A graduate of OHSU, Nedrow specializes in internal medicine and women’s health, but despite her background in conventional (also called “allopathic”) medicine she’d cultivated an interest in alternative therapies since 1995, when she and her husband adopted a daughter from China. The experience had sparked an interest in Chinese history, culture and medicine at a time when Nedrow was becoming frustrated with the limits of her own discipline.
“I was discouraged at how often we’d hit a brick wall in conventional treatment,” she says, recalling how, for patients suffering from chronic conditions such as arthritis, she could offer little more than painkillers, physical therapy and encouragement. Under her stewardship, the Center for Women’s Health began the Integrative Medicine Program, offering alternative therapies such as acupuncture, naturopathic care and stress-reduction classes.
Nonetheless, Ryan’s illness pushed her further into the unknown.
“It’s one thing to send patients with chronic low-back pain to an acupuncturist,” she says. “It’s another thing when you’ve got a gravely ill child.”
Nedrow hesitated. After three months of conventional treatment, Ryan was lethargic and puffy from the steroids, and still in danger of massive hemorrhage from the slightest cut in the skin. His doctors at Doernbecher were recommending chemotherapy with Rituxan, a drug that carried significant risk of major—even fatal—side effects. Should Ryan follow their advice? Or should he consider augmenting the medicine of Western science—the theories of Vesalius, Pasteur, and Fleming—with the ancient medicine of China’s Yellow Emperor, with its philosophy that human health depends not on microbes and molecules, but on a vital force called qi coursing through meridian lines that cannot be detected by any microscope?
Nedrow steeled her nerves and asked Saeks to examine Ryan. He referred the young patient to Dr. Yunpeng Luo, a professor of traditional Chinese medicine at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, who, after taking Ryan’s pulse and inspecting his tongue, diagnosed him with a severe case of “blood heat” and “blood deficiency.” Luo prescribed a complex herbal concoction containing sheng di huang, or raw rehmannia root, to cool his blood and dang gui, or Chinese angelica root, to nourish it.
Ryan continued to take the herbs three times a day for 10 months. Within only few weeks, his condition improved dramatically. Today, nearly three years after the onset of his disease, his platelet count is back to normal and he is feeling better—in fact, he won the state boys’ tennis doubles championship in May. Ryan’s dramatic recovery came as an enormous relief to his family, especially his mother. But it also left her with a rather disturbing awareness of the shortcomings of conventional medicine. “It was thrilling as a mother,” Nedrow says. “But it was unsettling as a doctor. It was in some ways the pivotal moment of my life. We don’t know all the answers, and in conventional medicine we’re not very comfortable with that.”