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Globe Feb 24 2010 Acupuncturists join Haiti relief effort

Julia Raneri, Acupuncturists Without Borders’ Haiti operations manager, performs a treatment for a patient in Port-au-Prince’s General Hospital.

Waves of medical teams have poured into Haiti since a powerful earthquake devastated the country last month. Among the relief workers was a team of acupuncturists with Boston ties, offering their ancient discipline to people suffering from the recent disaster.

Acupuncturists Without Borders, founded by former Brookline resident Diana Fried, sends teams of volunteers to offer disaster victims treatments designed to ease their enduring trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder. Earlier this month Fried and three other volunteers spent four days in Haiti planning for future trips by acupuncturists, including some from Boston-based Pathways to Wellness. They will offer their services and also train people in Haiti interested in learning the practice. While they were there, the team treated patients, their visitors, and staff at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince.

"People find it a very deeply relaxing treatment," Fried said in an interview after returning to Albuquerque, N.M. "If someone is in a state of shock or trauma, where their body is in a state of hyperarousal, this treatment relaxes everything. People actually experience the feeling of, ‘This is how I used to feel.’"

Acupuncture is known for mitigating pain through the placement of fine needles at selected sites in the body. The Chinese traditional medicine has gradually gained acceptance among Western health care providers since the 1970s. An acupuncturist has worked at Massachusetts General Hospital since 2002, for example.

In disasters, the focus is on relieving stress and the insomnia, nightmares, anxiety, and digestive problems that go along with it, as well as issues related to pain, Fried said. She and her colleagues inserted needles into specific points on the ears.

The next team of acupuncturists will leave for Haiti next week. The group, created in response to Hurricane Katrina, is funded by individual donations.

Fried anticipates a year of visits. "It’s the same thing we saw in New Orleans. The trauma didn’t end when the hurricane ended."