| 20 Nov 2003 @ 08:59, by Letecia Layson|
"When anybody's not feeling well, it's that great invitation to take stock . . . If you have a respect for life, it takes you to interesting places but it also holds a presence. You kind of just know that in all this there'll be something for you, and it's very sustaining. " -- JoEllen Koerner
JoEllen Koerner is a nurse from South Dakota who became President of the American Organization of Nurse Executives. But none of her training or experience was equal to the challenge she faced when her daughter was stricken ill after giving birth to her first child. "I had spent my life in one field and I was happy and proud of the way it saves lives, and when none of it worked, and suddenly a whole new healing paradigm came in, it took us to another place and brought us health and wholeness."
That new paradigm was the healing practice of the Lakota Sioux.
JoEllen had grown up among the Lakota Sioux, who had been helpful to generations of her Mennonite family. Despite their proud tradition, the Lakota have the poorest health statistics of any Indian population. Their average life expectancy is 46.2 years. This poor health is linked to their extreme poverty. Reservation income is around $3,350, according to Koerner.
After earning her PhD at the innovative Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, she worked at the Sioux Valley Hospital, where she helped to establish a program that brought Lakota healing traditions into a modern hospital setting. That is when she met Wanigi Waci, a traditional healer. Although the program was eventually dissolved with the arrival of a new director, the friendship between Wanigi and JoEllen did not end there.
Some time later, JoEllen's daughter Kristi became pregnant. After a difficult pregnancy, her labor turned into a life-threatening ordeal culminating in a Caesarian. The baby, after a prolonged period in the birth canal, was in critical condition. It was the beginning of a time of terrible difficulty for Kristi and her family, one in which modern medicine failed. She suffered from terrible pain and discomfort that no medical doctor appeared able to diagnose or correct. When Wanigi Waci offered his assistance, JoEllen was ready to receive it. The Lakota community helped Kristi choose life, healing not only her own body but addressing the four-generation lineage of maternal ancestors who had struggled in childbirth.
JoEllen has written a book about this experience with the arresting title, Mother, Heal My Self: An Intergenerational Healing Journey Between Two Worlds, published by Crestport Press here in Northern California. It's a powerful story that effectively conveys the intensity of the healing process that mother and daughter went through together. Reading it, I was struck by JoEllen's open-ness to the suggestions given her by tribal healers and her willingness to act on them.
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I don't have a copy of the book yet, but I know it will be added to my Solstice Wish List