Columbia volunteers use acupuncture treatments to make a healing difference in Joplin

Acu detox technicians used technique on storm survivors
Wednesday, July 6, 2011 | 4:17 p.m. CDT; updated 4:42 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 19, 2011

COLUMBIA — Joplin resident Pat Bartlett had not slept well in almost two weeks, not since an EF5 tornado ripped through her city on May 22.

“It impacted everybody, and it doesn’t matter if they lost their homes or lost anyone — our community is completely devastated," she said. 

Bartlett's neighborhood lost only trees, but as the director of Success By 6, a United Way children's development program, she is deeply involved in her community and was affected by the mounting losses there.

When Bartlett heard that acupuncture was being used to help anyone who needed it, she decided to give it a try.

"She said that she was feeling really guilty about not having lost her home in the tornado," said Sara Bursac of Ashland, an acu detox technician with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association in Columbia.

Bursac was one of two Columbia-area acu detox technicians who joined the association's statewide effort to help out in Joplin. Acu detox technicians practice the "NADA protocol," a standardized acupuncture treatment of five specific points on the ears.

The treatments, available to both victims and volunteers, were used to ease stress, anxiety and sleep deprivation.

"Acupuncture is a form of healing that helps to increase the flow of energy, or chi, in the body, and it helps to remove any blocks to the chi that in Chinese medicine are considered the causes of disease and any stagnated or blocked energy," Bursac said.

NADA President Ken Carter of Charlotte, N.C., said acu detox treatments have been used in disaster relief worldwide. In the U.S., acu detox technicians responded in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s a public health tool that is easily available and easily accessible and does not cost a lot because you are using folks who are already part of your existing local agencies,” Carter said.

In Joplin, the acu detox technicians worked out of a Salvation Army tent and treated as many as 58 patients a day. Bursac said that for many this was their first experience receiving an acupuncture treatment.

Bartlett had tried it one other time before Bursac treated her, poking five needles, each slightly thicker than a whisker, into each of Bartlett's ears. The result, Bartlett said, was the first decent night of sleep she'd had since the tornado.

“I am a firm believer in it, and it absolutely helped me,” she said.

The treatments also provided an opportunity for tornado survivors and volunteers to communicate if they wanted to.

“If and when they want to talk about what happened, they will be in a better space after they’ve had a series of treatments to do that,” Bursac said.

“A torn-down building can be rebuilt, but the psychological scars are harder to repair,” said Nate Wax, the other acu detox technician from the Columbia area who went to Joplin.

Acupuncturist Lynn Maloney of Columbia will be training new NADA members to become acu detox technicians in Joplin July 30 to Aug. 1.

“There are people still going through crisis who lost their homes, they lost their businesses and are under a considerable amount of stress there," Maloney said. "I think that it's really going to help people."

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