Spotlight: Scott & Rachel Blunk
Balance by Blunk
By Corey Radman
Scott: Every bit of his six foot, eight inch frame declares his capability as an outdoors-man and former cattle rancher. He’s got the giant hands of a rock climber, but he listens intently, focusing his lapis-colored eyes on you like reflecting pools. His nature is deliberately calming.
Rachel: Compact, efficient, always three steps ahead, wicked smart and exceedingly compassionate. Her hawk-like precision belies her true nature; she lives for authenticity and cringes at even her own hypocrisies (like the coffee she drinks while we talk about ideal diet).
Their two specialties – pain and fertility – work hand in hand to cover most of the treatments requested by their patients. Yin/ yang, tall/ short, energetic/ grounded, city girl/ country boy – Scott and Rachel are in many ways opposites. But they are united by a belief in the power of Chinese medicine to heal the whole person.
Also, Scott and Rachel Blunk are married.
Scott laughs when asked about the office dynamics of a married couple, “We’re best friends so it works.” They have separate practices, and collaborate with patients only occasionally. So, their turf is well marked.
Rachel explains their united philosophy about acupuncture and life. “The biggest thing that draws us together is authenticity.” Scientists to their cores, the Blunks have no patience for frippery. “We don’t like fake people, fake food, fake anything really,” says Rachel.
That philosophy dovetails into their practice easily. “Western medicine has its place,” Rachel continues, “but for us, taking a Prozac or something like that wouldn’t be authentic. It would just be putting a Band-Aid on top of a problem instead of getting to the root cause underneath. That’s what Chinese medicine does. It gets under the surface to fix the root.”
The Blunks met at graduate school at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego. Both scientifically minded people, they hit it off. After their graduation and post-grad studies at Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Jinan, China, Rachel and Scott got engaged, and moved to Fort Collins.
At first their practice focused solely on treating chronic pain and injuries, but Rachel migrated toward her niche through thorny personal experience. She and Scott had difficulty starting their family. Rachel experienced two miscarriages and threw herself into learning about women’s reproductive health from the viewpoint of Traditional Chinese Medicine. After successfully treating a woman in her practice for the same types of fertility issues, she realized how powerful acupuncture is for women trying to get pregnant. It worked for her too: the Blunk family now numbers four members.
For the better part of a decade, Rachel has concentrated on treating fertility problems through herbs and acupuncture. “I love when someone comes and tells me they’re pregnant.” Her hazel eyes crinkle when she smiles, thinking about her life’s mission. This is a woman who is deeply gratified by helping people have babies.
She explains that women who encounter difficulty getting pregnant need to consider their age before deciding whether to go to an acupuncturist or reproductive endocrinologist (RE) first. Rachel and Fort Collins physician, Kevin Bachus, MD, often collaborate and refer patients to one another.
“For an older woman, say in her forties, I recommend that women go see Dr. Baccus. He can see inside, blow dye through her tubes, find blockages and test her hormones.” She says, for these women especially, time is of the essence. “A younger woman in her twenties might come to me first to try acupuncture to see if it works.” In part, Rachel explains, because her cost is much less than an RE’s.
“My ideal patients, the ones that I love to work with, are women who have had diagnostic testing and everything looks fine. No blockages, the husband is fine, hormones are all good, but for some reason she isn’t pregnant. There is usually some subtle Chinese medical imbalance.”
Rachel explains that she can restore homeostasis of the autonomic nervous system with acupuncture. Her website explains that, “Acupuncture helps to regulate the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian axis by increasing the levels of endorphins in your blood stream. When this is regulated, your hormone levels become balanced, your ovulation becomes regulated, and your chances of conception increase.”
“Another important way that acupuncture increases fertility is by promoting relaxation. Most modern women are busy, stressed and spread too thinly. This causes your body to be in ‘fight or flight’ mode or in a sympathetic nervous response. In this state, blood is shunted primarily to the eyes and muscles so that you can get away from the ‘lion’ that is chasing you (ie, deal with the stress in your life).
“Acupuncture ends the ‘fight or flight’ state, and puts you into a parasympathetic nervous response, where blood is shunted to your internal organs. In a parasympathetic state, you digest food, become very relaxed, and best of all, blood once again flows readily to your reproductive organs. Nature is smart. Why would it let a zebra get pregnant if it was constantly running away from lions?”
Rachel reports that her patients who use both acupuncture and the services of a Reproductive Endocrinologist (fertility doctor) achieve pregnancy 80 percent of the time.
Scott Blunk is aware that his size makes him an unconventional acupuncturist. “It scares the hell out of people,” he smiles, “but I’m even gentler with the needles than Rachel is.” To counteract his NBA-style height, Scott sets his consulting chair very low to meet his patients’ gaze and speaks with a calming voice. More than that, his demeanor comes across as nurturing, which is entirely intentional.
Scott’s practice utilizes the same nervous system functions in his treatments. He works mostly on pain, such as migraines, injuries, arthritis and back pain. He explains that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (part of the autonomic nerve system that runs from the brain down the spine) play a huge part in acupuncture.
“I go after different physical responses. With a back spasm, I put needles into the muscle tissue. At the needle site there is reduced inflammation and the muscle relaxes.”
Why? “It is really poorly understood – at first, the muscle will tighten up and then it will really relax. It’s the same as pressure during massage, but works much better,” he says.
He relates the experience of a recent patient who fell down a flight of concrete stairs at work. She had so much pain and inflammation in her shoulder and neck that she couldn’t move, which was exacerbated by a cortisone injection gone wrong. “We’ve done 22 visits across six months and she has cut her pain meds back by 80 percent. She now has full use of her right arm, only occasional headaches. She hasn’t had a migraine in months,” Scott reports. Results like this, where the problem was complicated and took time and effort, are the ones Scott loves the most.
Before his education in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Scott learned first-hand about reducing inflammation as an acupuncture patient. While ranching, a cow shattered his lower leg, and the swelling was too great to perform surgery. Through acupuncture, the swelling reduced and successful surgery saved his long-legged stride.
“Acupuncture was a really good fit for me,” he says of his career choice. “I always had an interest in Asian philosophy and that style of thinking. In Taoism, the idea that the whole universe is connected on some level speaks to me.” Plus, he explains, the ranch was losing money every year; he had to find another path.
Scott finds that much of Western medicine's specialist and sub-specialist approach could use more Taoist universal awareness. “It’s rare to see someone integrate that holistic thinking all the way from neurological issues to the orthopedic.”
Scott recommends living in a fashion that promotes good health. “Get good exercise, get outside a lot, eat well,” he advises. “And try to deal with your stress in a productive way. Stress is a part of life. But often we turn to escapism to deal with it: TV, internet, eating, alcohol … the best way to deal with stress is to handle the best you can in the moment and then get as much good exercise as possible to work it out of your system.”
He continues that acupuncture brings the body back to homeostasis after tension. “When someone is stressed out, the sympathetic side of the nervous system is constantly locked down in a massive stress response. Acupuncture down regulates sympathetic and up regulates the parasympathetic nervous systems.”
The Blunk's practices are deeply rooted in evidence-based science, but balanced with the ancient traditions of Chinese herbal and acupuncture practice they observed in the Shangdong province. Both in their own way, they circumvent the clatter of doubt and of patients’ harried lives. They simply do what works best to balance and enrich the lives of their patients.
Corey Radman is a freelance writer living in Fort Collins. Her passion for story threads its way through all her work, which has been published at Style Magazine, Northern Colorado Medical & Wellness, Get Born Magazine, The Mom Egg and in the 2010 Write for Charity Anthology. She can be contacted via her website at www.fortcollinswriter.com.