Dr. Mary Grace Warner served as Medical Director of the School of Cardiovascular Ultrasound for sixteen years at the Arizona Heart Institute. She was one of the first physicians in Arizona to perform transesophageal echocardiography. The next ten years she practiced Integrative Cardiology in Scottsdale Arizona. In 2001 Dr. Warner began an educational journey at the American Medical College of Homeopathy. In 2008 she received State of Arizona certification (MD (H) and in 2010, national certification (CCH). Dr. Warner practices classical homeopathy and consults in cardiovascular diseases as needed.
AS: For 16 years you were Medical Director of the School of Cardiovascular Ultrasound at the Arizona Heart Institute. What moved you to explore homeopathy and other holistic methods?
Dr. Warner: Cardiovascular Ultrasound provides a non-invasive and safe window to the inside of a heart or blood vessel when surgical therapy is contemplated. It became apparent to me that this “window” was very, very limited. I realized the heart as an organ was as unique as the person in which it resided, influenced by that individual’s totality – that is, his or her thoughts and beliefs, emotions, social situation, genetics, and especially by his or her experience of life. So it is with any aspect of the physical being! And, thus, I observed that heart and blood vessel surgery at a Center of Excellence like the Arizona Heart Institute contributed an amazing but very focused part of the healing needed for an individual.
But the situation that really initiated my seeking holistic methods was very practical. Some people just could not or would not tolerate pharmaceuticals – that is, prescription medications. So I began to search for kinder, gentler alternatives and that is what started my journey.
AS: Going from treating organs to treating whole persons and from chemical to energetic solutions is a quite a conceptual leap. Did you have some trepidation when trying this new approach? How did your new methods sit with your colleagues?
Dr. Warner: Conceptually, there was no leap. One of the better things about being raised in a devout Catholic family is that it was “OK” to believe in angels and miracles! And prayer is a proven energetic method of healing as per many rigorously scientific studies. Books written by Larry Dossey, M.D., who first discussed prayer and medicine, Gladys Taylor McGarey, M.D., who wrote about “ the physician within you,” and Dr. Carolyn Myss were my early validators of energy medicine.
I was a salaried allopathic cardiologist for two decades which meant I was expected to practice within the joint guidelines of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (AMA) — which I did — but I never imposed these “guidelines” on my patients. We would discuss what was the party line for their health and healing and that they not only had choices but the ultimate right to decline without their cardiologist abandoning them as so often would be the case. It was apparent, as well, how much their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with life influenced their cardiovascular maladies.
Early on, I used very little homeopathy except for Arnica and Phosphorus prophylactically for surgery. I think I was subconsciously carrying the allopathic medical school bias about placebo effect. But thought is energy and I did instruct my patients in meditation and visualization or referred them for guided Imagery when fear was a factor. Patients were often referred for Reiki or acupuncture especially for post-hospital-discharge pain. And I encouraged Medicine Men and Shamans to visit our indigenous patients in-hospital!
When I began to substitute natural substances for prescriptions that had produced intolerable side effects, I knew I needed to start my own, more holistic practice.
There was definitely trepidation with the opening of “Integrative Cardiology” in 1998. It was expensive as I would use all those technical tools a cardiologist depends on as well as a whole array of nutraceuticals, herbals, minerals, and amino acids which affect the heart. I also provided a library of educational books and monthly health letters for patients. I was not the first to have a “sub-specialty integrative cardiology practice.” Stephen Sinatra, M.D., opened The New England heart Center in the late 1980’s which became known for providing integrative therapies for heart disease.
I know there were “raised eyebrows” amongst my cardiology brethren. The AMA frowned upon the “use or sale of supplements” in medical practice. But Nursing had instituted Healing Touch in Phoenix hospitals and many of the plastic surgeons were using Arnica and Traumeel with faster healing and less bleeding and bruising.
For many years, I had been hosting a monthly meeting for holistic practitioners at my home and it so happened that Todd Rowe, M.D., who had formed the American Medical College of Homeopathy, spoke on constitutional homeopathy. What truly amazed me was that this discipline had been “overruled” by the AMA and Big Pharma in the 1920’s, but was practiced, but respected and supported (15 years ago, anyway) everywhere else! That was the green light for me to become a patient, a student, and a practitioner of homeopathy and I will be doing that for the rest of my life!
AS: And your patients are very lucky for that! Let me ask about a common cardiac problem. A friend’s wife developed Atrial fib a few years ago. The doctors first tried drugs, then cardioversion, then ablation and finally inserted a pacemaker. She really went through the mill. What has been your experience with this ailment using homeopathy or other holistic treatments?
Dr. Warner: Cardiac drugs and procedures can be life-saving and are necessary in the spectrum of healthcare; however, they are not always effective, and are used too often and for too long a period of time. Drugs, cardioversion, ablation and pacemaking constitute “state of the art” care, but not healing.
To explain your example, atrial fibrillation is a disorganized and often too fast rhythm of the heart which is the culmination of physical changes (in the heart alone or as part of a general condition or genetics), the patient’s reaction to excesses and stresses, and finally his or her level of hope!
Most often, a patient with atrial fibrillation is referred to me with symptoms of increased awareness of a weird heart beat and a lot of accompanying anxiety. Any patient who has poor color, is short of breath just talking, or who has evidence for fluid in the lungs, needs a “drastic” cardiac drug or procedure and a targeted homeopathic remedy while you call for transport! I will do a homeopathic intake and a physical examination on everyone else.
As you know, a constitutional homeopathic remedy is so individual that it is impossible to formulate a list of “heart homeopathics for atrial fibrillation”. But here is a common example: a patient with a chief complaint of palpitation/atrial fibrillation and a faster irregular heart rate will receive a constitutional remedy, perhaps cactus or naja (but it could be just about any remedy); and I may use for a while, an herbal Hawthorne or Digitalis to help slow the heart rate. I may use other alternative support such as CoQ10, and Magnesium and other targeted supplements which depend on the individual case.
One caveat is that in certain situations of age, heart rate and duration of atrial fibrillation, standard anticoagulation is necessary and there is no getting around that, as failure to do so can result in a clot that is thrown from the heart into the circulation of the brain. For some, standard anticoagulation is not tolerated or refused, and one cannot rely on homeopathy to anticoagulate. In that circumstance I may use alternative anticoagulants (usually two or more) such as nattokinase, fish oil, aspirin and others. Alternate anticoagulation does require specialized knowledge to assess the degree of “blood thinning”.
Atrial fibrillation is serious and it is best to have a sympatico allopathic practitioner who will order blood work, chest x-ray, electrocardiogram and echocardiogram. You will know better what you are treating on the physical plane and there will be a baseline for comparison. Excessive stimulants or ongoing stresses, anxiety, or depression can be “obstacles to cure”. If the homeopathic prescription is good, it may still take a few days, weeks or even a couple of months before the heart rate remains within a normal range or the atrial fibrillation reverts to a normal heart rhythm.
The movement in allopathic cardiology is to “fix this”. Forcing the heart back into its own rhythm, as was the case of your friend’s wife, is not without risk. Most patients have little or no limitation remaining in atrial fibrillation with the heart rate controlled, their anxiety allayed and a good homeopathic remedy to effect healing on all levels.
Experience has informed me that atrial fibrillation is more likely to occur in patients who have ignored their emotional needs or have “stuffed” their feelings. There is very often underlying depression. It seems as if the forgotten heart, as the seat of emotions, asks to be noticed!
AS: Can homeopathy or other holistic methods help in pathologies such as valvular problems (eg. prolapse, stenosis) or partially blocked arteries? Can such methods sometimes prevent surgical intervention?
Dr. Warner: When there is mild to moderate abnormality in a heart valve or blood vessel, holistic methods are very helpful and can even be amazing (especially homeopathy). And yes, surgery may be delayed or prevented altogether.
Many of my cardiovascular patients come to me after very extensive and expensive tests in which they are reassured that no surgical intervention is needed at the present time. “Reassurance” can include several prescriptions, an admonition to change or limit diet and lifestyle, and a return appointment in a year or two to have all the tests repeated. Or they may come to me with trepidation for a second opinion after surgery has been recommended. These patients get a constitutional homeopathic remedy and counseling on “obstacles to cure”. Then I individualize a program which might include herbals, acupuncture, body work or shamanic healing. Most of the time, patients feel healthy again, that is, they feel less limitation. And most of the time, but not always, surgery is delayed…sometimes indefinitely.
I do not personally utilize or refer patients for IV chelation therapy for cardiovascular disease. Good trials have not shown it to reduce the burden of plaque inside an artery. However the most recent NIH (NCCAM) supported trial (published in 2012) did show reduction in symptoms and in adverse outcomes in those patients with a history of a heart attack or who were diabetic.
In very serious cardiovascular disease, for example mitral valve prolapse with a large volume of regurgitation, or severe cardiac valve or coronary artery narrowing, there can be very advanced tissue changes which are either less likely to remodel or, in the case of heavy calcification, can take too long a time . These patients almost always have serious symptoms such as breathing difficulties, chest symptoms, or faintness which occur with minimal activity. They will need standard intervention and in my practice, get a homeopathic remedy as well.
It does not matter really, whether patients present with or without a cardiac work-up or pre or post surgery; they feel what the early holistic practitioners called “Dis-ease” which is in mind and spirit as well as in body. One’s willingness to sit in a healing space and to listen and to allow the patient to tell about his life as well as his symptoms begins the healing process. This is truly the “Holistic Method”!
AS: Can you share snapshots of cardiac cases where homeopathy played a major role? It would help demonstrate what is possible.
Here are three abbreviated cases from my Integrative Homeopathy practice. Although there are well-known “heart remedies” in our Materia Medica, I do not necessarily prescribe them. I initially approach all cardiovascular cases constitutionally, which is basically a holistic approach. These cases I will describe represent a real challenge in homeopathy as they are about advanced disease. So many patients have heart symptoms which are secondary to something else in the physical, mental or emotional sphere.
I first met 84 years young “Jane” in January 2011when she was referred to me with problems of an aging heart, brain and lung (or atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Picture a tall, classic featured lady with loose-flowing long white hair and startling large, sky-blue eyes who had raised six children, earned a BA in religion and philosophy and then a BS in landscape architecture. Her “specialty” was designing rose gardens that would survive the rigorous climate of the Southwest. She was also a planetarian who grew her own food on the patio and at times, lived remotely in the mountains without electricity. She wrote about, taught, and exemplified the way to live in harmony with Planet Earth.
The problem as she saw it was how to finish her writings and continue her spiritual journey with the time she had left without becoming addled from and dependent on prescription medication. Of particular concern were her sudden episodes of palpitations (atrial fibrillation) and chest pain at night, fatigue and shortness of breath on exertion, and sudden severe bouts of vertigo. Jane would be a challenge for any system of medicine!
Jane was prescribed Promethium as a constitutional remedy. For sudden symptoms, she was to take Aconitum napellus. I had to convince her to take prescription Digitalis for a high heart rate atrial fibrillation which she was willing to do, as it was, after all, a plant. She refused standard anticoagulation but took aspirin, nattokinase and fish oil.
Over the last nearly four years, there has been no true vertigo, only two episodes of nocturnal heart symptoms, no bronchitis and remarkably less fatigue and shortness of breath. She did visit the hospital E.R. this summer for acute knee pain which occurred after much organizing and packing of her books and papers in her home at 8000 feet elevation.
Could there have been the same result with just prescription medications and supplemental Oxygen? (Digitalis is no longer on the recommended list.) In my former practice, I occasionally would see similar cases respond fairlywell, but not without the price of side effects from taking a panoply of prescriptions, which so often affect the brain in the elderly.
“Charles” has been in my practice since 1999 when he signed out of the hospital Intensive care Unit “AMA” (against medical advice) with a left ventricular diameter of 7 cm (normal is up to 5.4) and an ejection fraction of 10% (normal is 55%). He was 56 years of age, a principal in his successful family business and in absolute terror of the standard of care (Intracardiac defibrillator with pacemaker plus very strong medication) for his life-threatening viral cardiomyopathy. He came to me with repeated near faints from paroxysmal ventricular tachycardia, a heart rhythm disorder, which if sustained, is lethal.
Charles liked routine, had to be in control, disliked change and anything else that might be “new”, experimental or invasive. At the beginning, I prescribed standard allopathic meds (excluding amiodarone) and appropriate nutraceuticals, and botanicals. His ejection fraction rose to 25% and he would feel a transient faintness if he pushed himself physically. In 2009, he began homeopathy with the remedy Calcarea arsenicosum which covered his constitution and his heart condition. The prescription meds were able to be reduced and a couple of them eliminated. Since then, Charles has survived pneumonitis, influenza and congestive heart failure (always precipitated by poor health choices on his part) and repeatedly has rallied back to his baseline state (ejection fraction of 30-37%) which was feeling well and without symptoms during mild to moderate activity.
I think this case illustrates that Homeopathy can work in tandem with allopathic care. One has to be careful that a prescription medication dose might become too strong when a homeopathic remedy is on board. Statistically, Charles should not be alive today. In my opinion, the homeopathy has shepherded him past “death’s door” on numerous occasions.
“Bea” had all the makings for an early heart attack. At 50 years old and recently widowed, she smoked, drank too much alcohol, was overweight with pre-diabetes, high blood fats and hypertensive. She resented having to conform to someone else’s idea of healthy lifestyle. She complained of palpitation with a sense of choking in the throat. She was anxious, intense, very vocal and suspicious of anything “big and organized” which had led her away from allopathic medicine. That was five years ago. On the remedy Lachesis, she stopped smoking, reduced alcohol to an occasional drink and made healthier food choices. Now, her lipid panel is much improved, blood pressure is controlled on a small dose of a calcium channel blocker, and she feels well without palpitation. Currently she is living out her dream to travel around the country in her RV to National Park camp sites where she makes and maintains many friends.
I believe the heart-healing work of homeopathy in this case started in the mental-emotional plane to empower Bea and remove the perception of external control.
AS: Thank you for sharing with us today. Your patients are very fortunate to have you!