March 14, 2019 in Traverse City, Michigan was anchored by the synergy created by collaboration of individuals and professionals from a variety of sectors united in common focus: health. Against the beautiful backdrop of The Village at The Grand Traverse Commons, a group of 30 health care professionals—including attending and resident physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nutritionists, dietitians and behavioral health specialists— gathered at Table Health for continuing education about the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on the prevalence and persistence of chronic disease. The session was coordinated by Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and facilitated by Munson Healthcare.
Megan Stilwill, D.O., pediatrician and ACEs Master Trainer, outlined the indisputable neurobiological influence of traumatic experiences in various stages of development. She offered crucial insight into the long-term effects of ACEs on patients in the expression of chronic disease, in habits that negatively impact health, and in the challenges created for cognitive and executive function. Perhaps the greatest takeaway for all attendees relates to the mounting frustration that caregivers often feel with patients deemed non-compliant or unmotivated. Stilwill emphasized that it is essential to shift the question that often pops up first, “What is WRONG with you?” to the much more insightful, thoughtful and helpful, “What happened to you?”
Even if a caregiver isn’t asking for that specific detail or is not yet equipped to open that line of inquiry directly with the patient, shifting the question has value. The frame of “What happened to you?” shifts the processing of the experience and increases the understanding of the person —be it a patient, self, colleagues, neighbors, leaders, or children. The question creates an opportunity for pause, insight and a gentler, more gracious mindset and, hopefully, will begin to shift the dialogue at large, opening space for a greater level of healing for all.
Next was review of stress and the gut with Kurt Sanford, M.D. It was refreshing to hear his opening comments tell of a beautiful experience of school lunch, harvested from the school garden and prepared, served and shared by the students of the school—experiencing true health through whole foods and the most important aspects of service, connection and community through the process. Delving deeper into physiology, diseases and treatments, he illustrated the connection between the brain, the gastrointestinal tract, the influence of stress and the possibility for healing with food as medicine first line. Food strategies could also be usedas needed alongside developments in medications and procedures as science continues to evolve.
Building on these concepts, the group moved into a trio of hands-on sessions, learning about vegetable-filled options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The choices can help reduce inflammation and support health by providing necessary vitamins, minerals, macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients in practical preparations that the health care providers could undertake for themselves and, ideally, encourage for their patients. The sights, smells and tastes were as pleasant as the dialogue and discussion as it was clearly illustrated, nutritious can be delicious and simple food can be beautiful.
The evening ushered in a transition to another historic landmark in Traverse City as the participants gathered along with the general public for a viewing of the movie Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope at The City Opera House. The event began with the guided meditation of Kristen Ryder, and moved on to the film, which highlights the astonishing results of the ACEs study, and illustrates that no one is immune from the impact of ACEs personally or in community, and shows clearly how the daunting increase in chronic disease is rooted in events that occur during the earliest years of life. Though a challenging film, often leading to personal reflection, consideration of one’s own children, neighbors, patients, colleagues with a shocked sense of “this must be what they are/were experiencing!” it is so important to maintain the latter concept of the subtitle and hold onto hope—science supporting the possibility, promise and potential of healing.
As the lights went up, Kristen again supported grounding, self-regulation and balance for the room. Her brief meditation was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Megan McDermott, ever the leader of narrative, dialogue and ambassador of available community resources. Representing the Farms, Food and Health initiative, Kristen, who also works with the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, was joined by Robert Sprunk, M.D., pediatrician and ACEs leader, Andrea Romeyn of Providence Farm, former classroom teacher and consistent community activist, and Jesse Wolff of the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation. Insights were provided by the panel and the audience into persistent challenges, current resources, means of engagement and an urge to act both locally as well as systemically, challenging policy and leaders to address this looming public health concern. This unique triad of food, farms and health—so clearly interwoven into the fabric of healing—demonstrates that wellness thrives best in collective, nurtured by the soil of cooperation, hydrated by understanding, harvested in the knowing that we are all one.
Table Health was selected as the host site for the morning event both for its inception out of the Culinary Medicine Conference from September 2017 and for its potential in support of healing ACEs on a community level. Table Health is at its core a gathering space—where people are welcomed, encouraged to share their story and to be seen and heard by physicians and fully supported in asking for what they need, empowered to share their greatest gifts, engaged in creation of a meaningful plan and empowered to follow it through. Programs are designed to address the entire circle of health—from social, emotional, relational, financial, nutritional, physical perspectives through the diversity of programming utilizing movement studio, teaching kitchen, gathering space and consultation rooms along with amazing human resources including physicians, nutritionists, health coaches, behavioral health professionals, massage therapists, movement coaches and chefs. Opportunities are created for connection—to self, to others, within families and the community—and if a needed resource is not available in house, outreach is made to those already in existence or efforts are initiated to cultivate and fill gaps that are revealed.
As our community continues to explore the ACEs concept and we gain a deeper awareness of the impacts, opportunities and responsibilities, looking ahead to the TEDx TC theme of Resilience and improving our capacity as a trauma informed society. Grounded in collaboration including support of the work initiated and continued by the NWMI ACEs Initiative and in partnership with behavioral health experts at Therapy Today, Table Health is prepared to serve as a resource, encouraging participation through continued cultivation of meaningful programming dedicated to health on all levels.
September 2019 brings opportunity to continue the learning, dialogue and action with an extensive and inclusive three-day Farms, Food and Health Conference, organized by Groundwork and building on the Culinary Medicine event, improving access for the community by giving voice to the many great organizations from a variety of sectors united in the common focus of health.
Please note that sometimes, simple exposure to a conversation about adverse childhood experiences may trigger strong emotional reactions. Please take good care and seek professional support if you need it.