There have been quite a few stories involving the Amish and health-related issues lately.  Let’s start with the story of a new clinic in Indiana.

Community Health Clinic

Following a visit to Indiana this summer I mentioned the soon-to-be-opened genetic clinic in Topeka, Indiana.  A week ago was the official opening of the Community Health Clinic, though it has been seeing patients since September.

Operations manager Jared Beasley describes the clinic’s mission for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel:  “We’re a genetics clinic, aimed at helping the Amish, Mennonite and rural community, especially those with metabolic disorders.”

Emphasis is placed on managing disease from both the health and economic standpoints.

Through proper management, says Beasley, “we can significantly reduce the need for what I’ll call crisis intervention or expensive hospitalization, or the need for travel to large specialty clinics outside the area.”

That is appealing to Amish on multiple levels.

Similar clinics are found in Pennsylvania (The Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg) and Ohio (DDC Clinic in Middlefield).  This will provide a more accessible treatment center for those afflicted in not only the immediate region but for patients further west.

Sharing burdens, negotiating bills, finding exemptions

In a related topic, CHC clinic president Dennis Lehman spoke with NPR recently about the Amish approach to health care.  It is about burden-sharing, he says (Dennis is Amish).  He also brings up the job of the bill negotiator, who bargains down prices for the community (comparable to what insurance companies do).

I had a chance to talk with Dennis this summer.  Our discussion brought home to me the importance of the bill negotiator’s work to the community.  Thanks to his behind-the-scenes efforts, an immense amount of money can be saved.  The person who negotiates in this community has what you would call a very important job, though I wonder how many realize what he does.

The interview, which can be listened to or read here, also addresses Amish navigation of the new health care law.

Though there is a religious exemption for the Amish, not all Amish–specifically those who work for non-Amish businesses–fall under the exemption.  Despite “substantial hurdles”, a lawyer working with the Amish is optimistic this can be overcome.

Ohio Chemotherapy Case

I have been sent articles by a number of readers lately regarding the case of Sarah Hershberger.  Sarah is the Amish girl who was ordered this summer to have chemotherapy to treat leukemia.

Sarah had initially undergone chemotherapy, but her parents removed her from the treatment due to adverse physical effects.  After a previous decision in favor of the parents was overturned, last month an Ohio court appointed a guardian to make medical decisions for Sarah, to ensure she received chemo treatment.

However, according to one publication, Sarah’s parents have removed her from the country and have been treating her with natural treatments.  Furthermore, she is described as “completely recovered”, according to Sarah’s father.

piece written in response to this claim asks for the evidence of her remission. The surgeon who writes it suggests that this may be the result of the initial chemotherapy:

Most likely what happened is that the chemotherapy shrank Sarah’s tumors to the point where they are no longer detectable on CT scans. This is a common initial outcome after early rounds of chemotherapy. The problem with lymphoma is that, although it is fairly easy to put lymphoma into an apparent complete remission, making that remission permanent is difficult.

According to the writer, there is a chance of relapse without maintenance chemotherapy, with dire implications for Sarah if she does relapse:

Worse, relapsed cancer is always harder to treat. The first shot at treating cancer is always the best shot, with the best odds of eradicating the cancer. Letting cancer relapse through incomplete treatment breeds resistant tumor cells the same way that not finishing a complete course of antibiotics contributes to the development of resistant bacteria.

As the above stories demonstrate, Amish make use of both cutting-edge medicine and traditional remedies. In an ideal world, each has its place.  In the case of Sarah, both have come into play.

It would be wonderful it she were in fact in permanent remission, but it’s hard not to be skeptical given the circumstances, including what seem to be legitimate concerns over potential relapse.

Sarah’s case has become the latest arena for argument between proponents of conventional and non-conventional treatments.  Regardless of who ends up “claiming victory”, hopefully the story ends well for Sarah.