Group Site Partner Nova Medical Re-Imagines Health Management

The old adage that every cloud has a silver lining ranks pretty high on the list of Things That People Say About The World. We know it isn’t true — some bad things are just bad — but we say it any way because it makes the world seem easier to live in. And because some disasters are in fact the first steps in a process that produces unforeseeable blessings.

Dr. Grace Keenan, founder of Nova Medical Group and Spa.

Dr. Grace Keenan, founder of Nova Medical Group and Spa.

For example: after treating chronic illness in other people for years, Dr. Grace Keenan was stricken herself. First she was sidelined, and then she was taken completely out of the game. For more than a year, Dr. Keenan couldn’t practice medicine at all; in fact, she could barely get out of bed.

That direct experience with long-term illness redoubled Dr. Keenan’s desire to helped people with chronic diseases, but it also raised some doubts about conventional medical approaches — they hadn’t worked very well when she was the person sick in bed for all those months, so were they likely to work any better for other people?

When Dr. Keenan finally return to work, she asked her patients a difficult question: am I doing you any good? People with chronic diseases all said no, the treatment Dr. Keenan had provided them up to that point — standard medical treatment — had not cured their illnesses or even relieved their symptoms to any substantial degree. So Dr. Keenan decided to see what would happen if she treated those patients according to the principles of naturopathy, a medical philosophy she had studied during her own illness.

Nova Medical Group's Ashburn campus.

Nova Medical Group’s Ashburn campus.

Nova Medical Group, the largest integrative primary care practice in Northern Virginia, is the result of that decision.

According to Bastyr University, an institution that trains naturopaths, “Naturopathic doctors see the physician as someone who facilitates healing by identifying and removing barriers to health.” Chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are not ‘barriers to health’ but rather the natural consequences of allowing the real barriers to remain in place, naturopaths would argue. So to help people with those conditions, you have to tear those barriers down.

In recent years, chronic illness has become more American than apple pie. According to Nicole Holovach, a dietitian at Nova Medical Group, 55 percent of the American workforce suffers from two chronic diseases or more. Diabetes, depression, hypertension, heart disease, cancer: more than half of us have more than one of those! And 65 percent of us are fat or certifiably obese.

You don’t need a medical degree to understand the relationship between those percentages.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that 84 percent of every healthcare dollar goes to the treatment of chronic illnesses, the vast majority of which are caused by lifestyles that embrace the common barriers to health instead of eliminating them — barriers like eating lousy food and spending most of your time in a chair. Twenty-nine pounds of French fries every year, and 23 pounds of pizza, and 141 pounds of sugar, much of it dissolved in 53 gallons of soda. Hard to get much exercise with that stuff in your gullet.

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Spa services include yoga sessions.

In light of all this information, and under the auspices of common sense, Nova Medical Group offers an alternative approach to health, a proactive approach which actively cultivates wellness rather than merely reacting to sickness. They’ve done that by adding dietitians to their practice, and naturopaths, and acupuncturists, and massage therapists, and behavioral therapists, and by opening a health spa in their building — not because everybody needs a mani-pedi, but because stress is one of the primary barriers to health.

They’ve also opened a restaurant, The Garden of Eatin’, which operates under a naturopathic motto: “You can’t fix your health until you fix your diet.”

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Kiet Ly with the kind of food that helped him lose 260 pounds.

Like Dr. Keenan, chef Kiet Ly learned about the relationship between food and health through personal experience.

“I grew up with a single mother who had difficulty expressing her feelings verbally,” Ly writes in the Garden of Eatin’s blog. “The typical mother’s ‘I love you’ was replaced with food. So, from about the age of 6 until I turned 28, the pounds just kept increasing every year. I reached the weight of 490 pounds in the summer of 2009…”

After Ly realized that his weight was killing him, he embraced the principles of naturopathy — and lost 97 pounds in three months. Ly attended an intensive week-long workshop with Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, maker of the documentary Forks Over Knives, which “examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.” That claim has guided Ly’s professional and personal lives ever since.

Recently the Garden of Eatin’ merged with another health-inspired food source: The Randy Radish, which is owned and operated by Certified Natural Food Chefs Nancy Jezior and Sharon Lindblad. These two enterprising women describe their mission as “positively impacting the states of health and the environment by promoting a compassionate, sustainable, and healthy way of living through whole food, plant-based cuisine, educational outreach, and philanthropy.”

The food professionals at Nova Medical Group offer cooking classes, which Public Relations Director Melanie Schmidt describes as “book clubs with food.” Some of the group’s doctors have begun to attend those classes so they can help their patients take charge of their diets — and thus their health. And since Nova believes that real food is one of the foundations of real well-being, they will once again be serving as a public group site for GCF’s CSA program.

Great Country Farms is proud to partner with people who have the experience, knowledge, and courage required to ask important questions — and to embrace the answers that emerge.

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