Clinical Case Studies
Case 1: Power of the small
The story of Rigzen is a nearly miraculous anecdote that dramatically attests to the power of the small in all the nuances of that phrase: the power of an infant to adapt to a severe trauma and developmental challenge; the power of the Chinese medicine mind to recognize the root of a problem and identify a coherent solution; the power of a simple remedy that enables a very small person to overcome a serious and complex malady. This clinical case study features a single herbal formula created by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold. All 60 of their formulas are available from their Chinese Medicine Works herbal pharmacy in San Francisco.
(All Chinese Medicine Works herbal remedies are also available to health care providers and their patients through prescriptions online at Kan Herb.)
An infant's seizures treated with Chinese herbal medicine
Rigzen was born at 42 weeks. Within his first 24 hours he had a seizure, and on his second day of life he had another. While Rigzen was hospitalized for two weeks following his birth, an EEG showed edema of the brain, and an MRI revealed moderate damage to the cortex and brain stem. Upon returning home with his parents, he was unable to nurse, having become accustomed to a plastic feeding tube. His mother was advised to use a nipple shield, and after one week, Rigzen was breastfeeding.
Over the next three months Rigzen appeared fine, with good reflexes, muscle tone, and a bright spirit. But then he began to have petit mal seizures, with 10 recorded during a 24-hour EEG. The results, however, were deemed inconclusive because there was no clearly defined locus of abnormal brain activity to account for the seizures. His parents were advised to give him phenobarbital to suppress the seizures, but they decided to wait, choosing instead to have him receive weekly acupuncture treatments.
The herbs in Grow and Thrive are themselves nutritive and also nourish digestive capacity. They stimulate the appetite, enhance nutrient absorption, and may be a helpful adjunct to some nursing babies, giving them greater strength and stamina.
For the next three months, Rigzen had 6 to 12 petit mal seizures a day, at which point his mother decided to try the phenobarbital and gave it to him for eight days in a row. Up until this time, Rigzen had been a smiling, alert, and affectionate child. Once on the medicine, he began to cry and whimper and was generally irritable. During those eight days, the quality of his seizures did not change and, in fact, the number increased to as many as 15 per day. Since there was no improvement, his mother began to wean him off the medication. Within 24 hours of his last dose of phenobarbital, he began laughing and smiling again.
At this stage of his development, Rigzen was unable to hold up his head longer than a few minutes while resting on his belly and, if tired, he could not hold his head up for more than a minute. After a few months he gained some strength and was able to lift his head for up to three or four minutes at a time, but his seizures continued to occur at the rate of 6 to 12 a day.
It then became evident that, even though Rigzen was able to nurse, he did not nurse very often or for very long – he was neither gaining weight nor growing at the expected rate for his age. This pattern, along with a weak appetite and a limited capacity for food, are consistent with many children who fail to thrive after a traumatic or difficult birth.
At about six months, Rigzen began to eat steamed vegetables and rice, and his acupuncturist, Raven Lang, recommended that he begin to take Grow and Thrive (a Gentle Warriors herbal formula). His mother had been reluctant to give him herbs, but she was encouraged by his response: his appetite for food markedly increased, and he seemed to crave the herbal medicine. The day after he began taking Grow and Thrive, his mother reported that he had no seizures for 18 hours. By the third day, he had ingested one liquid ounce of the medicine. During these first few days on Grow and Thrive, the frequency of his seizures diminished from 12 a day down to 6. He graduated to an 8 oz. bottle of Grow and Thrive and a daily dose of 1/2 ounce, which he accepted with great enthusiasm.
Within one week after beginning Grow and Thrive, his seizures completely ceased. He continued taking the formula and ingested a total of 28 ounces of the formula over the course of one month. While this may seem like a high dose for such a small person – almost an ounce, or 30 ml per day – he tolerated it well and actually seemed to look forward to the medicine. At the end of the second month, he stopped taking the herbs and has not had a single episode of seizure activity since. Rigzen continues to receive weekly acupuncture as well as physical therapy and cranio-sacral osteopathic treatment. He has cut two teeth, and more are coming.
The nutritive value of the Gentle Warriors formula Grow and Thrive is provided by tonic herbs for the Kidney, Spleen and Stomach, Qi and Blood. The herbs in this formula are themselves nutritive and also nourish digestive capacity. They stimulate the appetite, enhance nutrient absorption, and may be a helpful adjunct to some nursing babies, giving them greater strength and stamina. The formula also regulates fluids and strengthens the Wei or Defensive Qi. For children who are vulnerable to frequent colds, flus, allergies or asthma, prescribing Grow and Thrive when they are well will bolster their resistance to invasions of Wind, Damp, and Cold.