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Posted: January 20, 2006

Spiritual Caregiving

When the Heart Is Open but the Mind Is Not

In the field of holistic health, we often encounter people who have an open mind but who need to open their hearts for healing. At times, this order may be reversed, as in the case of Mary, an extraordinary holistic healer.
Mary was 44, a vegetarian who practiced yoga and meditation and lived the kind of life most people would consider healthy. On a plane trip to teach a workshop, she became so weak and short of breath that she was unable to walk. When she reached her destination, she called for a wheelchair, then asked to be taken straight to a chiropractor.
After examining Mary, the chiropractor insisted that she go immediately to the emergency room for a chest X-ray, where she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF). Although CHF is usually caused by a heart attack, the doctors surmised that Mary's heart had been weakened by a viral infection. We later discovered that her heart was not only physically "broken," but also emotionally fragile. Mary had recently ended a serious relationship.
After her diagnosis of CHF, Mary reluctantly followed her doctor's orders. Yet, despite enormous efforts by the medical and holistic communities, her condition continued to deteriorate. That's when Mary wrote to Mimi and asked to see her as soon as possible; she knew Mimi is a cardiologist who is open to alternative practices. Mimi asked for my help.
While Mimi worked to stabilize her medical situation, Mary continued to search for alternative cures and even traveled great distances to see if there was anything else that would heal her heart. In caring for herself, Mary was a model patient, but from the medical perspective, she was extremely high-maintenance. She was so against allopathic medicine that it took many hours of negotiation before she would allow a blood sample to be drawn.
Despite her progressively weakening condition, Mary tried to work until finally, against her principles, she accepted reality and went on disability. Since her biological family lived out of state, Mary's spiritual family pitched in to support her. Yet it became increasingly clear that Mary's only hope was a heart transplant.
The mention of a heart transplant was like a wall between us. Mary listened only because she was polite. Finally she agreed to have an evaluation with the transplant cardiologist after making a deal with Mimi to try yet another alternative modality. Mary's first words to the consulting physician were that she did not want to hear anything about a heart transplant. She came only because she'd promised Mimi that she would. It was only later, when Mimi admitted her to the ICU, that Mary realized that her body was dying. Only then did she agree to allow the workup to become a heart transplant candidate.
Most people stay on an organ transplant list for months to years. To our amazement, just three days after Mary was accepted to the list, a heart was found. Mimi and I rushed to the hospital and found Mary hardly able to breathe. In barely audible words she gasped, "They think they have a heart for me, but I don't know if I want it." We were stunned. We knew it was luck and divine intervention for her to be matched so quickly, and now she was wondering if she was going to accept it!
As her friends gathered, I did a Healing Touch treatment with hypnosis, suggesting to Mary that her heart had served her well for years, and since it was not serving her body anymore, she would lovingly and willingly let it go. I encouraged her to receive the new, healthy donor heart as her own. Mary relaxed and went easily into a deep healing place. When she opened her eyes, she was calm and smiling. She told us she was ready. Ten hours later she was recovering in the ICU.
Only months after her transplant, Mary returned to her healing work. In a similarly remarkable fashion, she has since received a master's degree and now uses her experience to help other cardiac and transplant patients. Although Mary still carefully evaluates each medication she is asked to take, she knows that modern medicine, prayer, and the willingness to change saved her life. She is a true bright light. We have become close friends and often laugh, remembering how she would not even take an aspirin when she now takes prescription medications to prevent transplant rejection.
Mary is the most empowered patient I have ever known. She was not afraid to ask for what she needed. But her story would not have had a happy ending if she hadn't opened her mind with a willingness to trust. When we work to keep our hearts and minds open, healing and lifelong friendships happen.



(Erminia "Mimi" Guarneri, M.D., and Rauni King, R.N., are co-directors of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California.



This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2006 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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