Phyllis Burgio knows the price someone can pay without exploring all treatment options when you’re really sick. She almost died from complications of Crohn’s disease when she was in her 20s.
Traditional doctors saved her back then, but alternative medicine has helped her get the most out of life since.
“They don’t know what causes Crohn’s, so they don’t know how to cure it. I was searching for things,” said Burgio, 54, a Town of Niagara native who learned to manage her condition with help from a strong family, the Cleveland Clinic and a friend who suggested she see a chiropractor.
That visit led to better health and a career path that started in 1988 in Niagara Falls, after Burgio graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa.
Now an East Amherst chiropractor, she looks to branch out in a big way this year with Western New York’s first online marketplace of alternative health care providers in the region.
She and her partners – former health insurance specialist Bridgette Cassety and marketing professional Kathleen Carlson – wanted to call the venture “City of Health” or “Go Health,” Burgio said, but lawyers discouraged that.
Instead, the trio decided on Burgio Health Alliance (burgiohealth.com), where folks can pay $10 a month, or $79 a year, to schedule appointments and get discounts from more than 75 allied providers that include yoga, pilates and reiki instructors, personal trainers, acupuncturists, homeopaths and naturopaths, massage therapists, reflexologists, nutritionists and other chiropractors.
Why start an online health alliance?
Right now, I do the chiropractic work for my patients but when they walk out the door I want them to continue a healthy lifestyle. We wanted to put together a true health and wellness network so they have access to their nutritional needs, their exercise needs, and we wanted to create a system that can give them easy access to do that.
How has chiropractic changed since you started?
At the time, I’d have a lot of talks at companies, parent-teacher groups and church organizations, civic clubs. You were going out to educate people. Today, you have the Internet; it eliminates a lot of the footwork. A lot of work comes in from patient referral. Sometimes, what you see with patients coming through my door is that they’ve tried everything and someone tells them, ‘Try a chiropractor,’ and they say, ‘What do I have to lose now?’
How do you feel interactions between traditional Western doctors and alternative medicine providers have changed during the last 20 years?
They’re more receptive. They come to me if they have a back problem, doctors and surgeons. They realize that this is complementary to what they’re doing. A lot of our patients are going back to their doctors and saying, ‘I don’t have the migraines anymore, or the headaches,’ or ‘My neck and back are feeling better.’
What do you look to do when someone comes into your office in some pain?
Anytime you have pain, it comes from a nerve. A lot of time, doctors will say, ‘It’s all in your head, it’s your nerves.’ Well, the way we evolve, as a fetus develops, the very first thing you see is a spinal cord and the brain … so the brain grows and extends itself into the body through the spinal cord. Everything comes from there, all the systems.
And if you have pain going down your right leg, they’ll say, ‘It’s your age.’ I’ll say, ‘Well, how old’s your left leg?’ They’ll say, ‘It’s the weather?’ I’ll say, ‘I’m walking around in it and I don’t have those problems.’
Chiropractic has been around for more than 100 years. Its philosophy hasn’t changed. When patients first come in, we’ll do a thorough consultation, a history. We want to know what happened to them before they got here: their lifestyle, how do they eat, how do they sleep? We’re checking everything that the spine will control: your reflexes, range of motion with your neck and your lumbars, muscle strength, grip strength. It gives us a basis to analyze, and from there we create a treatment plan. I always tell people, ‘The last thing that shows up is the pain.’ A pain threshold is different for everybody. But everything else had to go wrong first before you got sick, before you were in pain. That’s the last thing to show up, so that’s the first thing we’ll get rid of, but we don’t want to stop there. How you feel is very important, but how everything works, that’s real important also.
What percentage of your practice involves children under 18 and what are you helping them with?
About 30 percent. Asthma and allergies, ear infections, bed wetting problems, sleeping problems, colic. We’re working with the part of the spine that controls those areas. With little kids, we’re designing the adjustment, the treatment, for the age of the spine. I’ve adjusted kids from days old on up, with breast-feeding problems, constipation. I’ve told parents, ‘You’re going to have a poopy ride home,’ and they do.
What do you do to maintain your health?
I get adjusted every week. I try to eat organic. I don’t go to the fast-food chains. I always tell my patients, ‘You’re better off eating the box it came in for the fiber.’ I might exercise at home, do some yoga. I like walking. When I need to, I have done acupuncture, I’ve done massage, I’ve done reiki.