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Keith Bell extols the success of his Oriental medicine clinic.

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Since opening the shop in August 2000, Bell has used acupuncture, massages, Chinese medicine, herbal treatment, diet therapy, or all of the above, in his efforts to heal Richmond's ill.

This Monument Avenue clinic is the only treatment center of its kind in Richmond. No other medical clinics in Richmond combine Western medicine with Chinese medicine as comprehensively as this one, Bell says.

"It's very different from just a little pain clinic," says Bell, slowly enunciating each word. "That's boring."

Bell's treatments are based on the philosophy that there is a correlation between emotions and diseases. "My major field of study is emotional and psychological aspects of disease," Bell explains. "Thought patterns, emotions and lifestyles are major contributors to disease." Rather than treat the symptoms of allergies, skin diseases and asthma, the clinic seeks to heal the feelings behind the ailments.

For example, according to Chinese medical belief, "grief depletes the lungs," Bell says, while worry affects the stomach and spleen. Lung or colon cancer originates from sadness. Depression and anxiety are the most common emotions responsible for illness, according to Bell.

While public interest has sparked a series of medical studies on many alternative treatments, the scientific jury is still out on how they work or how effective they are.

But Bell claims to have seen dramatic results. "I've seen a couple of people with a very rare form of breast cancer [get healed]," he says. "There's supposedly no cure. Most physicians give them six months. …

"The majority of cancer is from lifestyle," Bell adds. "A lot of times it can come from unexpressed emotions."

The clinic tends to be a last resort for most people, Bell says, "so we see a lot of the very sick." But the clinic touts healing for all kinds of conditions, from the common cold ("the most fun thing to treat," Bell says) to life-threatening rare forms of cancer. ("I've seen it disappear.")

He's lectured at Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia, where a fourth-year med class invited him to speak for its spring symposium. He's spoken at Henrico Doctors', Chippenham and St. Mary's hospitals, and he's also been invited to lecture at the University of Richmond.

Treatment doesn't come cheap, though: An hour of treatment for the common cold costs $85. An hour-long nutritional consultation is $75. Regular patients get quick treatments at a discounted rate of $50.

More than 90 percent of Bell's clients pay out-of-pocket. Few insurance companies in Virginia will cover the treatments, something Bell blames on Virginia's unfamiliarity with Chinese medicine; he says many other states' insurance plans do cover the treatments. "Insurance companies would save a lot, because it's cheaper," Bell says. Some patients, he estimates, could save as much as $50,000 by receiving acupuncture treatments for migraine headaches rather than going to the hospital.

A native Richmonder, Bell originally studied philosophy at VCU in hopes of becoming a lawyer. But his plans changed. "I became fascinated with the philosophy of health and healing," he explains. He already practiced martial arts, so an interest in Eastern medicine seemed natural. "I never thought it was going to be a life," Bell reminisces. "It was just a hobby."

However, after working at a Chinese clinic in Santa Fe, N.M., he says, "I realized that Virginia doesn't have anything like this."

So three years ago, he sought and received certification from the State of New Mexico as a doctor of Oriental medicine. (DOM is now one of seven abbreviated titles on his business card). And he opened his clinic in Richmond. "When I first told people I was going to move here," he says, "they thought I was crazy."

Bell, who has since hired seven employees, says he's been well-received. "Business has been booming," he says. "I don't think I've had a week that hasn't been booked." Originally, he says he didn't need to advertise his services because so many physicians were sending their patients to see him. Dr. Leslie Teets, of Retreat Hospital, has been referring patients to him for more than a year.

"We're pretty good at putting out fires," Teets says of traditional Western physicians. "But we're not good at keeping people well and balanced. I think the Oriental approach is better at keeping people well and balanced." Teets has never received treatment from Bell, but knows of other doctors who have.

Bell sees 60 patients a week, with about 100 patients coming in monthly. Most of them prefer people not to know they're receiving such alternative treatments ("I have people sneak in, and they're in government or something," Bell says).

Bell acknowledges being susceptible to the same illnesses and catching colds just like everyone else. The difference is, he says, he's found a good way of dealing with it.

"A lot of it is being aware of your body — pausing during the day and checking in with yourself. 'How do I feel?' If you surround yourself with a toxic environment, it's going to take its toll." S

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