Carey Johnson Wennerstrom, D.O.’08, ABFM, ABOIM, ABIHM, strives to practice every day a key principle of osteopathic medicine – to “set the body up to heal itself.” She saw that in action as a DMU student on rotation at McDonagh Medical Center in Gladstone, MO.
“A lot of the patients were taking little or no medication and were getting well,” recalls Carey Johnson Wennerstrom about the Gladstone practice. “When I’d talk to patients, they were so happy to tell me their stories. I was very encouraged by that. It was a nice fit for me.”
The center was co-founded by Edward McDonagh, D.O., one of five physicians in the nation who pioneered the use of chelation therapy while he was in hospital practice in the late 1960s. This therapy uses the synthetic amino acid ethylene diamine tetracetic acid, or EDTA, to bind to metals in the patient’s blood. The body then eliminates the metals through urination. McDonagh and other physicians using chelation observed positive improvements in patients with coronary artery diseases and other cardiac issues.
In 2012, the National Institutes of Health completed a 10-year study on chelation therapy, the first Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT1). It found that this treatment somewhat reduced the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other heart problems, but it only worked in people with diabetes. The study didn’t find enough proof that it treats heart disease. However, due to its findings and the public health impacts of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center and Duke University Medical Center launched a five-year study, TACT2, of 1,200 patients with diabetes who are 50 years or older and who have had a heart attack. Their results are expected to be reported later this year.
“I do put some patients on medication and recommend they have surgery, but for others, the therapy works,” Wennerstrom says.
She now owns McDonagh Medical Center, which also offers prolotherapy for treatment of joint and musculoskeletal issues; hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat neurodegenerative diseases, traumatic brain injury, Lyme disease and other conditions; and other services. Board-certified in family medicine since 2011 and a Diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine (ABIHM) since 2014, Wennerstrom became certified through the American Board of Integrative Medicine (ABOIM) in 2017. The ABOIM defines integrative medicine as “the practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, health care professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.”
“It’s my passion, and it’s a win-win. It’s contributed to our effective treatment of cardiac patients and high patient satisfaction,” she says. “We take time with our patients and educate them. They tell their friends. Ours is a word-of-mouth business.”
Wennerstrom juggles her clinic practice with her role as a major in the U.S. Air Force Air National Guard at Rosecrans Air Force Base in St. Joseph, MO, where she has been assigned the last eight years. As an undergraduate, she observed friends in ROTC; that motivated her to join the military during residency. Her husband, David, who’s been in the military for the past two decades, suggested she join as a way to participate in medical/military service trips. Her Guard duty entails two weeks a year plus a weekend every other month on base. She’s enjoyed her military service but is contemplating her continued engagement, as the couple had their first child, Evelyn, on Dec. 8, 2017.
“The Guard has been so flexible for me, so I’m taking it day by day,” she says.
That “day by day” finds Wennerstrom right where she wants to be, balancing family, patient care and service to her country.
“My mantra since undergrad has been don’t ever think you’re stuck in one thing. If you’re unhappy or burned out, you don’t have to stick to that,” she says. “I worked in rural emergency medicine for a while after my residency; it was neat to have that experience, but it was not for me. It’s important to find your passion in your profession.”