By JACKIE RIPLEY, Times Staff Writer
TOWN 'N COUNTRY -- Desperation drove Michael Mills to Chinese medicine a year ago. But improved health keeps him coming back.
Dr. Yali Fan, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, said ambivalence is not uncommon among patients who visit her Town 'N Country clinic for the first time. But once people experience Chinese medicine, many become converts.
"Some people love Chinese medicine and are very accepting," Fan said. "One woman comes all the way from Lake City."
Fan, author of six books, has practiced traditional Chinese medicine for 18 years. She was a professor at Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and a Chinese medical doctor at the University Hospital in China before moving to the United States six years ago to work at the Florida Institute of Traditional Medicine in St. Petersburg.
She started her own practice in Town 'N Country on Waters Avenue last year and moved to her new location at 6101 Webb Road last month.
Traditional Chinese medicine works on the theory that all living beings have Chi, or life force, and that good health is maintained by the balanced flow of that life force. When Chi becomes blocked, through such things as stress, injury or pathogens, ill health occurs.
In her work at the Town 'N Country clinic Fan uses a combination of therapies, including herbs, acupuncture, acupressure, Tui Na massage and Qigong.
Fan said she also uses Qigong to help her sense where energy is blocked in a patient's body.
"It takes several years of practice," Fan said, but "I scan the body with my hands and can feel where there is unbalance."
Lucy Dusina has gone to Fan for the past three years and makes the three-hour trip from Lake City every month for treatments. She said Fan "has an intuitive sense about the person's body."
Acupuncture physician Maria E. Belluccio, who practices at the Natural Health Center, 13272 N Dale Mabry Highway, recommends word of mouth in choosing a doctor of Chinese medicine because there is no organization like the American Medical Association overseeing Eastern medicine. The number of Chinese medical practitioners is growing in the Tampa Bay area, especially in Pinellas County.
"There has been so much negative press about the side effects of medicine, rising drug costs and decreased time spent with patients that people are starting to educate themselves about integrative therapies," Belluccio said.
Though controversial in some circles, alternative medicine appears to be growing in popularity. Chinese medicine is just one alternative therapy in a range from chiropractic treatment to colonic therapy.
In 1990 in the United States, 34 percent of adults had used some form of alternative medicine, according to figures compiled by the University of South Florida. By 1997 the number had risen to 42 percent, with about $27-billion spent on practitioners and another $3- to $4-billion on herbal supplements.
Conventional medicine sometimes has side effects that often can be relieved through Eastern medicine such as acupuncture and Qigong.
"I had lost a lot of weight, couldn't sleep and figured Eastern medicine had been around for 4,000 years, maybe there was something to it," said Mills, a computer consultant who lives on Harbour Island. "The whole thing is about the simplicity of it all. Dr. Fan will say to you, "Relax,' but it takes a few months to understand what that really all means."
Fan said she uses Tunic massage to treat common childhood ailments like colic, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, colds, coughs and asthma.
"In pediatric massage there are no needles," said Fan, who says that most of her pediatric patients are the children of people who themselves are patients.
"It's a matter of trust," she said. But the child feels "so much better after, no colic after one or two treatments, no crying."
Fan, who does not treat emergencies or perform surgery, said some insurance companies will cover part of the cost of treatment, typically in the $60 range.
Dusina, who got her first acupuncture treatment 20 years ago, said her insurance covers her visits, but but she would continue even if it didn't.
"When you have a checkup with acupuncture, you're freeing energy to flow," Dusina said. "The proof is in the pudding."
Traditional Chinese medicine is used to treat neurological and muscular disorders such as migraines, carpel tunnel and back pain; digestive disorders such as abdominal pain, indigestion and colonitis; respiratory disorders such as the common cold, sinusitis and asthma; urino-reproductive and gynecological disorders such as impotence, PMS and infertility; eye, ear, nose and throat disorders such as night blindness, sore throat and some kinds of hearing loss; stress-related conditions such as depression, anxiety and insomnia; weight problems, smoking, alcohol and drug addictions; and facial signs of aging.
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