Chanda Hinton’s foundation is working with the state of Colorado and Medicaid on a pilot program to fund integrative medical programs for people with SCI.
By Kristin Beale
At age 9, Chanda Hinton’s life was dramatically changed. While being babysat by relatives, her 14-yearold nephew picked up a gun. The gun discharged, hitting Hinton in the back of the lower neck. The impact of the blow resulted in a spinal cord injury in the C5-C6 vertebrae.
Because her accident happened at such a young age, Hinton did not have a difficult transition from the lifestyle of an able-bodied person, to the life of one who is unable to move or feel from her neck down.
“The reason for this,” Hinton said, “is there were less external things in my life that were affected by my injury. I was not attached to a lot of external pleasures that would be affected or changed because of my accident.”
When Hinton reached the age of 21, her disability not only redefined her lifestyle, it also took a toll on her health. Her weight dropped to 59 pounds, she had chronic pain and drastically reduced immune system health. The combination of these three factors led Hinton to undergo lengthy stays in the hospital and to recurring visits to the doctor.
“When I was 21, I started having a lot of chronic pain in my abdomen, lower back and chest,” Hinton said. “My physician was treating all of my spinal cord injury related conditions with only medications. He treated the symptoms, not the causes.”
Hinton’s physician prescribed her narcotics, addictive drugs used to treat pain; Baclofen to treat spasticity; and an array of other drugs to ease her transition into living life with a spinal cord injury. Contrary to their intent, the medications guided Hinton into being bed-bound, losing a dramatic amount of weight, being fed via tube and eventually to being hospitalized.
“That’s when I decided I had to find another outlet to give the love to my body, which was being ignored,” Hinton said.
Search for Integration
Hinton and her family talked with a doctor and lifelong friend about their concerns. He suggested she try integrative therapies. This was the beginning of Hinton’s journey and exploration of four primary therapies: physical, massage, adaptive yoga, and acupuncture.
Each of the therapies, she says, gives her something different.
“While acupuncture assists with my digestion, massage therapy increases my blood circulation, preventing pressure sores,” said Hinton. “Physical therapy keeps increasing my strength and mobility, and yoga deepens my mind-body connection.”
Hinton saw a dramatic and almost immediate result from the new approach she was taking to her healing. Among other things, her pain decreased, her digestive system regained health, and she saw improved muscle mass.
“The therapies caused a dramatic increase in my quality of life,” Hinton said.
Along with reducing and eliminating the necessity for medication, the integrative therapies strengthened Hinton’s mobility and athleticism.
“Now, I kayak and handcycle,” she said. “I have clarity in my mentality and hope now.”
In an effort to educate people with spinal cord injuries on the advantages of integrative therapies, The Chanda Plan Foundation was born.
Quest for Funding
The Chanda Plan Foundation is a program established in 2006 that attempts to compensate for lack of funding toward integrative therapies. Lasting three years, a pilot program will be available for people with spinal cord injuries in the Colorado area.
“There is a need for other people to be educated about integrative therapies,” Hinton said. “My foundation will help to fund therapies for other people with spinal cord injuries. Lack of funding, I think, is the reason that physicians turn to medication first.”
Along with educating people and providing funding for people with spinal cord injuries, there are a collection of goals the program aims to achieve. Decreasing pain and depression for people with spinal cord injuries is at the top of the list, a likely outcome of successful integrative therapies. Another mission is to increase employment among people with spinal cord injuries. This will be yet another eventuality of successful therapies.
“We intend to work alongside Medicaid to help people get coverage on alternative therapies,” Hinton said. “Then it will be on the ‘main menu’ of services that insurance covers.”
While Hinton receives treatment from each modality once a week, she suggests receiving therapy at a minimum of every other week. Because therapies can become expensive, Hinton prefers to stagger the frequency of therapies, introducing the body to a variety of stimulation and incitement.
“For example, a person can do acupuncture every other week and massage therapy on the weeks they don’t have acupuncture,” Hinton said.
Along with the therapies mentioned above, The Chanda Plan Foundation will offer adaptive yoga and craniosacral, a type of massage therapy that uses energy instead of pressure. Since the program started 5 years ago, Hinton said, they have shown amazing progress to herself and national participants in the program.
“I love the hope that integrative therapies brings,” Hinton said. “I believe so strongly in them because they saved my life.”
Kristin Beale is a freelance writer from Virginia. Her last story for Action, “Acupuncture and Spinal Cord Injury” appeared in May-June 2009.