by Lou Mancinelli
If you approached Chestnut Hill Veterinary Hospital founder Dr. Sheldon Gerstenfeld about such concepts more than 15 years ago, he might have preferred not to be bothered with such unconventional techniques. He was, after all, educated after a Western, allopathic regiment at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
But since then, Dr. Gerstenfeld has come to embrace alternative medicine at the CH Veterinary Hospital he founded in 1974 at 903 Bethlehem Pike in Erdenheim, where today he practices what he calls integrative healthcare. (Ed. Note: When asked his age and where he grew up, Dr. Gerstenfeld replied, “With identity theft being rampant, I feel that information is not relevant to the story and should not be included. Where I was born, grew up or my age adds nothing to the story.”)
It’s a way of serving the health needs of pets — from dogs and cats to rats, gerbils and chinchillas, et al — beyond the limited scope of treating the problem a pet was brought in for in the first place. Dr. Gerstenfeld offers a balance between the traditional “allopathic” approach and the alternative approach of aiding the ailing body.
His introduction to alternative approaches to medicine began 15 years ago. His wife Traudi, a native of Brazil, attended herbal medicine meetings in Switzerland that featured some of the world’s prominent herbalists. (Today Traudi is a certified flower essence practitioner for humans and animals.)
“She’d come back and tell me about herbal medicine,” said Dr. Gerstenfeld in a recent interview, “and I’d say, ‘Don’t bother me with that stuff. I went to Penn.’”
But a few months after his wife’s trip, while visiting friends in Chester County, Dr. Gerstenfeld jumped into a pond and was bitten by a yellow-jacket. His wife’s friend, who was instrumental in orchestrating his wife’s journeys to Switzerland, knew the cure. She gathered some plantains from their yard, chewed them up and rubbed the leaves and juice on his sting. According to Dr. Gerstenfeld, the pain went away.
When a few months later his Golden Retriever had a skin inflammation, and his wife boiled black tea and used it to soak the area, quieting the inflammation. The conventional approach would have been maybe a short of cortisone, or the prescription of antibiotics or a cream, according to Dr. Gerstenfeld. The success of the experience inspired him to join the American Holistic Veterinary Association of America.
“We don’t want to just patch things up here,” said Dr. Gerstenfeld, who has authored eight books, served as contributing editor for Parents Magazine for 21 years, appeared on the Animal Planet, and served as KYW Channel 3’s “Ask the Vet” for six years.
“We take the time to look at the animal holistically and not treat just the one thing standing out. Allopathic medicine doesn’t have all the answers. Many times using both is rewarding.”
In fact, in the fall of 2009, Dr. Gerstenfeld helped Greta, a paralyzed six-year-old Dachshund owned by an area resident, Helen Dickson, walk again through the practice of electro-acupuncture. In less than two weeks, Greta, who was paralyzed for the previous eight months due to a botched surgery for a herniated disk began to wag her tail and lift her hind legs. Now, she can walk of her own accord, although her movements are not what you would call smooth or fluid, and she “comes in for a tune-up once a month.”
“Greta was used to chasing other dogs in the backyard,” said Dickson, “and then all of a sudden, she became paralyzed. It’s a real miracle that Dr. Gerstenfeld has given Greta her life back. He is a lifesaver.”
In addition to traditional veterinary medicine, including surgical procedures, dentistry and emergency services, Dr. Gerstenfeld employs a combination of electronic acupuncture, education about proper diet and holistic medicine such as flower essences, vitamins, massages and Chinese medicine.
In the case of Greta, Dr. Gerstenfeld’s acupuncture sessions using “very mild electric current seemed to stimulate the nerves to regrow in that area (where the paralysis was). It restored a balance of energy. There are all kinds of energy highways in the body. We put needles in the on and off ramps. A patient may need the treatments a couple times a week, and then it tapers off gradually.” (The treatments are about $90 each.)
Many human clients are open to Dr. Gerstenfeld’s holistic approach because they are already used to employing proper diet, yoga and herbal supplements in their own lives.
One such individual is Roxborough resident Carolyn Kantor, a Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner (a discipline that deals with the balance of the body’s energies) whose four-year-old Golden Retriever, Phoebe, developed sensitive kidney issues caused by an umbilical infection at birth. She also has difficulties with her hips that, if not correctly managed, could develop into more serious problems.
Dr. Gerstenfeld has been able to treat Phoebe’s health issues with acupuncture, herbs and all-natural supplements like Rhubarb extract and Vitamin C, according to Kantor.
“He reminds me very much of a country vet in a city setting,” said Kantor via email. “His willingness to go beyond the quick fix and look beyond the symptoms to the root of the illness through holistic means is very much in line with how I treat my own clients through music therapy and through Jin Shin Jyutsu.”
“Phoebe loves everyone there,” said Kantor. “She jumps out of the car when I take here there, and she can’t wait to get inside.”
Treating pets with acupuncture “has its place,” said Dr. Gerstenfeld. “It’s not like an animal comes in, and you do acupuncture and fix the problem. Acupuncture is one part of looking at what we can do to improve. People have forgotten that everything we need for survival as humans is all around us. All the plants, everything is a gift to us, but we as a society have forgotten. It’s something the American Indians knew.”
Poison ivy, he explained, provides a poignant example. It grows where the earth is damaged. Contact with its leaves or someone or something carrying the substance of its leaves can cause a skin inflammation, which tends to keep humans away from the area while it restores itself. Yet, the antidote for poison ivy, jewel weed, invariably grows within yards of the potentially painful plant.
For more information about the Chestnut Hill Veterinarian Hospital, visit www.chestnuthillvet.com or call 215-836-2950. To see an NBC10 video that shows Dr. Gerstenfeld working on Greta, visit our Web site and click on the link within the “Paralyzed Dog” article.
View more videos at: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com.