physical symptoms. Another patient, Francisco Rosario, 16, started seeing Robinson about two months ago after a friend of the family recommended the practice to his mother.
Rosario had low energy and felt uninterested in most everything. He'd watch TV instead of being active and was skipping classes at school. He tried prescription medication, but it made him feel worse, Rosario said.
Robinson gave him vitamins, fish oil and a natural amino acid to help him with his moods, an approach that can be characterized as holistic medicine, in which doctors view the physical and the mental as interconnected.
Rosario said the difference was clear.
"I feel more calm, I understand more, and I can pay attention," Rosario said. "Before I just didn't care."
Robinson didn't stop there. She helped Rosario get a job at a church and asked him how he was doing in school, offering to help tutor him in math.
Asked why she put in the extra effort, Robinson thought a moment.
"Sometimes people need a spokesperson for them," Robinson said. "I want to follow through and make sure people get better."
Source: The Advocate