Continuing Care

Alternative Hospice Treatments Offer Comfort, Relieve Pain

Listen to Dr. Leonard Wright Discuss Alternative Medicine (MP3, 12MB)

When Les Crater, 75, told his wife of 53 years that he had enough of hospital stays, Nancy Crater knew what he meant.

“It was quite a dramatic moment,” said Nancy, a registered nurse. “Les was having a great deal of difficulty breathing and his oxygen content was very low. I thought this would be another trip to the hospital but he looked at me with intensity that I’ve seldom seen and said, ‘No.’ And I’ve honored that. I understood that.”

Les, a retired chief x-ray technician, has suffered from heart disease most of his adult life, experiencing numerous heart attacks over the years.

“He has been in the hospital at least 80 times since 1980,” Nancy said. “We thought we lost him this last visit. On the tenth day of his hospital stay I was making funeral arrangements. On day 15, I took him home.”

When doctors determined this past May that Les’ heart condition had progressed to the end stage, Nancy contacted Spectrum Health Hospice & Palliative Care.

Spectrum Health Hospice & Palliative Care provides comforting care and compassionate support for patients who are experiencing a life-limiting illness and a terminal diagnosis. Hospice services include pain management and control of symptoms with the assistance of a registered nurse who visits the patient on a regular basis.

To qualify for hospice services, patients must be diagnosed with six months or less to live. The Crater family was connected with case manager Cathy Forrest, RN, and Leonard Wright, MD, administrative medical director for the program.

During the first visit to the Crater’s home, Forrest learned that Les Crater also suffers from Ankylosing Spondylitis, a severe and chronic form of arthritis. The disease is painful and results in the loss of flexibility in movement, commonly called “stiff man syndrome.” Forrest mentioned that Dr. Wright could treat Les’ pain with acupuncture, one of the new alternative therapies now offered to all Spectrum Health Hospice & Palliative Care patients. Spectrum Health is the only hospice service in West Michigan offering comprehensive complementary alternative treatments to its patients.

The Craters, although unfamiliar with acupuncture, agreed to give it a try. Les was particularly concerned about losing flexibility in his neck.

“I have been fighting that battle for years,” he said, citing sharp neck pain and frequent headaches. “I tried every arthritis drug out there.”

According to Les, after two acupuncture treatments from Dr. Wright, the pain he had been living with since he was 19 years old was gone. Now, in addition to regular visits from his Hospice nurse, Les receives acupuncture treatments from Dr. Wright each month.

“Our role is to offer our hospice patients choices and then honor their choices. Alternative treatment is a choice,” said Wright. “We carefully explain that alternative treatments are not a cure for their illness. However, they can be helpful in promoting relaxation and stress relief, and help manage chronic pain or other symptoms.”

As far as the Craters are concerned, the treatment worked.

“We consider Dr. Wright a godsend,” said Nancy.’

Wright received his medical degree from the University of Michigan and served a residency in internal medicine at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and a residency in emergency medicine at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois. After a personal health issue led him to explore treatment options beyond traditional medicine, Wright trained in acupuncture at the University of California, Los Angeles, studying with Joseph M. Helms, MD, who has been credited with driving the emergence of medical acupuncture in the United States.

In addition to acupuncture, Spectrum Health Hospice & Palliative Care offers alternative treatments including therapeutic massage, relaxation techniques such as Reiki, a traditional Japanese practice, volunteer music and visits from pets.

Spectrum Health Hospice and Palliative Care is part of Spectrum Health Continuing Care and provides services in patients’ homes, in long-term care or assisted living facilities, in the hospital or wherever a patient resides.

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan that offers a full continuum of care through the Spectrum Health Hospital Group, a collection of seven hospitals and more than 140 service sites; the Spectrum Health Medical Group and’ mmpc, multispecialty physician groups with more than 400 providers; and Priority Health, a health plan with nearly 500,000 members. Spectrum Health’s 16,000 employees, 1,500 medical staff members and 2,000 volunteers are committed to delivering the highest quality care. The organization provided $111.1 million in community benefit during its 2008 fiscal year. As a system, Spectrum Health has earned more than 100 awards during the past 10 years.