Sep. 25, 2004. 01:00 AM
Trauma-card story needed a critical eye

DON SELLAR

The Gentle Wind Project is a "non-profit" alternative health outfit based in Kittery, Maine. It makes plastic "trauma cards" and "healing pucks."

The trauma card can be yours for a donation of $650 (U.S.). It's said to offer "release from some traumas, physical realignment plus pain relief."

As for the healing puck, the group's Web site says it can "correct emotional imbalances." The device is specially designed for health-care professionals and "other helping people."

According to the group's "Instrument Catalogue" one model of healing puck goes for a $1,250 (U.S.) donation, another for $5,850 (U.S.).

The catalogue doesn't recommend that NHL owners and locked-out hockey players employ the pucks to ease their current emotional upsets.

But we stray from the point. The point is the Star has published three gentle features about the Gentle Wind Project in recent years.

The most recent one ran Sept. 17 in Health, headlined: Holding this will heal you, say trauma card believers.

It's not for a news ombud to say if trauma cards restore calm and mental clarity or relieve damaging effects of life traumas, as supporters contend.

Indeed, Mary Miller, co-founder of Gentle Wind, is quoted as saying the card is "not perfect and it doesn't help everyone" but many say it helped them to "regain emotional stability."

She added it's non-toxic and non-invasive. The device, displayed in a three-column colour photo, looked like a circuit board, embedded with unnamed herbs, minerals and cell salts.

The upbeat feature, infused with endorsements from happy users, did include a skeptical note. It conceded the card was "highly unconventional, if not downright odd."

Said the Star: "It's impossible to prove the claims made for the card. But the people who believe in the card's effectiveness are very enthusiastic about it."

Suffice it to say, some readers were quite unenthusiastic. They called it an unbalanced piece of journalism, using terms like "puff piece" and "free ad."

Among the naysayers was self-styled anti-quackery crusader Dr. Terry Polevoy of Kitchener. "I'd believe in the Tooth Fairy before I would consider their claims," he told the ombud.

I asked Polevoy what's harmful about the trauma cards. Could a placebo effect be at work here?

"The harm," he said, "is that people will spend time and money, and avoid medical treatment. They will be brainwashed into believing that they can cure themselves by donating money to this useless and deceptive group."

As for a placebo effect, Polevoy remarked: "Anything is possible, of course. Sure, waving a pencil eraser around and around someone's head is fair game for one chiropractor in our area, and these folks are regulated. So it wouldn't be out of place to put someone's trust in a plasticized card."

Polevoy said Gentle Wind earns more than $1.5 million (Cdn.) annually, "and spends nearly three-quarters of that on non-existent research."

A Gentle Wind official told the ombud no U.S. or Canadian regulatory approvals are required for its products.

Again, it isn't my place to pronounce on benefits, drawbacks, risks or dangers of alternative medical therapies.

But readers expect a critical eye on "breakthroughs" in conventional medicine. Stories about trauma cards and healing pucks need the same rigour. It was sadly missing here.


ombud@thestar.ca

Additional articles by Don Sellar


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