Recovery and healing through an integrative approach: Barbara Jo

Barbara Jo Koch-SmithWhile Western medicine saved Barbara Jo Koch-Smith’s life, integrative medicine helped her to heal—in mind, body and spirit. 

Koch-Smith was introduced to integrative medicine while trying to recover from several health crises: a life-threatening heart attack and a debilitating inflammation of her joints that had appeared almost overnight. 

"I would not be here if it weren’t for Western medicine," said Koch-Smith, who had an emergency procedure to open an artery and weeks of cardiac rehabilitation. Yet, she felt she was missing the key to her recovery.  Koch-Smith believed that stress played a significant role in her heart attack. "I thought, once I get through this, I have to go back to living my life. I have to know how to deal with my stress."

She eventually saw Courtney Baechler, MD, a Penny George Institute cardiologist and integrative medicine physician, and began a process to determine if the joint inflammation was a medication side effect, related to food sensitivity, or had another cause. 

During Koch-Smith’s first appointment with Baechler, she immediately felt that a weight had been lifted. It wasn’t that Baechler had all the answers, but that she took the time to listen. 

While Koch-Smith continued working with her regular doctors, Baechler referred her to a variety of integrative resources. Through a combination of biofeedback training and Mindfulness Training, Koch-Smith developed tools to manage her stress.  Weekly acupuncture helped with the stress and joint pain, even though she didn’t realize it at first. It was when she went a few weeks without acupuncture that she understood what a difference it was making. 

Koch-Smith also worked with an integrative nutritionist. Her joint condition improved dramatically when she eliminated nuts and seeds from her diet. She recently learned that her heart had regained near normal function. "I credit that to exercising every day, a changed diet, acupuncture and the other tools I received at the Penny George Institute."

Koch-Smith is grateful for the help she received through the Penny George Institute, and for the opportunity to manage her health with a holistic approach. "Blending different approaches to health care can lead to a better solution," she added. "It’s the way medicine needs to go."

Watch Barbara Jo's story

[MUSIC PLAYING] While Western medicine saved Barbara Jo Koch-Smith's life, integrative medicine helped her to heal in mind, body, and spirit. Koch-Smith was introduced to integrative medicine while trying to recover from a series of health crises. 

I'm grateful for traditional medicine. I would not be here. 

In 2013, Koch-Smith had been camping near Duluth with several friends and awoke with severe chest pains. 

I think you know in the back of your head when there's some issues with your heart, but you're kind of in denial. 

Following a hair-raising ride to Moose Lake, she was ushered into the emergency room. 

They immediately hooked me up with an EKG and then I went, would it be a heart attack then? And she said yes. 

A helicopter from St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth was dispatched. 

Within 10 minutes of landing on the roof they had a stent in my heart. I had sustained it for three hours. They said that it was a miracle that I was alive. 

What followed was several months of cardio rehabilitation. Towards the end though, another problem became apparent. 

I was almost immobile with pain that seemed like rheumatoid arthritis. It was debilitating. I could not sleep at night. I could hardly brush my teeth. 

Barbara Jo suspected that the statin drug she was on was causing her reaction. And despite manufacturer's warning-- 

All my doctors were saying, no. It's not that. That is not the side effect. 

--It seemed that the undiagnosed pain would always be a part of Koch-Smith's life, until a friend told her about the Penny George Institute. 

So I made an appointment and I came in to see her. It was like, oh my gosh, this weight just lifted off me because she said, I believe you. 

When people walk away from here I think they feel listened to. They feel empowered. They feel engaged and rejuvenated. 

Through a combination of biofeedback and mindfulness treatment, Koch-Smith began developing tools to manage her stress. 

At first I was very skeptical. I had never had acupuncture before. 

But the pain gradually subsided and in the process, the philosophy of the Penny George Institute became clear. 

The recognition that you could never separate the mind, body, and spirit-- the need to really help engage patients. 

Koch-Smith also worked with an integrative nutritionist. 

And it turns out I'm allergic to almost all seeds-- not allergic, but sensitive. When I eliminated them, I would say maybe 10 days later I started to see a dramatic improvement. 

Today, Barbara Jo Koch-Smith is a renewed and healthier person. 

About three months ago I had an echo here at Abbott and my heart is back to normal. They said, wow, that really doesn't happen. My hands right now-- it's another miracle because my knuckles were about this tall with inflammation. This is since I was say, two months, and I really actually don't have any pain in my hand and my feet anymore. 

Koch-Smith is grateful for the help she received and for the opportunity to manage her health with a holistic approach that has made all the difference. 

To be in this position now where I feel like pain free and able to move my hands and getting back into a regular lifestyle again-- it's a miracle.