Reprinted by permission from Winds of Change © 2021 by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).
Growing up in the Oh-kay Owingeh Pueblo in New Mexico, Dr.Denise Gabaldon- Thronas saw family members and friends struggling with a range of ailments from diabetes to cancer, and was determined to choose a career that would allow her to help them.
The first from her family to attend college, she focused on biochemistry at New Mexico State University, hoping to apply her degree in some aspect of health care. “I was initially interested in pharmaceuticals for curing disease,” she says, “but that was problematic because of our cultural beliefs in healing.”
After she graduated, Dr.Gabaldon-Thronas jumped at the chance to apply for a job at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), both because of the lab’s distinguished reputation and because she could continue to live in her community. “But I couldn’t get into the bioscience group,” she says, “because I didn’t have an advanced degree.So instead I began working as an organic chemistry technician and eventually worked my way up to become a senior technical project manager in the Chemistry Division working on highprofile projects.”
Despite loving her career at LANL, and feeling grateful for the professional development and scientific knowledge she gained there, Dr. Gabaldon Thronas felt the pull of a career in health care. “I have family members with health issues, and “To be the change I want to see in the world, I had to be that doctor providing sound treatment plans and education so people could make informed health choices for themselves and their families.” they haven’t had good care,” she says. “To be the change I want to see in the world, I had to be that doctor providing sound treatment plans and education so people could make informed health choices for themselves and their families.”
Then in 2011, a series of coincidences led Dr. Gabaldon Thronas to find her path. “I experienced my first back spasm and was in excruciating pain,” she says. “But I couldn’t take prescription pain killers because of my security clearance.” Just a year before, Dr.Gabaldon-Thronas had met
naprapathic doctor at a LANL health fair and tried a 10 minute treatment. “I made an appointment,” she recalls, “to see if he could help my pain and answer the ‘why?’ I was so impressed with the treatment and the holistic philosophy behind the modality that I immediately knew this was my calling.” In 2017 she enrolled at the Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine (SUNM) in Santa Fe, N.M. “It was a life-changing decision that captured my passion for holistic healing,” she says.
Naprapathic medicine combines manual therapy of connective tissues with a holistic approach to treating pain and dysfunction. Most naprapathic practitioners combine hands- on manipulation with other therapeutic modalities and nutritional counseling, using different techniques depending on the patient’s problem. For Dr.Gabaldon-Thronas, the holistic element of naprapathy struck achord. “Naprapaths are connective tissue specialists, yes, but we are also specialists in connectingthose three critical elements of a person: mind (biochemical), body (biomechanical), and spirit (psychosocial). That’s the piece that is so often missing in Western medicine, and is well understood by traditional Indig-enous healers,” she says.
But Dr. Gabaldon-Thronas is also a scientist who understands the importance of research and of being able to prove why things work the way they do. In her current position as a faculty member at SUNM, Dr. Gabaldon-Thronas is hard at work on the research component established by Dr. Oakley Smith, founder of naprapathy. “I think scientifically,” she says, “and I could immediately correlate the scientific basis for why naprapathy is so effective. I am utilizing my experience and background in research to further the science of naprapathy,and hopefully provide a bridge between the natural, holistic side and the empirical side.”
Pairing ever-advancing medical imaging technology with the knowledge that underpins the practice of naprapathy, Dr.Gabaldon-Thronas believes, should soon demonstrate the utility of this drug-free therapy. In the meantime, she is doing what she was always meant to do— helping heal people by focusing on the mind-body-spirit connection in the naprapathic way that resonates with her community.
“To be the change I want to see in the world, I had to be that doctor providing sound treatment plans
and education so people could make informed health choices forthemselves and their families.”