NIAGARA FALLS – The thermometer was hovering around 85 degrees on that blistering June day in 2014 when Dr. Kristin Jacobsen had an epiphany.
She was participating in a half-marathon in Orchard Park at the time, she recently recalled.
“I call running my ‘prayer in motion,’ ” she explained.
A nearby shout of, “Don’t forget to thank the veterans who are handing you water this morning,” jarred her from her reverie and she started reflecting on the veterans’ selflessness around the world – and back at home.
“Here these people, who had already given so much, were out there in the heat handing us water,” the Niagara Falls chiropractor recalled. “And, this was a time when there was a lot of griping about the tragedy of the Veterans Administration mishandling things and I heard a voice (inside) say, ‘That’s great, now what are you going to do about it?’
“By the end of the race, I had it all figured out,” she said. “It would start with me offering complimentary chiropractic care to those servicemen and women wounded or injured in combat.”
And Hands Healing Heroes was born.
Jacobsen offers this free chiropractic care for veterans wounded in combat at her practice, Family Chiropractic, 2230 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls.
Additionally, Hands Healing Heroes is planning its fourth annual Veterans Appreciation Day from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at the John A. Duke Center, 1201 Hyde Park Blvd., Niagara Falls.
Open to all veterans – as well as current Armed Forces members – this event features live music, free food, free five-minute chair massages and haircuts, and complimentary medal searches for veterans and their families. Each veteran also receives an entrance gift (gift certificate) and one sheet of basket auction tickets. Additional basket auction sheets are $5 or $20 for 5.
“We created this event to show veterans our appreciation – to let them know their sacrifices were not in vain,” Jacobsen said. “And I’m hoping as a mother to pass this true appreciation of their contributions along to my daughter. I want to show her that by taking just one step, a person can create change.
“We had 100 to 150 people last year – veterans and their families – and we’re hoping for 200 to 250 this year,” she added.
“So many give to this (effort) and help out, and I send handwritten thank-you letters to everyone after, because they’re not just donating a basket, they’re changing lives,” she said.
“And, I’d never be able to do all of this, at this event and with other projects, without our volunteers,” Jacobsen added. “Our Hands Healing Heroes board works really, really hard and is made up of veterans and their wives.”
To donate or volunteer, call Cheryl at 282-1953. For more information, call Jacobsen at Family Chiropractic at 282-2225.
Jacobsen recently took some time to talk about the importance of the organization she founded and her hopes for the future.
Q: Do you have veterans in your family?
A: My father was a Marine and he was fortunate because he served in between the Korean and Vietnam wars. But he was always grateful for what the Marines taught him.
Q: How does your chiropractic care help injured or wounded vets – beyond the obvious?
A: Chiropractic care addresses the nervous system and when there’s stress on the nervous system, it can affect physical, emotional and mental health – it can create havoc. But when touch is used in the healing arts, you can reach someone who’s on guard.
The bones of the spine are there to protect the spinal cord, which lies underneath; when you release pressure on the spinal cord, there can be an emotional release, too, especially if the injury has been chronic or traumatic.
I had one fellow who had to stop and gather himself after the treatment. There’s a feeling of being acknowledged, of being cared for and tended to. We all need this. It’s a human desire, I believe.
Q: What are some of your success stories?
A: I have veterans from their 20s to their 70s. They’ll come in for their first visit and ask how much their next visit is. I say, ‘No, this is my gift.’ Sometimes they’re too proud or embarrassed to take advantage of this to the full degree – and almost all of them need it.
I had one man, it was his second IEB (exposure to an improvised explosive device) and he had severe back problems. He was only in his 20s and was ready to just go on disability. But in just three visits to me, he couldn’t believe it. He had zero pain. Three months later, he took off for Washington and is working and in a relationship now.
Knowing that gives me a sense of gratitude – to be involved in that. And, it’s that unspoken sense of gratitude on their part when they look at me that confirms that I’m on the right path.
Q: You have treated veterans from a number of different wars. Do you see a difference between their health problems?
A: When the World War II veterans came home, there were parades and people recognized what they had been through. When the Vietnam War veterans came home, some were spat on and chastised, but they were still acknowledged for having been there.
Now, we have veterans coming home from the Middle East and our society is ignorant on the matter. I like to think I’m pretty well-read and I had no idea what they were doing and seeing on a daily basis …
How do you come back here when you feel so out of place? One patient explained to me that when you’re in the Army, for example, everyone has a job, an outline of what’s expected of them. But they come back here and are lost.
That’s why we have this Veterans Appreciation Day – because we want them to feel like the superheroes they are.
Q: What future plans do you have for Hands Healing Heroes?
A: When we get our 501(c)3 status, by spring of next year, it will give us a chance to spread our wings a little. For example, there’s a doctor in Ohio interested in coming on board, and a local podiatrist interested in learning more. We hope to reach all perspectives of medical care.
But even though the organization is establishing 501(c)3 status as a nonprofit, none of the funding the organization might seek will be used for the veterans’ care provided by me, which is a personal gift.
We want to create a wave of people standing up and being patriotic. Anyone can do this. You might offer to make a meal for someone whose husband has been deployed, or mow a veteran’s lawn who is away. Everyone has something to give.
And we’re starting a Hands Healing Heroes Junior. My daughter, Meghan Pacana, is starting freshman year at Lew-Port High School and she’d like to make this into a club. We want to create an appreciation of veterans for students.
Q: Tell us a little more about yourself.
A: I’m a bit of a gypsy. I lived in Stowe, Vt., until I was 13, then moved to New Jersey and went to college in California and returned to New Jersey. Then I went to the New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls.
I did my internship in New Zealand and was offered a job in Australia, but I chose Niagara Falls because of my boyfriend at the time, now my ex-husband. But I have a beautiful daughter, instead of a kangaroo! (laugh) This is the longest I’ve lived anywhere – 18 years – and I have found it to be wonderful. It’s been very welcoming in Western New York.
I’ve been a chiropractor for 18 years and I’m a clinical nutritionist, too. I’ve always been interested in nutrition and fitness. In January, I’m going to pursue another degree, as well, to become a certified clinician of whole food nutrition.
I’m a single mom, who owns my own business and I was able to go to school and learn a trade because men and women were fighting for my right to do all of this. Hands Healing Heroes is just my way of giving back …It’s been a beautiful, rewarding journey and it all came from just one run.