Today I would like to talk a little bit about my journey into pediatric chiropractic. Often people ask me why I chose to take care of kids, specifically through upper cervical chiropractic care. Here is my story...
The journey began on my second mission trip to Nicaragua back in 2012. With our second mission trip, we focused our care mostly on babies, children and young adults by traveling to different schools, children’s hospitals and orphanages around the capital city of Managua. With only three doctors and just three days to provide our chiropractic service, we cared for over 2,000 pediatric patients. Each day, we took turns being the “pre-scan/examination chiropractor”, the “adjusting chiropractor” and the “post-scan/follow-up chiropractor”. On the first day there, I was chosen to be the “adjusting chiropractor”. Our first stop was a small orphanage on the outskirts of town. I was excited and nervous at the same time. Even though this was my second mission trip and had adjusted hundreds of patients before; only a small percentage of them were children. I had recently graduated and was more focused on just starting my practice. I had not yet realized who would be the focus of my practice. I had the mindset of just getting people in the door of my office, no matter their age. This all changed in Nicaragua...
So at the orphanage, I would be the only chiropractor adjusting. It would be up to me to “clear the scans” and reduce the subluxation. This would be a real “baptism by fire” experience. What helped the situation was my mentor Dr. B.J. Kale would be there to do the pre-scans and keep an eye on me and my adjustment skills. Even though he was just there to overlook, he really instilled in me the confidence to take on the challenge by myself. At first, I was a little rattled by the crying and wiggly babies, but I soon got over any doubts of my adjustment. As the day went on, I grew confident and more importantly, an increased passion towards caring for kids. By the end of the day, I was joking around with, high-fiving, and passing out candy to all the great children there. A seed was definitely planted in my heart to care for this special population. Something started pulling me in the direction to work with kids. I left Nicaragua with a new found sense for taking care of children and the joy I could bring into their life and mine.
Back in the States, I went back into “business as usual” mode. It’s not that I forgot my experiences of helping children, I was still trying to wade through the mechanics of starting a new practice. The catalyst or major event that sparked my passion to take care of children whole-heartedly, occured on my third mission trip to Nicaragua in 2013. On that trip, like the two trips before, we had the opportunity to provide chiropractic care to individuals who lived in some of the most destitute areas I have ever seen. Even though the majority of people in Nicaragua don’t have iPhones, air conditioning or the latest video game system- what they lack in material possessions, is made up in generosity, compassion and positive energy. Most don’t have a stable roof over their head or running water, but that doesn’t prevent the people there from sharing what little they have with you. Nothing seems to prevent the true human spirit from shining through.
So on our trip in 2013, I knew the opportunity would present itself again where I could focus more on the pediatric population to see if this kind of work was really for me. This time, I got to see a group of children at a church community center. While there, I got to take care of a special little boy who was two years old. The one thing that stuck out in my mind about the boy was his big brown eyes. He had the type of eyes that peered right into your soul. I performed my field examination and determined that the child had a subluxation of the C1 or Atlas vertebra. I asked if the mother could hand him to me so I could adjust him. The mother was quiet and shy, but also had a look of determination and desperation on her that only a mother could have. A look I have seem many times as a chiropractor in my office: the look that says “we have tried everything else, nothing has worked, please help us if you can.” When she handed him to me, he felt cold and lifeless to the touch even though it was over 90 degrees that day. He was lethargic and lacked overall muscle tone.
Now, before we adjust anyone on a mission trip, we try our best to get a general health history. Sometimes though with the language barrier, even with an interpreter, not all of the pertinent information gets across. Any and all contra-indications to adjust are ruled out, it’s just nice to have a complete backstory before and after the adjustment so we can better measure and document the changes that occur. With this case, specific details of the boy’s health history were only revealed to me after the adjustment. It was not the intention of the mom to withhold information from me,
I adjusted C1. After I adjusted the child, I told the mother to bring the child into the next room to rest for about 10 minutes before I would do post-adjustment checks and scans. Within a minute or so after adjusting the child, the mother began to shout loudly in Spainish. The interpreter went to go check on the mother to see what the problem was. The interpreter rushed into the adjusting room, grabbed my arm and yanked me back into the resting room. Upon entering, I noticed the mother was crying. But these were not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. With a big smile on her face, she lifted her child’s open left hand up to me and started to pantomime her hand opening and closing fervently.
The interpreter explained to me that the boy’s left hand was born in a closed-fist position; meaning he never opened his hand. It was closed shut. This is a type of paralysis often labeled as “spastic paralysis”. Spastic paralysis can be somewhat of a confusing term since spastic means contracted and paralysis means uncontracted. With spastic paralysis, muscles that share antagonistic and agonistic relationship are not in balance. Muscles of the body are situated in groups around a joint and work in concert to move that joint in a certain direction. When one muscle contracts, the other relaxes. The best example of this relationship is the bicep and tricep muscles of the arm. When you curl your arm in, the bicep contracts and the tricep relaxes. When you uncurl your arm, the tricep contracts and the bicep relaxes. If using the bicep and tricep as an example in Spastic Paraylsis, the arm would be locked in a curled position: the bicep would be constantly contracted while the tricep would be constantly relaxed.
Along with spastic paralysis the child suffered from developmental delays. Researching and reflecting on the case later back home, the child was dealing will a form of cerebral palsy. Talking to the mother through the interpreter, I found out that the main cause of the child’s condition was brought on by trauma at birth. A birth trauma that could and should have been avoided in the first place. When the mother was at the hospital, she started to go into labor and began to deliver the baby before the doctor was ready to deliver. This is a little bit of a tangent: but one of the biggest misconceptions in healthcare is this idea that the doctor delivers the baby. The mother delivers the baby, not the doctor. If anything, in our healthcare model, the doctor pulls the baby out. Because the doctor was not ready to deliver the baby, even though obviously the mother and baby were not only ready but in the process, the doctor grabbed the child by the head and pushed the baby back up the birth canal. When pushing the baby back up the canal, the upper cervical spine was undoubtedly wrenched and twisted to allow the body to travel back up the birth canal. Think of the concept of trying to put a cork back into an already opened bottle of wine. When the doctor was ready to deliver the baby, it was noted that the child’s left hand was stuck in a contracted position and would not open. The doctors told the mother there was nothing they could do and he would have to live like that for the rest of his life.
And right after his adjustment, he opened his hand for the first time. I hadn't even noticed before adjusting the boy, that his hand was locked up. Sometimes we get tunnel vision on mission trips as we focus completely on the cervical spine to analyze the subluxation. I also blame it on the boys piercing brown eyes. I had the opportunity to see the boy two more times throughout the week and his hand was still open. By the second visit the next day, the boy was more energetic, happy, and full of color. The major downside with these types of mission trips, is that it’s hard to stay in touch with the people you help after you leave. You can only hope that they maintain their adjustment and stay healthy. The only consolation is that I was lucky enough to take a quick video of the boy and his mother afterwards. From time to time, I’ll watch that video to remind myself why I focus on pediatrics.
Why do I have a passion for taking care of children? Unpacking the “why” of the things you do, can be a very enlightening experience. Without first answering the “why” questions; whether they are spiritual, familial, professional, or social in nature, life can quickly become unfulfilling. To me, pediatric chiropractic is all about improving a child’s life trajectory. A trajectory is “a path, progression, or line of development”. What if I didn’t adjust that boy? Or worse, what if I didn’t adjust him specifically? His hand would still be closed. If you have two able hands it might not seem like much, but try and go through a day with just using one hand. It would negatively change your life path for the day. That adjustment for that boy changed his life trajectory for the better. Now, I’m not saying there won’t be trials and tribulations even with his hand open. There will be developmental delays and setbacks. But the quality of his development is enhanced. His life line has now diverged into a higher vitality. That is what Chiropractic is all about: improving the vitality for life. We should all want the best for our children. This includes their health and well-being. Chiropractic aims to equip children with a higher potential of functionality for life. What better place to start than at the beginning.
- Jarek Esarco, D.C.
Dr. Jarek Esarco is a pediatric and family wellness Chiropractor. He is an active member of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA). The ICPA is an organization of chiropractic family practitioners dedicated to advancing public awareness and the family wellness lifestyle. Dr. Jarek also has post-graduate certification in the HIO Specific Brain Stem Procedure technique through The TIC Institute. Dr. Jarek is happily married to his wife Regina. They live in Youngstown, Ohio with their daughter Ruby.