Photo: Marie Romagnano, RN
He's seen miraculous healings. Dr. Heechin Chae, MD, speaks of how God has called him to restore the "whole person."
Divine Mercy — For Your Health!
By David Came (May 20, 2010)
What are the signs of burnout for healthcare professionals, and how can burnout be avoided? How can doctors and nurses help patients draw closer to God in the midst of their suffering? What are some of today's key questions and challenges in bioethics? In modern times, is it possible to restore God's people, even in the case of those who have suffered a catastrophic brain injury? Are such miracles possible?
These were some of the topics presenters addressed at the 6th Annual Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality Conference held at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., on May 5-6. The conference was sponsored by Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, founded by Marie Romagnano, RN, in 2001. Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy is an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.
View a photo gallery of the conference.
"Burnout in the medical field is very common. I was reading an article that said 50 percent of medical students go through a period of burnout," Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, told the more than 100 healthcare professionals in his presentation, which opened the conference on May 5. "I'm going to talk about what it is, who gets it, and how to avoid it. The military term is battle fatigue."
Along with his background in medicine, Dr. Thatcher is the founder and director of Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM).
Burnout, said Dr. Thatcher is "a condition of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by too many situations that are demanding." To put it in the medical context, he said, "there's the drudge of a dull, monotonous daily routine. I have to go to work on the same floor with all the sick people. Then there's the sheer exhaustion of struggling through so many years of stress and so many responsibilities. There's so much work to do, so many buzzers going off, and so many patients' charts to check."
According to Dr. Thatcher, signs of burnout include "an inability to fully engage in many aspects of the job. Speech becomes flattened and facial gestures diminish. The person is less pleasant and responsive to the demands of the situation. You withdraw. You're not as animated. You don't go in with enthusiasm. There's depersonalization. Patients are seen less as individuals and more as just part of a routine. There's a lack of personal accomplishment, of personal achievement. You may be doing A+ work, but you feel it is C- because you never get it done."
Burnout can then lead to poor concentration, insomnia, poor productivity with more mistakes, guilt, loss of libido, and depression. "You struggle even with making decisions. Down the road, there can be impairment problems that lead to drug addiction, alcoholism, and other inappropriate behaviors," he said.
Dr. Thatcher identified a certain personality type that is susceptible to burnout. "You have a higher need to get a job well done than most of your peers," he said. "There's a greater need for achievement, more of a need to dominate. You're the leader type, and there's less motivation to defer to authority."
What exactly can healthcare professionals who are susceptible to burnout do to avoid it?
The best treatment for burnout is a strategy of prevention, according to Dr. Thatcher. "Develop a healthy lifestyle, both inside and outside of work, Get regular physical examinations. Get exercise. Take a vacation. Develop some hobbies," he said.
Dr. Thatcher also shared some tips on developing a stronger spiritual life in order to avoid burnout.
"Let the words 'Jesus, I trust in You' come out of your mouth many times a day," he said. "Pray daily and pray from the heart. Tell Jesus what's on your mind. Make your whole day a prayer."
"Live and lead a sacramental life," Dr. Thatcher continued. "Go to Mass as often as your station in life permits. Let the mercy and grace of God radiate through your heart to your patient."
He recommended that the doctors and nurses present consider becoming part of a small faith-based community in order to get regular spiritual support. One possibility is joining a Divine Mercy cenacle in your area.[/url]Divine Mercy cenacle or faith-based community for healthcare professionals, which Dr. Thatcher has pioneered through his work with EADM's cenacle formation program in collaboration with Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy.
With the Sick and Suffering
In his presentation on how healthcare professionals can help the sick to form a stronger relationship with the Lord in the midst of their suffering, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, said he struggled with his talk since he doesn't think "there is only one template for those who minister to the sick."
With this in mind, he decided to share a private revelation of the Lord addressed to the suffering and the sick, which was given to a woman simply known as Anna D. in Warsaw, Poland, in 1988. The woman is being guided by her spiritual director in obedience to the Church, and Fr. Seraphim believes the revelation to be authentic and helpful to the sick and their caregivers.
Father Seraphim is director of the Association of Marian Helpers based in Stockbridge, Mass., and a preeminent expert on The Divine Mercy message.
The message to the suffering and the sick, as shared by Fr. Seraphim, includes these words:
I want you to know that human suffering touches Me to the quick and causes Me to turn a blind eye to all your faults, mistakes, and neglect. And when in your pain, anxiety, and exhaustion you cry out to Me, I — your Lord, Father, and Savior, the God of infinite majesty and might — straightaway run to My child, to be near you, to help and comfort you. There's not a mother who loves you more cordially, is more solicitous about you, and watches over you with greater care than I — Jesus, your friend. For I alone offered My life for you and paid the price for your redemption with My own suffering. I'm familiar with the pain of the human body and with the feelings of dread and of anxiety about what will happen. During the night I spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, I not only lived through My forthcoming Passion, but I also experienced the hurt of your ingratitude, of your future heartlessness, of your hatred of Me, of the rejection by everyone who would do this for thousands of years to come — of My sacrifice. Yet, in spite of that, I did not shrink back because My love for you was stronger than all your present and future sins ... .
How I wish that you would take advantage of the Time of Mercy that I am offering you. Suffering: it's my gift of fellowship. If you enter with Me — Jesus Christ, your Savior — into the fellowship of suffering and thus unite yourselves with My sacrifice on the Cross, then no matter how tiny or of little significance your suffering might appear to be ... this association with My sufferings will endure in eternity. And it will shield you from God's justice ... . Indeed, it can never happen that I — the God of mercy, forgiving love — should reject someone who cried out to Me in pain and fear. So take advantage of the time given you, in the face of your degradation and sin.
After sharing this message for the suffering and the sick, Fr. Seraphim commented to the healthcare professionals: "I believe the Lord is giving the sick you minister to the special grace [to cope with] with that sickness, that weakness. [When we are sick and suffering] He is letting our suffering be His. He is suffering in us. He's inspiring that attraction in us. He wants to apply His grace to the situation. But He is a gentleman. He will not push Himself on us."
Father Seraphim stressed that encouraging such an approach to redemptive suffering in patients doesn't mean that we don't want them to be healed. Rather, it means that we need to help them embrace the deeper reality that "Jesus overcame death, and now we need not fear it. This is why Christianity spread. People have that hope. [Heaven] is waiting for me. I need to stick with Jesus," he said. "It all depends on our union with the God of life. It's not so much the healing of the body that matters but that our spirit is one with the Lord."
'We Are His Creatures'
In his talk, Fr. Germain Kopaczynski, OFM, Conv., Ph,D, STD, laid a firm foundation for a discussion of today's questions and challenges in bioethics. "Wisdom is part of the prime directive of the Judeo-Christian tradition. God created us intelligent and free, and we are His creatures," he said. "This is the basis for the principle of informed consent in medicine, where we are obliged to inform patients about the nature of any medical procedure and respect their rights."
Father Germain is a prominent Catholic bioethicist and former director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, based in Philadelphia, Pa.
He emphasized that the Judeo-Christian understanding of the human person as a creature of God underscored that we are called to be "responsible stewards and not absolute masters" of our lives and creation. He compared this understanding to the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian of Michigan, who has helped hundreds of people commit suicide, based on his belief in the "absolute personal autonomy" of the human person.
In refuting the reasoning of Kevorkian and his ilk, Fr. Germain turned to the "Dirty Harry" movies starring Clint Eastwood and quoted the memorable line, "A man has to know his limitations."
Father Germain stressed that the foundation of any discussion in bioethics — such as experimentation that could lead to human cloning or the harvesting of human embryos for stem cell research — must be grounded in both faith and reason. "Faith and good science go hand in hand," he said. As Thomas Aquinas put it, "A truth of faith and a truth of reason can never contradict." Or, as Pope John Paul II said, "Faith and reason are the two wings by which we ascend to God." Under "faith," we find: Scripture and the Magisterium (the teaching office of the Church). Under "reason," we find: conscience, the natural law, and the human sciences.
As an example of faith and reason going hand in hand, Fr. Germain noted how the Vatican always takes into account the latest scientific research before writing a document that addresses human concerns. An example is Dignitatis Personae (On the Dignity of the Human Person), published in 2008, which deals with bioethical issues.
"Sometimes we have to know more and will have to accept a provisional statement until something else comes along," he said, citing the current debate over what to do with frozen embryos. "Now, we have 400,000 frozen embryos, but we shouldn't have been in this position in the first place," as the Church clearly teaches that the production of embryos in a laboratory is gravely wrong — let alone then freezing them.
Another example of losing the integral connection between faith and reason is how people popularly talk of following their conscience when making important decisions. That isn't enough, said Fr. Germain. "You follow your well-formed conscience," guided by faith (Scripture and the Magisterium).
Like St. Faustina
With clear conviction and an inner calm, Sr. Teresa Dela Fuente, OLM — a sister of St. Faustina's Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy — told the healthcare professionals of the importance of the Holy Eucharist as their main source of grace and mercy in fulfilling their "noble profession."
Sister Teresa lives in the Congregation's house in Dorchester, Mass.
"The nature and beauty of your profession is that you are called to be ministers of life," she said. "Pope John Paul II calls you to be 'guardians and servants of human life.' It is a service to life. It means being present to the patient on his sickbed — to promote to this person who is sick health and well-being. In the exercise of this noble ministry, you need the presence of the Author of Life [in the Holy Eucharist]."
To inspire the conference participants, Sr. Teresa shared how central the Eucharist was to the spiritual life of St. Faustina, the great apostle of Divine Mercy. "Thirty percent of her Diary makes reference to the Eucharist," Sr. Teresa said, stressing that the saint was a daily communicant and made frequent visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. "In [Sr. Faustina's] visits to the Blessed Sacrament, she would receive light about a particular situation, what to say to a particular person."
Sister Teresa then made the application from the life of St. Faustina to that of the healthcare professional, saying, "What should we do in light of our responsibilities? The Lord can give us direction through the Eucharist. What about the exercise of our duties [in the medical field]? We have to assist patients in making hard decisions that affect their lives and those of their families. Your strength for this is in the Eucharist."
She closed her presentation with a Eucharistic passage from the Diary of St. Faustina:
On Thursday, when I went to my cell, I saw over me the Sacred Host in great brightness. Then I heard a voice that seemed to be coming from above the Host: In the Host is your power. It will defend you. After these words, the vison disappeared, but a strange power entered my soul, and a strange light as to what our love for God consists in: namely, in doing His will (616).
Natural Approach to Human Fertility
Articulating the Church's teaching on helping couples deal with the problem of infertility, Dr. Paul Carpentier, MD, CFCMC, said that in his presentation, he was building on the moral and ethical foundation laid by Fr. Germain for addressing just such an issue. Dr. Carpentier compared the use of what is called NaPro Technology, which is consistent with the Church's teaching on the dignity of the human person and respect for the marriage covenant, with in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which is not.
NaPro Technology stands for natural, procreative technology in which fertility experts work with the very latest science to enhance naturally the fertility of married couples. In contrast, IVF, by its very definition, violates the dignity of the human person and the marriage covenant, since "in vitro" means outside a living body and in an artificial environment.
"Faith and the sciences support each other," said Dr. Carpentier, "building on what Fr. Germain has said. Just since Easter, we've had seven couples achieve fertility at our clinic [using NaPro Technology]."
Dr. Carpentier is a NaPro Technology specialist, who works out of his clinic, In His Image Family Medicine, PC, in Gardner, Mass.
"In our work, we say yes to the trueness of who we are," said Dr. Carpentier. "Life is the supreme gift of marriage, and marriage is the best place to nurture a child. Genital intercourse should be a celebration of that commitment [to marriage]. As couples, we are co-creators with God."
In the case of the wife, NaPro Technology improves ovarian function and cervical mucus (which provides a suitable environment for the survival of sperm) and corrects immune dysfunctions. For instance, something as simple as taking vitamin B-6 has been shown to enhance the production of mucus in the cervix.
In the case of the husband, attention is given to enhancing a low sperm count.
Not only is NaPro faithful to Church teaching, but it works, according to Dr. Carpentier. In 21 years of his own practice, he reports that 64 percent of couples facing infertility achieve pregnancy using NaPro. On average, such fertility is achieved after 6.4 months of treatment. In fact, Dr. Carpentier estimates that 20-40 percent of infertile couples can achieve pregnancy just by charting the woman's cycle, using Natural Family Planning (NFP), and then planning their lovemaking accordingly.
Further, NaPro avoids the costly loss of human life that comes with the use of IVP, in which an average of 6.72 embryos are lost for every one that is delivered, according to Dr. Carpentier. Also, he pointed out that women using IVP are 96 times more likely to miscarry than those using NaPro.
Those with Brain Injuries
In his first appearance at the Annual Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality Conference, Dr. Heechin Chae, MD, shared how God has called him to restore the whole person in his work with catastrophic brain injury patients and how he has seen "miraculous healings" that are beyond the ken of medical science. Along the way, he shared his personal spirituality testimony with the rapt audience of healthcare professionals. It quickly became clear that he viewed his medical vocation as a calling from the Lord — even if he was initially reluctant to embrace it.
Dr. Chae is the medical director of the Brain Injury Program at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Mass. He is also an instructor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.
He spoke about growing up in Korea as an atheist, following the teaching of Confucius. Then, after his father moved the family to Paraguay to pursue a job, Heechin ended up coming to America at the age of 14. It wasn't until his college years that he attended a campus Bible study and heard the Gospel for the first time. He remembers that the Bible study was on the Gospel of John and the theme was eternal life. Interestingly, he was drawn by the strong Korean food being served at the Bible Study.
"A year and a half later, I accepted Jesus into my heart," said Dr. Chae, who is an ordained Baptist minister. After that, he said that he literally tried to flunk out of medical school, but he kept on passing and wondered why.
His vocational call to serve the Lord in medicine came in 1996 when he says that "God spoke to me in an extraordinary way." It came through the example of Moses' call in the Book of Exodus in which he was charged by God to "free His people," "I knew then that God was calling me like Moses to bring out His people," said Dr. Chae, "and He took me into the catastrophic brain injury field."
Why this particular field?
Dr. Chae noted that the need is great because of the complexity and severity of such injuries. Also, the number of patients is growing because of the increasing number of veterans who are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan who have survived traumatic brain injuries and need a significant amount of rehabilitation. He noted that every 21 seconds someone suffers from a traumatic head injury, "with a significant reduction in mortality."
The brain specialist said that a lot of people survive an injury and initially don't even know that the injury involves their brain. Then they can begin to suffer mood changes and deterioration of their performance on the job, eventually pointing to a brain injury. "The brain is a complex organ, so this is a complex problem," he said. "Visibly, the person can look great, but internally he is suffering."
Physiologically, treatment is further complicated by the fact that with a brain injury, it typically isn't only a matter of damaged brain tissue, but such injuries affect the neurochemistry of the brain, which coordinates various functions throughout the body, according to Dr. Chae.
"The brain can't reconnect certain circuits," he said, "so it has a lot of reconnecting to do, relying on its own inner healing properties. But typically, the patient does not recover 100 percent of his brain functions. For example, maybe the person will always present as a little short tempered."
"In talking with my fellows and residents [at Spaulding Hospital], the goal is to restore the patient as much as possible," said Dr. Chae, "How do we restore the patient as a person — to a person who is loved and who is loving? Restoration is about the value of the person. How does the patient and the patient's family define happiness? The assessment is about getting to know the patients, their values, and their families in order to see what is possible."
This Baptist minister and medical doctor is talking about restoration in the biblical sense: "Restoration is what God desires," he said. "God promises, starting in the Old Testament, that He wants to restore His people. He will make everything right in Jesus Christ. Everything that we do in our spiritual journey is about restoration. Saint Paul says that we are being renewed. In heaven, we will be made whole."
What are some of the miraculous healings that Dr. Chae has seen in his work of restoring the whole person? He said that sharing such case studies may be a topic of a future presentation.
So, stay tuned for the 7th Annual Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality Conference in 2011. Who knows, Dr. Chae may present some fascinating case studies that demonstrate miracles do happen.
Speakers also included Nurse Marie and Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, director of Evangelization and Development for the Marians in Stockbridge, Mass.
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. His book is Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate.