Who We Are

Summer 2009

Mission to Pakistan

As part of our effort to bring awareness and help to the people of Pakistan, we organize yearly missions of volunteers to treat poor people in a hospital in Lahore, and in a remote village of the Northern Areas. This year was our third mission, and though it was small, with only Gabriel Venne, finishing student in Montreal, and myself, it built on the solid foundation of the previous teams. The lack of volunteers is mostly due to the unstable political situation of the country as relayed by the media. Gabriel was very surprised to see people living so normally and freely, particularly when he joined young boys and girls at a rock concert. The political and economic situation are certainly aggravating, but life continues as usual for the general population.

This mission was very satisfying for several reasons. First the students are doing extremely well in their studies. I had the opportunity to treat some of their patients, who commented on how much better they felt thanks to their new techniques, and also their dedication. Haider had the close to miraculous case of a 49-year old woman who was hemiplegic (partly paralyzed on her left side) since age 8, when she was operated on for a brain tumor. After 5-6 osteopathic treatments, she regained functional use of her hand, 40 years later. A wonderful demonstration of the ability of the body to return to normal, no matter how much time has passed, once the restrictions to nerve conduction are removed.

As every year, Prof. Anwaar Khan, chairman of Shaik Zayed Hospital (SZH), welcomed us there and Dr. Pervaiz Iqbal, orthopedic surgeon, made sure we could work in the wards. Because of the small size of our team, we could not work at the charitable cancer hospital we worked at last year. Also, as I understand better the immensity of medical needs in the country, it seems obvious we have to concentrate our efforts to treat patients with a good prognosis, who can use their improved health to contribute to their families and society.

On our first day, we worked in the Department of Orthopedics. We saw several young men who had been operated on months earlier for broken limbs following bike accidents. They were now in traction because of infected rods. In their accidents, the entire body had been affected, with numerous tightnesses that allopathic medicine could in no way affect. A good example of both systems’ complementarities. Gabriel treated a 6-year old boy with severe knee pain due to rheumatic fever. He cried the whole treatment, but as soon as it was finished, there was no more pain and normal range of motion.

In the Internal Medicine Department, we treated a wide range of patients: fevers with no known origin, pneumonia, dysentery, etc. On our 3rd day in gastro-enterology, the majority of patients were hospitalized for complications of hepatitis. It’s a widespread disease in the poorer population, and hard to treat. The majority of patients end up having chronic liver disease (CLD), a debilitating condition that often brings death in a few years.

As expected, we found every patient with hepatitis or CLD had severe restrictions in the chest and thoracic spine, which is where the nerves controlling the activity of the liver come out from the spinal chord. Could we imagine that if we treated osteopathically these patients when they were first infected, we could help them not only cure their infection, but restore the normal functioning of the liver? For now we can only say that patients respond positively to their one session. It would take a full treatment and follow-up to confirm this hypothesis, which could be done once there are local osteopaths.

Our day in Pediatrics, as usual was very satisfying, as we know children typically benefit most quickly from the osteopathic treatments. When I was treating a 13-year old boy with chronic dysentery on and off for 5 years, the father said: “Doctors in America much better. Here they just give injections and say drink tea”. I didn’t want to disappoint him. For his son again, the problem came from the nerves being irritated in the back. Not a diagnosis allopathic medicine can identify.

Maybe because of the tremendous needs in the country, we found doctors there much more open-minded. Prof. Farruk Iqbal, head of internal medicine, who gave us very informative rounds, understood very easily the logic of the significance of proper nerve conduction and proper circulation for proper organ function. A resident in gastro-enterology was convinced of how much osteopathy could help, when he realized all the patients we had treated the previous day had been discharged, a sign of their stability.

When we returned to Nagar village, a 5-hour jeep drive from the capital in the Karakoram Mountains, we were equipped with posters to educate the population. During every one of our previous missions, we had to tell parents about the harm of their tradition of flattening the head of their babies during the first few months of their lives. The only goal is increased beauty, and no one could have been aware of this tradition as the cause of some children’s (and later adults’) poor health. This compression of the back of the head affects the cranial nerves and mostly the parasympathetic nerves that control all of the vegetative functions (heart, breathing, gut.) Gabriel had painted posters that very clearly showed the harm of the compression. Mothers who had done it to their children said “I understand now”, and we saw kids and young adults explain them to the elders. We left 2 posters in care of teachers, who understand our work, and one in a women’s health center. We are hoping to be able to spread them via the school systems. It would be a very good outcome if we could stop this harmful tradition.

We treated 74 patients in Nagar, of whom 24 were children, mostly for internal medicine issues (infections), a few just because they were there and we decompressed their flat heads as prevention. Among the adults the majority were treated for orthopedic problems, though often they had associated functional complaints. Many were complaining of headaches, and we treated some for psychiatric disorders. In one young man who was depressed for years, staying home, I could feel his entire posterior brain shift back into proper position. He visited 3 days later to say he felt so much better. Sometimes it’s simple!

As part of our mission to bring information about osteopathy, together with Usmara we spent an afternoon in a large university hospital in Karachi. With 73 physical therapists on staff, surely some would be future osteopaths!

If you want to help us reach our goals, please visit our Support Our Work page.
Thank you for your support and interest,
Sylvie Erb, PT, DOMP