April 24, 2010

Dr. Gives the "Gift" of Healthcare

Trying to fix America’s healthcare problem(s) is confusing, frustrating and hard to figure out. Consider the intricacies of the paperwork, the red tape and the circuitous phone calls back and forth with insurance companies about what medical procedures are covered when desperately needed. The stress, terror and despondency that this can create are enough to make anyone sick.

When I was a teenager, I remember trying to help my grandmother and mother (who speak limited English) figure out their healthcare benefits. Breast cancer claimed my Aunt Hong’s life 10-years ago. I remember she was more worried about what her insurance would or would not cover, more than the cancer itself. I remember my heart beating fast, palms sweaty, as I tried to decipher the legalese and medical jargon on the forms for my family members. It’s as if the paperwork was made to confuse applicants. I could just imagine the frustration of my elders and how helpless they felt relying on a kid to do the paperwork so they can get the medical care they so desperately needed. I’ve had my personal tug-of-wars with my previous dental insurance provider when I was in pain during finals my third year in college and the insurance company denied my root canal.

I’m not here to make a statement about America’s broken healthcare system or air my grievances about whose done me wrong. As a matter of fact, I’ve had some pretty pleasant encounters with my HMOs and PPOs. Rather I’m here to share an inspirational story of a Doctor whom I recently met through my friends at CharityFocus. A doctor with a prescription on how she can fix America’s healthcare boo boos.

Amidst the ongoing healthcare debate in America, one doctor, out of Oakland, Calif., has a simple solution: just give it away.

“We give, no strings attached,” Dr. Aumatma Shah said with a big smile. Dr. Shah co-founded KarmaClinic in April 2009. She decided to volunteer her services full-time about four months ago and doesn’t get paid a single penny. Yep, that’s right, she doesn’t get a paycheck. Patients don’t have to pay for her services. She gives the gift of healthcare.

Why would anyone do such a thing, especially when Naturopathic doctors can charge $50-300 an hour? GoInspireGo.com made an appointment with Dr. Shah to find out what inspired her to gift healthcare, how she sustains the clinic and how she pays her bills without a paycheck or hidden savings.

Dr. Shah is Naturopathic Doctor (using natural remedies to heal). She received her Naturopathic Medicine Degree and her Masters degree in Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport and got her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Rutgers University. Even though she excelled in the pre-med program at Rutgers, Dr. Shah found her calling through Naturopathy because it connects the mind, body, and spirit.

The concept is simple: “We wish to give the gift of healthcare,” she said. “Our current healthcare system is broken and is in shambles, the reform really doesn't address the root cause. Even with the at-best option for single payer, the healthcare system would not address the problem of disconnectedness that people so commonly feel from their practitioners.”

Dr. Shah believes that the universe will sustain the cost operating the clinic and her basic needs. “All I need is food and shelter,” she said with another smile. Anonymous donations have miraculously sustained her since the clinic opened its doors.

Oh, and I must mention, the quality of time spent with patients. After they make an appointment online, Dr. Shah sends patients a long, in depth questionnaire, with questions that reach deep within, such as the patient’s perspective on life and their responsibility to heal, before she meets with them. The first appointment is about two hours long. Along with no payment due at the end of the visit, patients don’t have to wait in line and get a unique one-on-one medical experience that has many patients leaving transformed – with a renewed outlook on their health and their lives. On top of the deep connection, the attention and quality time with Dr. Shah, patients leave with the gift of a smile card that reminds you to “smile” and pay this gift forward in an anonymous way – a gift, a shift and an experience that money can’t buy.

This experiment is about to face its biggest test yet – Dr. Shah’s medical school loans will be due next month. Still, she trusts that if the loans need to be paid, the money will come. The universe will provide.

When I tell people about Karma Clinic and explain what Dr. Shah is doing, I could literally see people’s minds churning – People ask how could this be? How does she pay her bills? What? Blank and discombobulated facial expressions ensue.
Some people I’ve come across while producing this story have called me credulous, others were skeptical of Naturopathy and exactly how and why Dr. Shah does what she does. I’m not insinuating that naturopathy will work for you; everyone has the right to think and choose the path of healing they believe in.

Whether you’re a skeptic or a supporter, I hope this story inspires you to think about what you can do for others.

Through our work at Go Inspire Go, we hope to help people discover and use their “power” to help others. Through our videos, we hope that you will discover your power (resources, talents, gifts) to give back. You don’t have to take drastic measures, sell your home or quit your job -- I hope to inspire you to think about what you’re capable of doing to help others, in your scope, in your comfort level, on your own time.

When I think about my Aunt Hong, who died in her 40’s and everyone who is battling illnesses and insurance companies, I can’t help but think about what Dr. Shah said that will always continue to resonate and inspire me: “We give the patients the respect that they deserve, regardless of whether they have money or not, because they’re human beings.” Isn’t that the way healthcare should be? Isn’t this the way we should treat others, no matter what resources or gifts we have to offer? No matter how much you have in your bank account, what title you do or do not have, I truly believe that everyone has the power to help others.

What Can YOU do?

April 15, 2010

Jog Blog Adventure

Inspiration nudged me out of bed this morning and it made me do something awesome that I never have done before...

That inspiration came in many forms: sunlight beaming through my window --, as you will see, it was a beautiful, crisp San Francisco spring morning, a fresh bowl of strawberries and an early morning phone call with an old college friend, Sandy, who wanted to spontaneously drop by for a visit. A series of events led me to the theme of today's video and blog post: Gratitude -- and how it can change the trajectory of your day.

So I blog today, in honor of being aware and grateful of everything around me as I go about my daily routine.

I invite you to slow down and do the same.

Back to this morning... I was surprised to hear Sandy's familiar voice. "Toan I am quitting my job, so I thought I'd give you a call to see what you're doing today, maybe we can hang out and catch up?" Sandy said. After she told me that she was excited to reconnect, I replied, "First off, congrats for quitting your job and yes I'd love to hang out, it's been a while." It just so happened that I had no plans (which is a rarity for me because I teach four classes at the Academy of Art and run a non-profit): No classes to teach, no meetings with anyone from my non-profit and no conference calls. So, like a little kid who just set a play-date with a long lost friend, I jumped at the opportunity to reconnect with Sandy.

The phone call left me feeling tingly, excited, grateful for what the day has in store.
After my morning ritual of brushing my teeth, washing my face and a moment of silence -- I decided to eat some strawberries before going on my morning run. The water running over my bowl of strawberries stopped me for a moment. Time suspended. I was mesmerized. I took a moment to look at the berries, that were vibrantly red, ripe and juicy -- mother nature's gift, I thought. I thought to myself, How often do we ever stop, amazed at the beauty that surrounds us during our daily journey? The shape of the fruit, juxtaposed with the green stem -- I thought, every little seed seemed perfectly crafted onto the berry. I never thought strawberries and a phone call would cause me to pause for a moment and reflect. After a busy week, I finally stopped once to realize, WOW, I do really have a lot to be grateful for: fresh fruit, connecting with an old friend, a morning jaunt in one most beautiful cities in the world and oh yeah, I have jobs that I love (trust me, I've been at many jobs that I didn't enjoy). Teaching and inspiring a new fleet of multimedia content providers at AAU and of course, my non-profit, Go Inspire Go, where I create videos with a call to action and inspire people to use their resources and talents to give back to the community.

So, my instinct told me to do something I've never done before in my life -- I pulled out my Flip Video Camera and decided that I was going to document what I was grateful for during my morning jog today. Initially, I was going to keep the video for my own reference, but had such an insightful run, I decided to share it with you. It was just the same route that I take regularly, but how I felt was very different. Just by being aware and focusing on things I was grateful for, I discovered things that I never stopped to appreciate during my daily jaunt. Come along on the journey with me and watch what I found -- I hope that it inspires you to be more aware and grateful for the beauty that surrounds you, as you go about your busy daily routine. As you watch, as yourself, "What amazing things do I overlook everyday as I go about life's hustle and bustle?"

There were so many highlights on my run: The pure joy that emanated on little three-year-old Ethan's face -- I could literally feel the joy while watching him and his grandmother connect and laugh while running up the hill. Then there were my two new friends, Orla and Danielle, enjoying the sun at the cafe. Orla is a TV Reporter with SKY TV in London. Danielle just moved into the neighborhood to attend medical school. Welcome new neighbor! Orla invited me to give her a ring when visiting across the Pond.

This euphoria you receive from being grateful isn't just make believe. There are many health benefits when you become aware of what you're thankful for -- Robert Emmonds and his colleagues conducted a research project on Gratitude and Thankfulness at the University of California Davis -- He found that there is an abundance of benefits from being grateful.

1.) Greater Optimism and Physical Fitness: Those who keep regular gratitude journals exercised on a regular basis and were overall had more optimistic outlooks on life.

2.) Reaching Goals: Thankful people also consistently achieved more personal goals, especially after keeping a gratitude journal for two months.

3.) Stress Relief: Being grateful is also an effective way to release stress, according to Emmons. "Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress."

4.) Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families. (No wonder that being grateful for strawberries and a phone call from a long lost friend brought me way back to the days of being a little boy, who shot out of bed, ready for the day's possibilities.)

5.) Helps Cope With Illness: Among people with a neuromuscular disease, Emmons found that a "21-day gratitude intervention" produced more "high-energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one's life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group."

I realized that when you go about your day and you look for things that you're grateful for, you stop worrying about what you don't have, you worry less and you live in the present moment, you feel and experience life from a whole new space. Your lens shifts. Then you wonder, what can I do to make someone grateful today?

Today's gift taught me many things. Like the perfectly embedded seeds on the strawberries and the flowers blooming alongside Telegraph hill today, I realized that I too am exactly where I am supposed to be at this point in time, in my life, both personally and professionally. And I am thankful for that. Sure I sometimes wish that I could have a bigger house, more money in the bank and that I could afford to own a home here in San Francisco, etcetera etcetera... Then I think about the series of events that have ensued after being laid off from my major market TV reporting gig and deciding to live off of my savings for a year so I could use my storytelling skills to give back through Go Inspire Go team.

I reflect on how much my team and I have been able to accomplish, inspiring and helping tens of thousands of people around the world through our videos. When I embarked on this journey to inspire people (to use their resources and talents to help others) through this project, one year ago, I hoped that at least a handful of people would pay attention and be inspired to act. On a weekly basis, viewers from around the world email to tell us what they've done to help others, purely by being inspired by our website and our stories - I would have never imagined that through helping people help others the biggest receiver would be me.

When I stop and think about the things I'm grateful for, I lose count. I just have to make sure I continue to be aware and grateful on a day to day basis. I think I'll go and download that "Gratitude Journal iPhone application, to remind me to be grateful for all the greatness that surrounds me. I challenge you to go out and look for 10 things you're grateful for today -- and everyday. I'm sure that you and those you cross paths with -- on your journey to work or play -- will thank you too! Thank you for reading...

Whoa, I didn't thing that a bowl of strawberries and a phone call would lead me to this experience, video and blog today.