Joyful Living

By+Kathe Brunton


Mishawaka doctor practices medicine the way it is meant to be.

Photos by David Hubler

If you want to sit on the couch eating chip after chip with one hand while taking cholesterol-reducing pills with the other, then Lifestyle Medicine is not for you. Stop reading. Turn the page. Do not collect $200.

If, however, you believe you can take control of—and responsibility for—your own health and well-being, then welcome aboard. Leave the couch and its ill behaviors behind and journey to a place of joyful living.


A New Type of Practice

That “place” is called Lifestyle Medicine, a relatively new term in healthcare that is sometimes confused with alternative medicine. But Lifestyle Medicine is an actual medical specialty that is recognized and promoted by such prestigious institutions as Harvard Medical School.

Lifestyle Medicine takes the best of standard medicine—with its pharmacology, surgery and diagnostic procedures—and blends it with lifestyle interventions (nutrition, exercise, stress management, etc.) that are proven to improve health. This “evidence-based” approach means that treatments are backed by scientific research, peer review and clinical studies.

In Mishawaka, Physicians Holistic Health Alliance (PHA) is a new medical practice that is based completely on the concepts of Lifestyle Medicine. Founder Uthman Cavallo, MD, believes it to be the only one of its kind in the country.

“The vast majority of health problems in the U.S. are caused by disease-promoting lifestyles,” he said. “It was a leap of faith to open this new type of practice, but I was driven by a desire to partner with my patients to improve their health, to help them experience the joy that a healthy life can bring. I felt it was the right thing to do.”


A Different Person Now


Many of his patients think so, too, and they become the person they want to be. Case in point:

Jean* is a middle-age woman going through menopause. At her first visit with Dr. Cavallo, she said she felt depressed and had been gaining weight. She mentioned she had no energy or libido, and asked to have her hormones adjusted.

“He wants to know who you are,” commented Becky Gudorf, MS, MSA, LCSW, Director of Outreach and Community Relations. “He doesn’t just focus on the physical. Dr. Cavallo realizes that we are the sum of all of our life experiences and that there are many contributing factors to ill health.”

Following the patient-doctor discussion, Jean was given a full physical assessment that consisted of an exam and lab tests.

“In talking with her we learned that she had many life issues going on—low self-esteem, a history of abuse and a difficult upbringing,” said Dr. Cavallo. “We also checked her vitamin D level and found it was extremely low. Tests results showed, too, that she was pre-diabetic. Contrary to what she thought, our examination revealed that hormones had nothing to do with her health issues.”

Dr. Cavallo and his team guided Jean through a treatment plan that was created with her input. The plan consisted of a new and healthy pattern of eating, exercise, counseling and wellness classes.

Within a few months, Jean had lost a significant amount of weight and felt better than ever.

“She is a different person now. She just beams. Even her gait, her step, is livelier!” exclaimed Dr. Cavallo.

As with all first-time patients, Dr. Cavallo spent about an hour in a light-filled room talking with Jean about her health, her life, her goals.


Asking Meaningful Questions

Physicians Holistic Health Alliance is, first and foremost, a medical practice.

“Our team includes three physicians trained in standard Western medicine, but we acknowledge that there are other ways of getting people healthy,” said Dr. Cavallo. “It’s not an either/or approach to medicine.”

In addition to Dr. Cavallo, who is a board-certified ob/gyn, the highly qualified PHA team consists of a board-certified family practice physician and a board-certified internal medicine specialist, a psychotherapist (holding a PhD), a chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist, a bachelor’s-educated RN, a nutritionist (who is a master’s-prepared registered dietitian as well as a Certified Laughter Leader), an exercise physiologist and a counselor (both of whom are master’s prepared), an ultrasound technologist  and an office director, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business.

For most first-time patients, the initial visit at PHA can be lengthy. Patients fill out a comprehensive 14-page questionnaire, then spend considerable time chatting with one of the doctors about their lives, their jobs and families, their stressors and goals.

“You can’t get to know a patient in just 15 minutes,” said Dr. Cavallo. “To truly understand what is going on in a patient’s life, a doctor needs to spend time asking meaningful questions.”

A physical exam follows, and before the patient’s next visit, the PHA team gathers together to discuss the best options for treatment and how to meet the patient’s goals. It is this solid collaboration among team members that sets PHA apart from the typical medical practice.

Dr. Cavallo emphasized, “In this practice, you’re not the ‘endometriosis patient’ or the ‘chronic pain patient.’ Our patients have names and that’s what we use in referring to them.”

At the second visit, results are reviewed and a treatment plan is finalized with the patient.

“You have the ultimate say in how your care is delivered,” said Dr. Cavallo. A treatment plan may incorporate one or more of the services offered by PHA: nutrition counseling, fitness coaching, stress management, psychotherapy, acupuncture, chiropracty, massage therapy and even laughter and positivity therapy, which is provided by PHA’s exercise physiologist who is a Certified Laughter Leader and holds the title of Director of Wellness and Happiness.

“Science has proven that positivity is an incredibly important component of good health,” said Gudorf.  “It’s not about putting on rose-colored glasses. Rather, it’s about learning how to be healthy in mind—your patterns of thinking, your approach to life, how you cope with all the challenges the world throws at us.”


Is It For You?

Dr. Cavallo admits that Lifestyle Medicine is not for everyone.

“Our patients tend to be motivated regarding their health and well-being,” he said. “They are the type of people who will join a health club, buy nutritional supplements or take yoga classes. They want to be healthy.”

To help patients achieve their goals, PHA offers a variety of health and wellness classes.

For example, the Cart Smart class involves going to a grocery store and learning how to shop smart.  Thriving Through Pregnancy provides wellness strategies for the mom-to-be. Relaxation Training guides attendees on how to relax the body and soothe the mind.

Other classes include Wellness Boot Camp, the Art and Science of Parenting, Maximize Your Metabolism, “Best Choices” menu reading, and the “Be Happy, Be Healthy, Be You” empowerment camp for girls in grades 7-9.

At the core of Lifestyle Medicine is an emphasis on holistic health—the understanding that the body, the mind and the spirit together influence a person’s health and well-being. One’s behavior in each of these three areas impacts the others. Behaviors of the body include nutrition and exercise; behaviors of the mind include one’s thoughts; behaviors of the spirit involve one’s connectedness to people and beliefs.

“This interplay among body, mind and spirit is why we don’t just treat the physical,” Dr. Cavallo said.


The Insurance Game


A fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. Cavallo was previously with a large local physician practice. But he grew increasingly frustrated with insurance company dictates as well as a focus on the bottom line, which seemed to take precedence over the needs of patients.

“With insurance companies dictating our every move, the practice of medicine has become an assembly line approach,” he said. “Doctors are not allowed to spend the time they need with each patient. I don’t think any of us went into medical school wanting to work that way.”

Because of hindering insurance company rules and regulations, Dr. Cavallo decided to not accept insurance when he launched the practice in March. PHA will, however, provide the proper information that patients can use to file with their insurance companies.

“So much of a medical practice’s time and resources are spent on insurance paperwork,” he said. “When you take that out of the equation, you realize you can offer reasonable rates for office visits.”

Dr. Cavallo added, “It’s not about making money. It’s about the right way to practice medicine. We have many unique ways to help people. We want everyone to have joyful living.”


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