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Charlotte Area Veteran Grateful for VA’s Whole Health Offerings

Dr. Mehta and Veteran Eric Sifford shake hands outside Charlotte HCC.

In dire pain for years and facing a bleak outlook, including the potential for multiple surgeries, it seemed to Eric Sifford that his options had been exhausted and hope for relief was futile. But recently, things changed. The nearly 30-year Marine and Army Veteran attributes his good feeling and better health to successful Whole Health treatments. "Most importantly, I feel my health outcomes through Whole Health are sustainable, without using drugs or surgeries."

Whole Health is an approach to care designed to empower and equip individuals to live their lives to the fullest, often incorporating complementary and integrative (CIH) protocols that supplement traditional healthcare methods and promote wellness, as a different approach to conventional medical care.   The process addresses health holistically, and when appropriate, partners with medications to prevent illness. Then, when possible, Whole Health keeps the body strong, and when confronted with illness, uses healing abilities the body already has to fight sickness, with the understanding that there isn't just one answer but many contributors to good health.

But Sifford's recent joy and energetic attitude owe the lion's share of gratitude to acupuncture. The procedure works by inserting disposable sterile needles into specific points to various depths at strategic points along meridians in the body, inciting energy flow toward a re-balance. Next, the practitioner may gently move or twirl the needles after placement or apply heat or mild electrical pulses to the needles. In most cases, the needles remain comfortably in place for 25 to 40 minutes.

For Sifford, the tiny tweaks and twirls have achieved what traditional medicine could not. His painful journey began almost 20 years ago, during a hard landing while serving as an Army paratrooper in 2004. He damaged vertebrae that day when a tree intercepted his jump and he fell about 30 feet. He has lived with incredible pain ever since until a few months ago. "I had been suffering chronic numbness in parts of my body from that fall," even though the Army did a miraculous job rehabilitating him enough to qualify and become a Warrant Officer in 2007. "And thanks to Dr. Mehta's acupuncture treatment, that numbness is essentially gone!” Paras Mehta, MD is a Board-Certified VA physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine. But when it comes to CIH, you might say Dr. Mehta is "all-in!" His training spans specialties in integrative, regenerative, allopathic, mind-body, and functional medicine, five different styles of acupuncture, and "an even larger array of tools that we regularly employ in the clinic."

As with any treatment plan, longevity, continuity, and regularity play essential roles in success. Dr. Mehta suggests the aim is to use a series of acupuncture treatments to reduce pain, so it doesn't interfere significantly with a patient's quality of life. But he claims Sifford got a bonus that probably helped drive his passion and inspired him to keep his subsequent visits. He said, "remarkably, within one treatment, [Sifford's] pain, which had been there for more than 15 years, responded dramatically." Mehta said that the occurrence of instant, sustained relief for an older condition is not expected, but "We do see this from time to time in our clinic."  After experiencing early results, the acupuncture effects on Sifford continued to build momentum. 

So, Sifford stuck with it. The results were good enough that he parlayed his acupuncture success for a round with other forms of Whole Health care. Having some conditions he inherited, along with others he picked up along the way while serving in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as an Avionics Technician, and later, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Inherent Resolve, in either Field Artillery, Signals Intelligence or Human Intelligence Collection, he's developed some afflictions shared by many Veterans, including PTSD. He still participates in Tai Chi and Whole Health Coaching. "My transition to civilian life was challenging. Upon retiring, I immediately missed the unique camaraderie and shared sense of mission I had enjoyed in the military."

While the Tai Chi and coaching settle his mind and help him focus, the acupuncture has brought him bliss. 

According to Mehta, when Sifford came to him in 2021, "He had a chronic condition associated with paratrooping that was unable to be helped by many different strategies, including conventional care, medications, and physical therapy." Sifford said a childhood ailment exacerbated the condition. "I had been crippled as a child from a hip deformity." By the time he visited Dr. Mehta, "I just assumed hip surgery was in the cards for me. However, Dr. Mehta diagnosed the pain I was experiencing, and he treated my hip. After a few short months, my hip pain subsided, and it has not returned!"

Dr. Mehta confirmed Sifford's excitement: "He was absolutely astounded that the result held, and even credits the treatment with transforming his life! He just turned 60 and has hope again for his upcoming season of life." Mehta doesn't take that success lightly. From the start, he faced challenging patient circumstances that opposed conventional medicine. The doctor continues to learn how the tweaks are individual and distinct from person to person and moment to moment. He carries the knowledge of applying his training and experience to enhance his patients' lives. In his world, everybody gains. Of his earlier years after residency, he recalls, " I cut my teeth treating the most complex and advanced patients you can imagine – stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, and pain patients in the ICU, successfully with acupuncture and other strategies."

It has been well-documented that inside a long list of benefits, acupuncture can relieve adverse feelings associated with chemotherapy-induced and postoperative illness, dental pain, tension headaches and migraines, labor pain, low back pain, osteoarthritis, menstrual cramps, and respiratory disorders, such as allergic rhinitis. Dr. Mehta says, "Whole Health and integrative medicine is most effective as a part of, not instead of, conventional care." He relies on the medical community to continue to evolve and collaborate for the most effective strategies. "We have a tremendous opportunity to reduce pain medication burdens and draw from a toolkit incorporating evidence-informed practices from modalities that historically can be overlooked or even marginalized."

Although acupuncture, a 4,000-year-old practice in Asia, didn't enter Western medical protocols until after 1972, and the continued study has confirmed its value and effectiveness in ways that enrich health care rewards. "A good example of the two systems working in tandem to improve patient outcomes,” according to Mehta, "is in oncology – for cancer care, at the major cancer centers, acupuncture is standard of care to help patients minimize side effects from their treatment regimens."

Many VA facilities offer acupuncture with other complementary and integrative health care (CIH) protocols that supplement traditional health care methods and promote wellness. Check with your primary care team or open VA’s Live Whole Health app for more information.

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