CDU’s Dr. David M. Martins Advocates Healing Disease with Compassion
Dr. David Martins, well known in the Los Angeles area for his work at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU), UCLA and his long time affiliation as medical director of T.H.E. Clinic, Inc., quietly took the stage and began to preach his medical sermon: Healing with Compassion.
He was not talking to doctors, encouraging them to be more “touchy-feely.” No, he was talking to the 300 attendees at the recent Building Bridges for Optimum Health “Cancer Awareness Conference” at Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. This was a networker’s paradise: Doctors and researchers all rubbing shoulders with survivors and advocates seeking answers.
“We are all healers,” he began “We can heal or we can kill.” He explained that patients dealing with lifelong diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure could suddenly be thrown out of whack when facing stressful situations, often made worse by bad attitudes and downright meanness. Stress is cancer’s playground.
The Nigerian-born and educated doctor recounted the story of a patient he had for 10 years. The 50 year-old Latina had learned to prepare her meals to help manage her diabetes. But, on a routine office visit, Dr. Martins discovered that her blood pressure was “through the roof.” He asked her what was going on at home.
“It turns out her husband just died and her son was trying to sell the house from under her,” he said. “That will make anybody’s blood pressure go up. Of course, I could throw more pills at her. But what I did was invite her and her son into the clinic. I let him know exactly what was going on and what he was doing to his mother.
“Another stable diabetic patient just spun out of control. It turns out she had been living with her son, and she was doing the cooking. Then the son got married and she and the wife didn’t get along so the wife kicked the mother-in-law out of the kitchen. She started eating whatever the wife cooked. And that was the reason her diabetes became out of control. I could have given her more medicine but instead I invited the three of them to my office. I told the wife: ‘I know you don’t get along with your mother -in-law and that is understandable. But, do you want her blood on your hands?’ She was taken aback and said ‘what?’ I replied ‘Yes, because you have kicked her out of the kitchen, she is not following her diet. Her diabetes is out of control. You are the one who came in.’”
The room burst into laughter at the “villain.” But, Dr. Martins remained serious.
“I told her ‘It is just the question of time. She will stroke out, may have a heart attack and she might die. None of that would have happened if she had maintained access to the kitchen. Is that what you want?’” The audience was rapt.
Dr. Martins skillfully made his point:
Softening his voice to mimic hers, he intoned “She said ‘No, no. no. We don’t get along but I don’t really mean to hurt her.’” And the collective, compassionate “aww” rumbled throughout the room.
“See, it never occurred to her that her lack of compassion and her ill-treatment of her mother-in-law could prove fatal,” concluded Dr. Martins. And the “light bulb” moment also illuminated the room, erupting in applause.
Afterwards, in an interview, Dr. Martins said his talk was part of his Holistic Health Survey designed for the conference.
“In my mind, the anchor of social well-being is in our spiritual health,” said Dr. Martins. “And I am not sure that we are aware enough of the impact that we have on ourselves based on the way we relate to one another. So my holistic health survey today, for instance, is looking at compassion-- what people understand compassion to be, how they show it and what it might mean for the health of the community, health of families, and health among friends.”
Dr. Martins has already developed a scale to measure compassion, and it has already been published in the Journal of Healthcare for the Poor and Underserved. 2013; 24(3):1235-1246.
“A neurologist in Milwaukee has developed a 30 minutes a day program that has been shown not only to increase compassionate behavior in 2 weeks, but actually induce structural brain changes to support the maintenance of the behavior. (Weng HY, Fox AS, Shackman AJ et al. Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering. Psychological Science October 1, 2013 24: 2125-2127). So there is a lot of hope. At the end of the day when you look at it, health care disparities follow social economics: less healthy people tend to be poorer people. But we can improve and optimize health drawing on human resources—and that’s our humanity. Not money, not big cars, not big homes. Just basic humanity: how do we relate to one another in a way that optimizes our health? So that’s what I’m working on today,” said Dr. Martins.
Dr. Martins expects the idea to catch on. “I am beginning to see that compassion is probably the most important community resource that we need to build, characterize and deploy for the benefit of the community.
“Compassion in medicine, nursing, in clinics and on the job - you see at the end of the day our health is related to our living condition, our working condition and our lifestyle. Everything contributes to the stress we feel and that determines our health.
“Compassion does not cost us much. It just requires us to take one extra step on behalf of somebody. And if we all do that, my God, think about it!” Dr. Martins said.
Dr. Martins is a founding member of the Building Bridges collaboration. Members include, Charles R. Drew University, Healthy African American Families, Accelerating Excellence in Translational Science (AXIS) Center at CDU, Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), Project Export and UCLA. “Being part of Building Bridges means connecting all the silos in the community and harmonizing them to exceed their current levels of achievement. We have a lot of good agencies in the community that are doing good work. Building Bridges brings them together so they can step from being good to being great and bring the best out of everybody for the good of the community.”
At CDU he is the Assistant Dean for Clinical and Community Affairs and the designated institutional official for community outreach and education. Dr. Martins works very closely with the division of Community engagement to reach out and find out what people are already doing. He has a Masters in Clinical Research from the UCLA Department of biomathematics. He is an internist by trade, but his special interest is in clinical hypertension. “My passion is in translational research towards eliminating or reducing disparities in health.” To that end, he is the Director of the Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC) at Charles R. Drew University. The CTRC is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Award(CTSA) Program at UCLA, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and CDU. You see, these are programs that help us do what we need to do, our titles and institutional designations may vary from program to program but what we do varies little because the overall objective is the same-- to support and sponsor translational research endeavors to eliminate or reduce health care disparities.
“That is where I got my inspiration. You know what? We think we get angry and we think we want to get even. But we do not really want to be mean. It goes beyond the moment. You can be angry now but in your anger you can create a lifelong problem for someone else. We are not really aware. You really should stop and think and remember to show compassion. It is a spiritual exercise. Compassion heals the body and raises the spirit. We are all healers…we can choose to heal or choose to kill. Compassion is not something you talk about. It is something you have to do.
“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” affirmed Dr. Martins.
For more information about Charles R. Drew University visit www.cdrewu.edu.