Health professionals in Las Vegas are growing more concerned as a number of Hispanics are trusting their health to people not licensed as U.S. doctors.
When hearing of deaths at the hands of unlicensed medical practitioners, Hispanics like 46-year-old Catalina Alfonso are saddened by the loss of life, but think nothing of those who caused it. Alfonso said she avoids “doctores Americanos,” because they don’t speak Spanish, cost too much, and also because she does not believe they heal as well.
Like many in the area, and even throughout the U.S., Alfonso believes in a more homeopathic take on medical care. This method of health care relies heavily on leaves, powders, herbs and other things one could find at neighborhood “botanicas” to cure common ailments.
A number of those receiving this type of treatment have no other choice due to immigration status and/or lack of insurance, but those like Alfonso are most comfortable with it.
“I grew up with yerbas (herbs) and curanderos (folk healers),” said Alfonso, who said her mother’s health recipes, which she passed down, can cure everything from broken bones to high-cholesterol.
Many question this type of practice, but Alan Kilpatrick, a professor of American Indian studies at San Diego State University, says it can have legitimate effects on people. He cites the placebo effect prevalent in Western medicine, saying that people get better taking sugar pills, so why is it impossible to do the same with a herb-filled drink?
“Sometimes we have no idea why some people get better. They just do,” said Kilpatrick, who is a believer in alternative medicine himself.
“They don’t just take a pill, they believe in the spiritual healing, the mind-body-soul connection, and they go to their curanderos in part because they have this component. In Latin America, doctors spend a lot more time talking to their patients,” he said. “We don’t have this thing where a doctor is writing a prescription five minutes after they’ve walked in the office, already on their way out. It’s not uncommon for a doctor to spend up to an hour with their patient. You don’t find that here.”
Still, there are risks to this method of unlicensed medicine, as many look to these types of healers and “doctors” for cosmetic surgery as well.
Currently, two Colombian nationals - Ruben Dario Matallana-Galvas, 55, and Carmen Olfidia Torres-Sanchez, 47 – are facing murder charges after a woman they injected with silicone died.
Elena Caro, 42, had gone to the pair looking to enhance her buttocks. However, the surgery, which took place in the back room of a tile store, did not go as planned, and Caro died. Matallana-Galvas claims he was a homeopathic doctor in Colombia.
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