BY ELLEN GILLETTE
Growing up in rural Kentucky, Rachelle Tetreault remembers gathering sassafras leaves for tea, a remedy for various ills around the world. Even though her mother was a nurse, the family rarely went to the doctor. From her father, a preacher and social worker, she absorbed the idea that the human body was created with the ability to heal itself.
Tetreault’s family moved to Florida when she was a teenager. She married relatively young, but her husband’s death left her a young widow with two children. When her older son was 8, he often mentioned his best friend at school. The day she met the boy at the bus stop, she also met his father, Robert. Going out for coffee that morning was the first of many dates.
Robert and Rachelle dated several years before getting married. “Because we both had kids, we wanted to be sure it was right. We’ve been a blended family — yours, mine, and ours — for 22 years now.”
Tetreault’s first career was as a registered respiratory therapist, trained at Indian River State College. She worked at Raulerson Hospital in Okeechobee, followed by Cleveland Clinic. When a colleague decided to go back to school to become an acupuncturist, Tetreault joined her.
“I’d taken care of patients with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease),” says Tetreault. “Steroids sometimes only maintained, without lasting progress. When I developed asthma and chronic asthmatic bronchitis myself, traditional medications weren’t effective.” Acupuncture and herbal medication, however, were. “It made me a true believer.”
Florida’s certification program for acupuncturists is one of the strictest in the country. One may practice with a master’s degree which includes three years of training, but Tetreault opted for an additional two years to get her doctorate. She attended the Atlantic Institute of Oriental Medicine in Fort Lauderdale, the first educational institution on the east coast of the United States to offer a doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine program. Training included three internships: in China; at Light of the World clinic in Broward County; and three years with Stuart Shipe, a doctor of Oriental medicine and Chinese herbalist in Stuart.
In China, Tetreault trained with Buddhist monks but says that “as a Christian, I never felt disloyal to my faith. The monks spoke of God, too.” For much of the training, Tetreault and other Western students needed an interpreter. Accommodations were meager but comfortable; vegetarian meals were plain but delicious. “On weekends we wore whatever we wanted but had training clothes during the week, as well as tai chi attire.”
The internship included a semester of tai chi, a Chinese low-impact, slow-motion exercise shown to reduce stress and help with certain medical conditions. Tai chi is touted for decreasing stress, anxiety and depression as well as increasing energy, stamina and balance, and Tetreault currently leads a weekly tai chi class.
Rather than wait for symptoms to present themselves and require treatment, Chinese medicine looks for imbalances in order to prevent symptoms. “There needs to be balance — mental, physical and spiritual,” says Tetreault.
“I do an assessment, looking first at the tongue to see what’s going on — the color, coating, thickness and geographic features all mean something. The pulse in both wrists tells me something else.” She also gets a thorough medical history. Some patients, of course, seek treatment for pre-existing conditions.
Looking at the big picture in terms of health, Tetreault says that getting sick occasionally isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “The immune system needs to ‘get a work-out’ in order to strengthen.” She has no qualms about referring patients to traditional doctors, either. “Not everyone or every condition responds to acupuncture. With my background in critical care, I know how Western medicine works too. I can see both sides.”
Tetreault has kept her respiratory therapist certification current; she still picks up hospital shifts some weekends. During the week she practices acupuncture at Southern Salt Therapy and several area chiropractors’ offices using thin, sterile, disposable needles. Most people feel no discomfort as she inserts them into points along the meridians corresponding to different organs of the body.
A mild electrical current may be used to stimulate the needles. After all needles are inserted, they remain in place for about 20 minutes while the patient relaxes and listens to soothing music.
Tetreault, herself an acupuncture success story, has seen many others helped. “Two particular patients come to mind. Both were told they needed surgery but after acupuncture, they did not. Surgery may be the answer … but not always.”
From the hills of Kentucky to the hills of China — and now to Port St. Lucie — Rachelle Tetreault has found her niche, combining ancient wisdom with modern research. As she says, “If we give our bodies what they need, they can often heal themselves.”
RACHELLE RENAE TETREAULT
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Doctor of Oriental medicine, acupuncturist and registered respiratory therapist
Family: Husband Robert, three sons, two daughters
Education: Doctoral studies for Eastern medicine; certification in respiratory therapy
Hobbies: Tai chi, nature hikes with the dogs (an English pointer and a dachshund)
Who inspires me: “My parents were a huge inspiration —their character and humility, the way they raised us children. My father was always in school, very well educated, very caring. My mother, Betty Marie Harmon, was, and still is, also amazing.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I grew up in a poor area of Kentucky so I’m a country girl. My father was in the military but chose to settle there to raise his family.”