PATERSON – Everette Bridgers, 14, is like most other boys his age. He loves music. He likes to play basket ball and soccer.

But Everette suffers from sickle cell. And at the age of 6, Everette had a stroke, which affected his motor skills.

For the past two years, he has been receiving acupuncture treatment at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and his motor skills improved a great deal, allowing him to continue to play with other children.

“It’s a good method. I’m really excited. I know people who love it,” said his mother, Kim Bridgers, who takes her son once a month to the hospital for acupuncture treatment.

St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center was among the first to use integrative therapies like acupuncture in pediatric oncology. Based on its successes, the program is now being expanded at the hospital, including a study on sickle cell pain and acupuncture.

In addition to acupuncture, other natural therapies include: acupressure, aromatherapy, massage and reflexology, according to hospital staff.

Putting needles into the top of Everette’s scalp gives direct access to the brain, stimulates the motor area of the weak arm, strengthens feeling and sensation and gives more regular movement, according to Diane Rooney, intergrative therapist. “It’s not going to cure him, but he swears it helps with range of motion and strength,” she said. “It’s [acupuncture] three thousand years old, there’s got to be something to it.”

When Everette receives acupuncture treatment he said he feels like going to sleep and that he’s not worried. He said the needles are painless except for a little pinch as they are first put in.

Rooney was quick to point out that all needles are sterile, used just one time and discarded after use. “They are thinner than a pine needle,” she said.

Jayden Clyburn is 3-years-old and has leukemia. His mother, Towanda Brown, has been taking him for acupuncture treatment since last November because it eases the pain when he receives his chemo treatments.

Brown tried acupuncture when she first brought Jayden to St. Joseph’s to show him that the needles don’t hurt. The needles were applied to help Brown with stress. “I was in la-la land,” she said.

Rooney said acupuncture plays a great role in helping the older patients, from teens to 20-year-olds with anxiety and depression. “They come on their own,” she said.

Mary Ann Bonilla, M.D. is the attending physician, pediatric hematology/oncology. She explained that the different integrative therapies help children cope with both the side effects from disease and treatment, including anxiety and insomnia.

The therapies are well received by both patients and doctors, according to Bonilla. She said natural therapies can help disorders such as cystic fibrosis and Crohn’s Disease.

When asked if there were any negatives to integrative therapies, Bonilla said, “Not every patient wants it. Children are afraid of needles. Some don’t want to be touched. Families are not open to the idea.”

But for the most part, the integrative therapies compliment the medical treatments. “It doesn’t work against them,” said Bonilla.

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