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CONCEIVING AN ALTERNATIVE

From The Boston Sunday Globe, February 3, 2002

PATIENTS WEIGHING OTHER TREATMENTS

Author(s):    Eun Lee Koh, Globe Staff Correspondent
rr Date: February 3, 2002
Page: 1 Section: Globe West

Exasperated couples desperate for children of their own, who have tried everything that modern medicine has to offer, often turn up at Rusi Chen's clinic doorstep asking for help.

Chen, a Framingham doctor who specializes in internal medicine, is not a miracle worker, but to some patients, she might as well be. Chen and her husband, Qiangde Nie, a licensed acupuncturist, run a health clinic in downtown Framingham, where they have carved out a niche as doctors who claim a near 90 percent success rate in treating infertility through alternative medicine. In Nie's office, albums full of baby photographs and cards that his patients have sent him throughout the years line his bookshelf. Of the 46 women who sought acupuncture two years ago, he says, 39 eventually became pregnant. Many of them had tried in-vitro fertilization and drug treatment, and when they did not work, came to Chen and Nie for acupuncture, hoping it would help them.

It is in these moments that Chen and Nie, whose patient rosters are as diverse as Framing ham's residents, increasingly see themselves as a bridge between two types of medicine and between communities. They introduce reluctant immigrant patients to the advantages of modern medicine, but at the same time connect skeptical residents to medical alternatives like herbal remedies and acupuncture.

"I get all the `headache patients' - the kind where the doctors try everything but nothing works," Nie said. "They send them my way. We try acupuncture and after a couple sessions, they start to feel better. It's not magic. It's remedies that people have used for thousands of years."

Chen, who has spent nearly 20 years working as a doctor at various hospitals in Boston, noticed that many immigrants were not seeking medical care, and when they did, they did not take full advantage of the care that doctors offered. And many Asian immigrants who sought acupuncture treatments or herbal medicine that are readily available in their home countries, were turned away because such services were unavailable.

"It's very scary for anybody if they are new to the country and they get sick," Chen said. "They don't know how to find a doctor. If they go to a doctor, they don't know what he's saying. So they don't tell them why they are sick or how they are sick. It's a very hard situation."

Chen found that immigrants who strongly believe in alternative medicine were uneasy about seeking help from American doctors, who often treated them solely with medication. They also faced the added challenge of navigating their way through complex paperwork to claim insurance and had difficulty explaining their symptoms with limited English proficiency. In turn, it was also difficult for doctors to explain complicated medical terminology in terms that their patients could understand.

As an immigrant herself, Chen thought she could empathize with the plight of her patients, many of whom were new to the health-care system here. The booming immigrant population in Framingham and surrounding towns, especially among Asians who came here for jobs in the technology industry, persuaded Chen to open a practice here two years ago at an office adjoining her husband's acupuncture clinic.

"Sometimes they come with a problem, and the cure is as simple as teaching them prevention," Chen said. "Like getting mammograms regularly, eating a low sodium diet, regular exercise, taking vitamins. But not everyone is familiar with that."

Chen said she combines her knowledge of Western and alternative medicines to treat her patients. As a doctor, she works in tandem with area health-care providers and is constantly learning about advancements in treatments and medical technology, but as an acupuncturist, she has the authority to also suggest acupuncture as a possible remedy.