Jewish Post, March 5, 2008
Dr. Priscilla Kerr is a young woman with a very accomplished resume. Trained as a physician in her native Brazil (having graduated from The University of Santo Amaro Medical School in 2000), Dr. Kerr is also a recognized specialist in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (from the University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine, in the Institute of Orthopedic and Traumatology)
In fact, Dr. Kerr has 13 years of medical training altogether.
There is no doubt that the mere mention of the term “acupuncture”, however, is bound to elicit a certain degree of skepticism among much of the population here. After all, despite the fact that acupuncture has been practiced in China for thousands of years, its introduction to Western societies is relatively recent (having begun only in the 1970’s). Furthermore, even though acupuncture is generally credited with having achieved significant results for patients in a wide assortment of treatments, how exactly those results are achieved is not totally understood.
Yet, a practitioner of acupuncture such as Dr. Kerr, who is able to combine the perspectives of Western medicine with traditional Chinese medicine, brings a fascinating and rare insight into modalities of treatment.
According to Dr. Kerr, in Brazil only licensed medical physicians are allowed to engage in acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture is regarded as a specialty in Brazil in the same way as any other medical specialty, with a government requirement that any physician wanting to practice acupuncture must have studied at least two additional years, following their normal training as a physician. Dr. Kerr actually studied acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for a total of five years, specializing in Pain Management. From February 2004- December 2006 , Dr. Kerr was a supervisor teacher of a Specialized Course in acupuncture for doctors. In 2006 Dr. Kerr opened her own business in Sao Paulo: Integrare Health Centre.)
In Manitoba, by way of contrast, Dr. Kerr says “there are no specific rules” that govern who may or may not be allowed to practice acupuncture. The Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Association of Canada regulates the practice across the country, she says.
It is partly as a result of the less stringent rules surrounding the regulation of acupuncture in this country that its acceptance has been somewhat less than enthusiastic. At one time there were 35 credentialed acupuncturists in Manitoba, says Dr. Kerr. “Now it’s eleven,” she notes.
Consistent standards of treatment
Many of the patients that Dr. Kerr has been seeing since she first opened her practice here in June at the Manitoba Clinic of last year are referred to her by other physicians. In each case, regardless whether the patient is a referral or whether the patient has booked an appointment directly, Dr. Kerr’s initial meeting with the patient will include taking a history and a physical examination. The first consultation will be approximately one hour long, she says.
After determining a diagnosis using Chinese Medicine methods, Dr. Kerr will plan future sessions, depending upon the severity of the condition with which the patient presents, and how the patient responds to treatments. Each subsequent session lasts approximately 30 minutes.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and “Qi”
The basic foundation of Chinese medicine is that there is a life energy force flowing through the body called “Qi” (pronounced “chi”). This energy flows through the body on channels known as “meridians” that connect all our major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of “Qi” in the meridians becomes unbalanced or is blocked.
According to this theory, acupuncture “points” are areas of designated electrical sensitivity that has been shown to be effective in the treatment of specific health problems.
Scientific explanation for acupuncture
In the course of her training as an acupuncturist, Dr. Kerr has often been invited to give lectures to other physicians on the scientific basis of acupuncture. She recently gave one such lecture at the Victoria Hospital. Following are some excerpts from her lecture:
“Acupuncture first captured the interest of Western science through its ability to induce anesthesia and analgesia…Acupuncture stimulates the secretion of endogenous morphine-like substances called endorphins…which act on the opiate receptor sites and inhibit the transmission of pain signals.”
Not only does acupuncture have a demonstrable role in pain management, Dr. Kerr went on to note, studies have shown that it also effective in the treatment of “gastrointestinal disorders, psychological illnesses, motor function disorder, and metabolic diseases.”
Various studies over the years have shown that needle insertion activates pain fibers in the skin. Subsequently, these pain fibers trigger a cascade of chemical messengers, according to the theory, while sending signals to the spinal cord, which relays messages to the brain stem.
For an experienced acupuncturist such as Dr. Kerr, knowledge of the hundreds of acupuncture points on the body leads to activation of specific regions of the brain in Chinese medical theory.
Using sterile and disposable needles (thinner than an insulin needle), during a single treatment, Dr. Kerr says that patients are aware of the needle insertion, but do not experience any discomfort. On average, the needles (numbering no more than 20) will be left in 20 minutes.
When asked whether acupuncture is equally effective in the treatment of all disorders for which it is recommended, Dr. Kerr suggested that acupuncture is particularly successful in treatment of the following conditions: pain disorders, headaches, premenstrual syndrome, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, tendonitis, arthritic conditions, stroke , addictions, anxiety disorders, depression and asthma.
What drew Dr. Kerr to Winnipeg
The story how Dr. Kerr immigrated to Canada is fascinating in itself. Both of Dr. Kerr’s parents are practicing radiologists in Sao Paulo. During the course of their careers they came to know our own Dr. Ted Lyons (recent recipient of the Order of Canada and Past President of the Winnipeg Jewish Federation). The Lyons family and the Kerr family became close friends over the years, and Dr. Kerr says that she developed a keen interest in Canada, and especially Winnipeg, from having spent so much time in Dr. Lyons’ company from the time she was a very young girl.
Although neither Dr. Kerr nor her husband, whose name is Decio Hatae, are Jewish by birth, they were both drawn to Judaism in their native Brazil. After having begun the process of studying Judaism, Dr. Kerr says that she was also developing a successful practice inSao Paulo when a traumatic incident occurred that changed her and her husband’s lives forever.
In December, 2004, the manager of her medical clinic, (who was also studying Judaism with Dr. Kerr and her husband) was brutally murdered just ten minutes from where Dr. Kerr lived, in a supposedly “safe” area. It was that event, more than anything else that led Dr. Kerr to make contact with Dr. Lyons, leading to their subsequent emigration to Winnipeg (where Decio works as a computer programmer, incidentally.)
Dr. Lyons helped to put Dr. Kerr and her husband in touch with the Jewish Federation here and through the special program designed to help interested South American Jews move her; the young couple arrived in Winnipeg last February.
Since their arrival in Winnipeg, Dr. Kerr and her husband have continued the conversion process under the supevision of Rabbi Pinsker at Shaarey Zedek Synagogue.
Now. as a pre-eminent expert in the field of acupuncture, Dr. Kerr is offering the vast amount of experience and learning that she has absorbed over the years to Winnipeggers who may have found themselves frustrated at their inability to receive effective treatments for their conditions through Western medicine.