Sherman woman chooses holistic medicine, gets visit from DCF

March 21, 2019

When Katharine Pileggi’s toddler was diagnosed with arthritis last summer, she knew she wanted to treat the little girl using natural methods, including acupuncture and a vegan organic diet.

But the Sherman resident said she has faced blowback for her decision not to medicate Emma, now 3, including some doctors reporting her to the state Department of Children and Families.

“The stress that this has caused me and my children has been unbearable,” Pileggi said.

Pileggi became interested in holistic medicine while researching cures during a time she was bedridden, couldn’t speak and suffered from a number of illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease.

“You name it and I was diagnosed with it,” said Pileggi, who is now studying to become a holistic health practitioner through the International School of Detoxification.

Though holistic medicine continues gaining popularity, those who rely more on this type of care face challenges, including the possibility of state intervention when they choose to forgo conventional medicine. States also are struggling to determine how to handle the rise of actions that go against standard health practices, like the anti-vaccine movement.

Between 96.3 percent and 97 percent of Connecticut’s kindergartners were vaccinated in the 2017 school year, depending on the vaccine. This is down from 94.8 to 97.4 percent in the 2012 school year, according to the state Department of Public Health.

This drop in vaccination rates in recent years has lawmakers considering measures that would prevent unvaccinated children from attending public schools.

Holistic v. conventional

Christel Autuori, director of the Institute for Holistic Health Studies at Western Connecticut State University, said holistic medicine focuses on the idea of helping the body cure itself through things like yoga, nutrition, herbs, physical therapy and acupuncture. It’s usually preventative care.

“The holistic approach is one that looks at health from a multidimensional approach,” she said, adding they look at emotional, spiritual and physical health. “It’s the big picture.”

By contrast, conventional medicine, which treats ailments or injuries with things like drugs and surgery, tends to focus on specific ailments and the particular body parts affected, Autuori said.

Dr. Beth Natt, director of pediatric hospital medicine in the Western Connecticut Health Network and at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, said she’s seeing the interest in holistic care increase, but hopes people also work with conventional doctors for care.

Both Pileggi and Autuori said they recognized the limitations of holistic medicine. They agreed holistic practices are great for chronic illnesses but not for major injuries or things like heart attacks or broken bones.

“Holistic is not the end all,” Pileggi said.

She had surgery last year, when she broke her leg, and has taken Emma to specialists, including when she recently fractured her leg while playing.


But she has concerns about things like vaccines.

Her three oldest children have at least some vaccinations, but her 1-year-old does not. She said she and her children, who she has filed religious vaccine exemptions for, have experienced negative side effects after receiving vaccines, which led her to believe those were the cause.

Natt, however, said concerns that the vaccines spread the disease or cause autism are unfounded. While there are aspects of the live virus in some of the vaccines, it’s only enough to help the body build an immunity to it, not enough to transfer the disease to another person.

She pointed to the recent outbreak just over the state line in Rockland County, N.Y., where 147 cases of measles have been confirmed between Jan. 1 and March 14. Of those, about 81 percent didn’t receive the vaccine. About 4 percent only had one of the shots, 2 percent had two of the shots and there wasn’t vaccination data on the remaining percent.

“Ninety percent of unvaccinated people exposed to measles become infected because it’s that infectious,” she said.

Parents have filed a lawsuit against the Rockland Health Department and its commissioner challenging an order barring the 44 unvaccinated children from attending school. A judge denied issuing a temporary injunction that would have allowed the students to return to class last week because of the county’s “unprecedented measles outbreak,” according to The Journal News.

Natt said because the diseases, such as polio and measles, were essentially eliminated years ago with the vaccines, people now don’t know anyone who had these diseases and the dangers associated.

“I think as they come back, people will begin to understand why we vaccinate,” she said.

Pileggi said she has helped people file for religious exemptions for vaccinations.

She also shares her own experience dealing with state intervention due to her decision not to use medication to treat arthritis in her daughter Emma, now 3. This includes the DCF visits where workers interviewed her and the children, saw the thousands of dollars in bills for the children’s food and activities, as well as reviewed other records.

DCF officials did not respond to Hearst Connecticut Media’s questions about their process when investigating complaints for these types of cases. But the department can remove a child from a home in extreme cases if it determines that child’s safety is in jeopardy.

This happened in 2015 when a judge ordered Cassandra Callender, of Windsor Locks, to undergo chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin lymphoma after the then teen and her mother had decided not to do so.

Increased interest

Although more people are practicing holistic medicine, it’s difficult to determine how many because there are different treatments considered holistic and not everyone uses all of these. Some people also use holistic methods as a complement to conventional medicine.

The Centers for Disease Control tracks the national use of complementary health approaches, with the most common practices being yoga, meditation and chiropractors. It doesn’t specify what percentage of these people are using these methods in partnership with conventional medicine.

“The number of American adults and children using yoga and meditation has significantly increased over previous years and the use of chiropractic has increased modestly for adults and held steady for children,” according to the 2017 National Health Interview Survey, which was released in November.

About 14.3 percent of adults did yoga in 2017, up from 9.5 percent in 2012, and about 14.2 percent of adults used meditation in 2017, up from 4.1 percent in 2012.

Natt said the trend toward more holistic care is really evident in the vitamin K administration for newborns, which helps the infants’ blood clot and prevents brain bleeds. She’s seeing fewer parents deciding to administer the vitamin K as an injection and instead choosing to do it orally, which is less effective.

“It’s one of the most evidence-based treatments and lifesaving that an infant can receive,” she said.

There remain, however, those that don’t understand or have misconceptions about holistic medicine. And holistic medicine isn’t seen as a silver bullet by those who use it.

“The holistic approach takes longer and we are very impatient,” Autuori said. “We don’t want to wait weeks for an herb to work.”

Pileggi said her goal is to someday open a wellness center in the area to educate people on the benefits of holistic medicine. She plans to train in different holistic treatments so that her patients won’t have to go out of state for services.

“I’m in holistic medicine because I want to help people,” she said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345