I’ve been telling stories of other people’s healthcare experiences for years, but I’ve never had anyone tell my story as a patient — until now.
I’m proud to have joined the ranks of The Walking Gallery of Healthcare, an advocacy movement created by activist/artist/author/speaker Regina Holliday. I’ll let Regina’s words explain:
‘The Walking Gallery’ … consists of medical providers and advocates who wear patient story paintings on the backs of business suits. [Members wearing] personal patient narrative paintings on their backs is changing minds and opening hearts. They are attending medical conferences where often there isn’t a patient speaker on the dais or in the audience. They are providing a patient voice, and by doing so, are changing the conversation.
I’ve long known the power of storytelling to educate and engage, so it’s no wonder I felt a kinship with Regina the moment we met at the Families USA Health Action conference in January 2014. That’s when I learned more about The Walking Gallery, and knew I had to join.
I needed to tell Regina my personal patient story so she could interpret it and paint it on a jacket in her own unique style. Back when we met, my story was still unfolding, but by this summer I finally knew how to articulate the healthcare journey I’d been on.
As a person with diabetes, I’ve sometimes struggled to be as healthy as I might be. My health declined in the wake of my parents’ serious illnesses and subsequent deaths, combined with other life circumstances. But it wasn’t until about 18 months ago that I got serious about turning my health around.
My journey to health began in earnest in 2013, when my friend Juliet taught me about Functional Medicine, which uses a close patient-physician partnership to identify and address the underlying causes of disease. It’s truly patient-centered care that combines evidence-based medicine and alternative modalities to engage and empower patients in their own well-being.
Juliet introduced me to Heidi Iratcabal, N.D., and said, “Heidi changed my life.” My first encounter with Dr. Heidi was a project to write a bio for her website, and as she told me her philosophy of care and the principles of Functional Medicine, I thought, “This is what I’ve been looking for: a partner to walk with me on my journey to better health.”
Conventional doctors had done their best, but recommendations like “Don’t eat bread” were not good enough. I started on my path with Dr. Heidi in October 2013, and I’ve never looked back. With her guidance, I have used dietary and lifestyle changes to transform my health. Ten months later, I’ve never felt better.
I take less insulin than ever. I’ve stopped needing many of the medications I was taking. I’ve dropped my excess weight almost effortlessly. The long-term measure of my diabetes control, a hemoglobin A1c test, is nearly in the “non-diabetic” range after having been far too high. I no longer suffer from inflammation, stomach issues, insomnia and fatigue. I finally know what it feels like to feel well, to experience vitality — and to uncover the power of mind and spirit that was there all along, hiding behind my illness.
Functional Medicine, and a true partnership with a health practitioner, has changed my life. Regina understood that so well that she chose to paint me as an embodiment of patient empowerment — and she captured Heidi’s likeness in the painting without knowing who she is. That’s the magic of Regina’s artistry and compassion for the patient experience.
Functional Medicine is, in some ways, the culmination of my health journey. And it’s a new beginning in my life of wellness and vitality.
As everyone who is part of The Walking Gallery does, I will proudly wear my jacket at health conferences and other events where patients might not have a voice. It will give me an opportunity to share my story with others and engage people in new ways of thinking about health.
I’ll debut my jacket at the TEDMED conference in September, and will continue to walk with joy on the path Regina’s artwork captures so eloquently.
[Images – Top: Regina Holliday at Health Action, creating a painting I later won for using social media at the conference; Bottom: My jacket, entitled “We Can Do It,” by Regina Holliday, fresh off the artist’s easel.]