The truth still stands: Anyone can afford to give.
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Healing Without Boundaries
Pain relief pioneer Dr. Jennifer Chu aims to ease the suffering in her Myanmar homeland.
By Scott Pruden
Haverford’s Dr. Jennifer Chu doesn’t fool around when it comes to battling pain—whether it involves an individual or an entire country. A native of Myanmar (formerly Burma), Chu has spent most of her adult life as a doctor in the United States and a member of the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. Her focus on healing her patients’ pain led her on an 18-year quest to combine the ancient practice of acupuncture with modern technology and create a new type of pain treatment called eToims (electrical twitch obtaining intramuscular stimulation).
Rather than approaching pain relief from acupuncture’s physiological and metaphysical perspective, or via the top layers of muscle targeted by therapeutic massage, eToims goes deeper. The technology uses electrical impulses to stimulate injured muscles that have tightened around internal nerves. This creates a “trigger point” that, through electrical stimulation, can be made to quickly and involuntarily contract and relax.
The result is immediate pain relief for many patients. Meanwhile, the contraction and release helps reestablish blood flow to the damaged muscle, allowing it to heal more effectively.
It’s a new technology that requires specialized training and equipment, and currently, Chu’s eToims Soft Tissue Comfort Center at the University City Science Center in Philadelphia is the only place it’s available. Chu has written extensively on the procedure and has a growing list of patients, many of whom could find no relief through other pain medication methods and who swear by eToims. Plans are to spread the word through presentations at medical conferences and to gain government approval for the procedure in Europe and the U.S.
But pain comes in many forms, and Chu is all too aware of the challenges and hardships faced on a daily basis by people in her homeland. That suffering was exacer-bated this past spring with the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis, which made landfall over Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta on May 2. The level of destruction wasn’t immediately evident. But as news reports filtered out, it became clear that the poverty-stricken nation of 55 million—ruled since 1962 by a military government bent on maintaining control—had suffered a significant tragedy.
In a region where many of the inhabitants live in little more than bamboo huts, the losses were overwhelming. By the following week, aid organizations and international relief workers estimated that the death toll had reached as high as 200,000—even as the government insisted that the number was closer to 62,000.
Heightening the tragedy was the ruling regime’s reluctance to accept help from outside governments and organizations. Despite offers from around the globe, the government held firm and refused to allow foreign aid workers into the nation’s most damaged areas. But Chu—who jokes that “you can take me out of Burma, but you can’t take Burma out of me”—was prepared for just such an inevitability.
She and many other alumni from the Myanmar Institute of Medicine had already anticipated the potential for a disaster in their country, prompting them to form the Alumni Myanmar Institute of Medicine Association (AMIMA). Chu is the president of AMIMA, which strives to get past government bureaucracy and the intransigence of the ruling military junta to funnel aid where it’s needed most.
So far, says Chu, AMIMA has established connections within the country’s medical community and has gained insight into the paranoia that guides national policy in Myanmar.