Rekindle the Flame

Twenty-two years is a long time to do anything -- even when it's something you enjoy.

Like other chiropractors, I had begun to lose some of the passion for my work.

When I was in college, we were always learning new techniques. The challenge of mastering them was exciting and I thrived on seeing the results. But after being in practice for so long, treating people and seeing them get better had become pretty routine. Then something happened bo change all that.


In April, my wife, Joy, and I joined the Tobins on the Pilgrimage of Love. Joy had been to Medjugorje several times before but I had always resisted. This time, I was motivated by a letter from our son, Zachary, who wrote, "I love Medjugorje!" The experience changed my life.

Joined by Dr. Stephen Petron, a chiropractor from Minnesota, and his wife, Deb, we made the journey. On the first day, we adjusted a few of our fellow travelers on a portable table in Vicka's front yard. Curious onlookers began to line up and, before long, we had treated most of the taxi drivers in the village who had all complained of bad backs.

Word spread quickly throughout the area and we set up our "practice" in the Pilgrims' Peace Center's Free Clinic, normally used for dental treatment. We had a clean, air-conditioned office, interpreters, and a steady stream of patients who came from near and far.

Most, if not all, of them had never been to a chiropractor before. Unlike some Americans, they had no prejudice against chiropractors. As far as they were concerned, we were the doctors, we came to help them and they welcomed the oppurtinity.

They came to us with all kinds of ailments, some more serious than others.

After her first visit, a little girl with Cerebral Palsy was so much better that her parents brought her back four more times. A young boy with learning difficulties came twice. Another child was brought to us from a nearby hospital for treatment.

We even made house calls! The mother superior at a convent had been sick for quite some time. She had severe nausea and couldn't get out of bed. After we treated her, she got up, ate dinner with the others and said she felt "great"!


Of particular interest to us were the men and women of Campo Della Vita, a residential facility for recovering drug addicts and others who wish to change their lives. We adjusted many of the community's residents who came from all parts of the world -- Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Italy, France, Brazil, Ireland and Coratia, just to name a few.

The point of my story, however, is not about what "great things" we did: it's about what monumental gifts we received. In a simple, uncomplicated setting, where there was no paperwork, no insurance forms and no ringing telephones, we simply helped people, which is why we became chiropractors in the first place.

The people smiled and some even cried. A few insisted on giving us something -- a box of candy, a crocheted doily, some home made wine. But no gift could equal what we felt inside of ourselves.

I returned from Medjugorje a grateful man, with a heightened awareness of the healing gifts God has given me, a renewed sense of pride in my profession and an appreciation for the simple things in life. Most of all, I can, once again, feel that passion for helping others that originally led me to choose my profession.


I encourage other chiropractors (and dentists) to join Pilgrims' Peace Center on one of its monthly missions to Medjugorje. The Tobins have a clinic, interpreters, transportation and other necessities for your convenience. The cost of your journey may well be the best money you ever spent.

I went halfway around the world to learn that the language of healing touch is universal. And, as God worked through me to bring health and healing to others, He rekindled the flame that burns in all of us to be of service to His people.

Skull Adjustment Used on Learning-Disabled
By Ellen Debenport St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer

Excerpts from St. Petersburg Times City and State section B Monday, July 7, 1986
This might sound a little strange. A Pinellas chiropractor says he can help children with learning disabilities by adjusting the cranial plates in their skulls. Chiropractor Mike Stolley acknowledges that it sounds like just another gimmick, especially to parents who have spent years of frustration and thousands of dollars trying to get help for their learning-disabled children. But some of those parents have become true believers in his methods. They say their children, who might have been considered to be hopeless in school, are learning to read. They wave around report cards showing grades that have been brought up from failing to average or even better. This new technique, called neural organization, is not part of a regular chiropractor's practice. Stolley said he learned how to do it because his own son is learning-disabled or dyslexic, terms he uses interchangeably. "The dyslexic child has a problem from the time they get up in the morning till they go to bed at night. They don't perceive things as you and I do," Stolley said. "They can't get their act together." To a dyslexic, he said, letters and numbers are reversed or dance on the page. Spoken directions don't make sense. Some dyslexics can't judge time or distance. Some are physically uncoordinated. There's nothing wrong with their minds or eyes or ears - they just don't process information the way most people do. Stolley's procedure is little more than a laying on of hands. He pinpoints specific problems by checking reflexes and muscle movements, then puts gentle pressure on the head to make minute adjustments. The skull is not a solid bone but is made of plates separated by pencil-thin lines. Those plates can slip out of place, and Stolley says the skulls of dyslexics all have the same misalignments. The painless adjustments are made in three to five office visits. Then the patients return for checkups once a month for a year. The improvement should be permanent, he said. "You get kids coming in going, 'Hey, I feel great!' " Stolley said. "Especially if they're very young, they don't know what I did. They know it was strange. But they know they're working better."

'Frownie faces' The "frownie faces" hurt Johnny Lehman the most, his mother said. In the third grade, he would come home from school in tears, clutching a handful of papers marked with little round frowning faces that told him he'd failed again. How did he feel? "Angry," he says now. "Dumb."

Last fall, Johnny began a series of treatments with Stolley. By the time school was out this year, his fourth-grade report card showed remarkable improvement. His math grades went from F to D to C without special classes or tutoring. In reading and English, he went from D's to C's. The ratings for his work habits rose from Needs Improvement to Very Good for categories such as listening and following directions, some of the toughest tasks for dyslexic children, his mother said. Barbara Lehman said she was highly skeptical that Stolley could help her son but decided it was worth the effort and the money. "It's the most frustrating experience in the whole world to have a child who is not stupid but is going to fail everything," she said. "I'd have called the Pope if I thought it would help him." Stolley says the technique, developed in 1982 by New York chiropractor Carl Ferreri, is not a cure because dyslexia is not a disease. And the treatment is not a miracle. He estimates his success rate at 80 percent and says the results are not always dramatic. His own son has been a disappointing patient, he said. "It doesn't change IQs," he said. "It doesn't make a lazy kid go home and read the encyclopedia." The trouble is that many learning-disabled children have already come to think of themselves as failures, he said, and have given up on school and most social activities. "What I do doesn't replace school. They have to be remediated," said Stolley, whose wife is a learning disabilities teacher in the public schools.

Terminology troubles It should be noted that dyslexia is a somewhat controversial term. Although it is commonly used to mean problems with visual reversal (reading words backward), many people who work with the learning-disabled avoid the word. The Pinellas schools, for instance group all learning-disabled children in the same classes without labeling any as dyslexic. Morton Plant Hospital, which tests and treats the learning-disabled, also does not recognize dyslexia per se. "We tend to back away from using that term here. It seems as though 10 different people might have 10 different interpretations," said Tom Wekenman, the executive director of Morton Plant's program. "We tend to take a much more behavioral approach, meaning we identify those things a child can do and can't do," he said. Individual problems may be given names, such as attention deficit or developmental language disorder, but they are not put under the dyslexia umbrella, he said. On the other hand, there is a small private school in Dunedin specifically for dyslexics. The dePaul School for Dyslexia offers a list of the common symptoms, although not every dyslexic has every symptom. Stolley, who is on the dePaul board of directors, agrees that dyslexia is a particular type of learning disability with an identifiable set of symptoms. "It's not a disease. It's just a neurological problem," he said. "Things just don't register well." Stolley's method of treatment is so new that most people who work with the learning-disabled, as well as most chiropractors, have never heard of it.

The president of the Pinellas County Chiropractic Society, Ray Nietzold, said he did not know Stolley was offering treatment to the learning-disabled and was not familiar with neural organization. "I've been in chiropractic long enough to know some of the things we do seem to have an effect on some very unlikely problems," he said. "If somebody does some basic research to find out if it's working and why it works, we could really have something there." Checking muscles and reflexes to find problems in the nervous system is a fairly common chiropractic method called applied kinesiology, in use for about 20 years. Ferreri said in a telephone interview from New York that he built on the method to develop his neural organization technique for learning disabilities. "Dyslexia is a specific disorganization of the nervous system," he said. "I have a treatment that organizes the nervous system." He is also finding it can help victims of epilepsy and Down's syndrome, he said. About 350 chiropractors worldwide have learned the technique at Ferreri's seminars, he said. He hopes soon to open a nonprofit Ferreri Institute for teaching and research.

Similar stories The parents of learning-disabled children have stories that are remarkable similar. Most got hints of a problem early on - if a child was slow to talk, for instance - but the real trouble usually began when their children went to school. The children didn't learn to read and had trouble paying attention in class. There were notes from the teachers saying the children were lazy or a discipline problem. Report cards were dismal, and the children were miserable, often subjected to cruel teasing. After the problem was diagnosed as a learning disability, there were special classes or private schools, tutors, treatment programs, sometimes psychological therapy and even special diets. "By the time the kid's 10, you've spent half your savings trying to get him fixed," Stolley said. The children had difficulty at home and at play. "They have terrible problems... being thought of as dumb," said Peggy Page, the dePaul principal. "They know they're not, but no one believes them. And they're doing their best, but people are still yelling at them."