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A skeptic, she's willing to give it a try

Title: A skeptic, she's willing to give it a try
Date: Friday, 5 October 2007
Publisher: Philadelphia Inquirer
Author: Art Carey
Main source:

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Picture: "Lisa Gengo exercises before going into the dry sauna on the 23d day of her program. The exercise speeds niacin into circulation. Gengo had worked near Ground Zero."]

Among medical professionals calling for further research into what's going on at the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project, Lisa Gengo is unique.

Since July, Gengo has been visiting the clinic once a week and she plans to go through the detox program herself.

"I'm using myself as a guinea pig," she says. "I want to see personally whether I'm going to feel better."

Gengo, 45, is in an interesting position to judge because she bridges both conventional and alternative medicine. She's a physician's assistant who trained at Cornell Medical College and New York Presbyterian Hospital. She's also a doctor of naturopathy and vice chairman of the department of integrative medicine at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine.

In 2001, Gengo was working at New York Presbyterian. The day after 9/11, she helped staff a makeshift surgical suite about six blocks from Ground Zero.

"I was wearing just a surgical mask," Gengo says. "It was hot, dusty. We were constantly taking them off."

Since then, she's developed health problems she never had before - allergies, migraines, food intolerances. She also feels constantly fatigued.

"I can't work out anymore, because my blood pressure drops," she says.

Based on her experiences so far, she believes the detox program holds promise.

"I've been there enough to see that people are getting better. I've seen many things that just floor me, people from week to week who look vastly different and are improving in amazing ways."

The allopathic side of her is skeptical, Gengo says, and she doesn't understand the physiology behind the program and why and how it seems to restore health.

"I agree that studies need to be done and a more critical look needs to be taken," she says.

But the naturopathic side of her is unsurprised by the program's apparent success. It's simply a modern spin on ancient medicine, Gengo says. People have long purged their bodies of poisons by baking in sweat lodges, fasting and eating special foods.

"This is nothing new," Gengo says. "It just seems new in our culture because we've lost these traditions.

"I was trained at a conservative institution. I worked with some of the best doctors in the city, and I believe in that medicine. But I'm also trained as a naturopath. I don't think that it's an either/or proposition. That's why I went into natural medicine. I think the answer lies in between. It's a combination of both.

"It's easy to criticize, but people are getting better there and that's what's important. We don't know why aspirin works. We don't know the mechanics of it, but we do know that it works."