By Charlie Reed
Walk into the AcuMedGroup Wellness Center in Kissimmee and you’ll meet U.S military veterans from all walks of life receiving acupuncture for a variety of maladies – from pain to post-traumatic stress disorder.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs now offers veterans access to acupuncture, an ancient Chinese therapy wherein thin needles are inserted into specific points on the body. Acupuncture is a highly regulated industry in the U.S., and providers typically undergo years of training before they can be certified.
Owner and acupuncture physician Cecilia Rusnak spent four years earning a master of science in oriental medicine and a bachelor of science in professional health studies from Florida College of Integrative Medicine in Orlando. She went on to study and intern at Yunnan University in China, where acupuncture has been used for thousands of years.
The AcuMedGroup is one of only a few clinics in Osceola County treating veterans with acupuncture. The VA hospitals in Tampa and Lake Nona now refers patients to Rusnak. For many veterans, acupuncture is a last resort.
“Normally patients come to me for acupuncture because they’ve tried everything to manage their pain,” Rusnak said. “I think acupuncture is gaining popularity because of the opioid crisis. My patients are taking dozens of pills everyday and want to get out of that. I’m treating the root cause of the disease instead of prescribing a pill.”
Most of her patients have reduced their pain medication through prescribed acupuncture. Some have even weaned themselves off of medication completely, she said.
Rusnak spent years working in the beauty industry before deciding to shift gears.
“I wanted to do something more, something that could help people. When I learned about acupuncture I knew that was what I should do,” said Rusnak, who opened the clinic four years ago unsure if she could build a clientele in Kissimmee.
Not only has her business grown, it’s now thriving.
Rusnak’s success correlates with the effectiveness of the treatment. As veterans continue reporting successful results to the VA, more patients are referred to AcuMedGroup.
Tom Bryant, a veteran of the Vietnam war, is one such veteran.
Since his legs were amputated because of circulatory issues he’s suffered from what’s called phantom pain. It’s a common condition among amputees like Bryant and people who are born missing limbs.
Bryant was treated by neurologists, pain management specialists and other doctors for years through the VA, but nothing relieved the pain he felt in the lower legs he no longer had.
When the VA recommended acupuncture, Bryant said he was “ready to try anything.”
“I was desperate. Nothing worked until this,” said the 65-year-old as he underwent a treatment on recent afternoon.
Rusnak, whose father served in Vietnam, not only helps veterans manage their pain without pharmaceuticals, she understands them.
“The stories that they tell me are very gruesome, very dark. But having come from a military family, hearing war stories doesn’t shake me. I understand where they’re coming from. They want someone who cares and can help them heal, not just treat their symptoms. My dad helped prepare me for that.”
Some people are dubious of acupuncture until they try it to avoid more surgery or a new prescription drug treatment.
“So many people come to me in pain and at their wit’s end. They’re ready to try anything,” she said. “They haven’t had relief and when they come to my clinic and start to get better it’s so gratifying.”