Cultivating Wisdom: An Experiential Journey with Koshin Paley Ellison and Robert Chodo Campbell

(Reposted from Huffington Post)
Koshin and Chodo share the stage of a large ballroom, sitting comfortably side by side in their beautiful blue Zen robes, as they begin to explore the differences between compassion and empathy and the practical benefits of meditation practices. The two co-founders of New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care are the opening act of this year’s Integrative Healthcare Symposium. Their lighthearted demeanor and easy-going banter is in bright contrast to their life work of training health care professionals and volunteers to face illness, disease, dying and living within a spiritually contemplative perspective.

There is a Zen saying: “Different body, same heart and mind.” Koshin and Chodo discuss the need to cultivate wisdom through the experience of being present. First we are asked to take a moment to focus on our own breath and our own presence in our chair, in our body, in the room that morning. Next they invite us, a huge room full of hundreds of practitioners, to find someone we do not know and turn our chairs to face one another. We are instructed to just sit and look at one another, not speaking, smiling or touching. Just looking into one another’s eyes, sitting perfectly still, being completely present. This four-minute exercise is uncomfortable at first, then excruciatingly difficult, and then something happens. A shift occurs, and for just a minute or two we are completely connected and present with another human being. Everyone understands the Zen saying a bit more deeply than before the exercise.

Directly supporting patients and medical staff, these two gentlemen, within the framework of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, are lovingly and creatively transforming pastoral care one caregiver at a time. This month they opened up the hearts of several hundred more practitioners with their meditation and experiential presentation.

As true pioneers and leaders in the Buddhist Chaplaincy field, they have also established the first and only Buddhist organization to offer a fully-accredited ACPE Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program in America.


This April 28 the Contemplative Care Awards 2011 will be honoring Dr. Diane Meier, Dr. Russell Portenoy and Sharon Salzberg. For more info go to

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Check out my teleseminar recording with Suzanne Kyra at LivingBig!

Sharon Ufberg Teleseminar Recording « Living Big « Living Big …
Suzanne Kyra & Sharon Ufberg have just finished a sensational teleseminar on Wellness From The Inside Out. Check it out here:


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Transformative Moments: When was yours?

Every now and then the earth seems to shift under my feet. No early morning Northern California earthquake rumble or massive New York snowstorm’s icy street—nope, I am talking about the destabilizing shake up of a new perspective or perception of the self.

My first memory of this type of wake-up call happened when I was heading towards nine years old.  I remember vividly. I was at day camp with my friends realizing that I was two distinct entities. First, I was a girl and second, I was a wholly separate individual. These realizations hit me like a lightning bolt.  This seemingly sudden awareness came out of nowhere. As a total tomboy, I was dumbfounded that there were no professional women football players so my attempt to follow along with my older brother’s dream career came quickly to an end. Fortunately for me, my father pointed out that there were plenty of woman doctors so my second career choice was still a viable option.

The consciousness of my self as a separate individual from my close-knit family was a real eye opener. It was scary and exciting at the same time. Being rather fearless, this newly found separateness launched an entire life story of freedom seeking and travel. I still remember spending hours cutting out pictures of places I wanted to see and explore. And no one needed to go with me! I was free to have desires all my own.

Years later I discovered that nine is precisely the age in which studies indicate that most girls recognize their gender difference. And yet for each girl it is truly earth shaking news.

Many of the other major shifts in consciousness happened when experiencing those expected big moments in my life cycle; falling in love, the death of a parent, and at the absolute top of my list— becoming a mother.  These are the easy places to understand the internal changes that happen. 

What are not so clear are those illuminating and transformative shifts that light up your psyche when you are least expecting it. Historically, this happens most often when I am traveling. Standing on some ancient hilltop of my ancestry or dancing in a circle of women on a boat seven thousand miles from home.  Perhaps it is engaging in expansive heart-opening experiences that allows for a new window to pop open in our brains. It always feels like a huge gift has been dropped down in front of me—a gigantic dose of new awareness to contemplate and feel.

With many externally inspired earth-shifting moments in my past, I now relish with joy when a new perception or enlightening consciousness reveals itself to me when I am just sitting still connecting to the knowledge of the universe from the inside out.

What are some of your transformative moments? When do they happen for you?

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An interview with Dr. Rachel Remen

Reposted from IntegrativePractitioner

Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen is a nationally recognized author, educator and medical reformer. As one of the earliest leaders in the mind/body holistic health movement, she was the first to recognize the role of the spirit in the maintenance of health and the recovery from illness. She is the co-founder and Medical Director of the well-known Commonweal Cancer Help Program, the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Study of health and illness (ISHI) at Commonweal and Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

Dr Remen is the founder and director of The Healer’s Art, a twenty year old curriculum on reclaiming the heart and soul of medicine, which is presently taught annually in more than half of American  medical schools  and in five countries abroad. About 1,500 medical students take The Healer’s Art each year. Dr. Remen’s groundbreaking holistic continuing education programs enable graduate health practitioners at all levels of training to remember their calling and strengthen their commitment to serve life. Dr. Remen is also a masterful storyteller and public speaker and the acclaimed author of two New York Times bestsellers, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal and My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging.

Ufberg: Dr. Remen, how did you come to be involved in your work of weaving spiritual health into conventional western medicine? 

Dr. Remen: Actually Sharon, perhaps we do not need to weave spirituality into conventional medicine. Spirituality is a basic dimension of every person, every interaction and certainly every act of healing. Fundamentally, life is spiritual and therefore all we need do is to recognize this, to see the familiar in new ways. A lot in our training numbs us to the spiritual nature of our work. We often are in the presence of mystery and we do not even notice. We can become so focused on our technique and expertise, so rushed and distracted by the paperwork and the many hoops we have to jump through in today’s health care environment that we pass right by moments of deep meaning and inspiration. As one of my medical students said, “Too great a scientific objectivity can actually make you blind.”  Unfortunately the things we do not notice are the very things that can strengthen us in dealing with the frustrations of today’s healthcare and the stresses of being a healthcare provider.

So who were your role models, Dr. Remen? 

I have been involved in promoting holism in medicine since 1967. The problem with being a true pioneer is that you have no role models, just ideas about a different way of being, a different way of working, a larger medicine… ideas which almost everyone around you sees as simply crazy.  At the beginning of change, in order to make a difference, one must often be willing to sacrifice everything: professional credibility, financial security, even career advancement in order to be true to a vision of possibility. It can be lonely. I have a severe chronic illness that I have had since the age of 15. At that time my doctors told me that I would die before I was 40. Because of my own life history, it was necessary for me to look beyond the existing techniques and science of medicine and find a way to help myself and others like me and find a way to live. The ironic thing is that if you follow a vision for long enough, eventually you yourself become a role model.

Your topic for your keynote presentation at the upcoming 2011 Integrative Health Symposium is titled: “Soul Work: Integrating the Spirit in Health Care”. Can you tell us about what you’re hoping to share with practitioners in March 

By telling true stories about the mystery and awe that is a part of health care, I hope to enable people to remember their own stories and become more aware of the experience of mystery and awe in their everyday work lives. I will be pointing to the possibility that people can find a much deeper inspiration, satisfaction and meaning in the work they are already doing.  A good story is like a compass, it points to something that is real and true and universal, it helps us to see ourselves and others in new ways and can cause us to change our way of moving through the world.  It can bring us home to ourselves. Our professional culture often limits the way we think and the way we see things. It interprets our experiences for us in ways that are often very constricted and small. Science describes life but we cannot allow it to define life for us:  life is much larger than science and we are larger than our science. Our daily work is filled with awe. We see love and courage, devotion and loyalty, acts of heroism and self sacrifice on the part of the most unlikely people. We see things that cannot be explained but only witnessed. Healthcare is the front row seat of life and many of us are sitting in that seat with our eyes closed. It is possible to experience this work in such a way that you feel gratitude for the opportunity to do it, to be there with people at very special times in their lives and see things that can make you wise.

Would you share a bit about the curriculum you created for medical students? 

Thanks for asking! ‘The Healers Art’, is a discovery model curriculum for medical students. It is based on tested educational principles drawn from fields outside of medicine and draws on approaches from transpersonal and humanistic psychology, contemplative studies, aesthetics, imagery,  poetry and narrative, adult education, formation and coaching.  The curriculum forms a community of inquiry among students and faculty to explore life experience and uncover principles of healing and healing relationships. It enables students to trust through experience the power of their personal presence and generous listening to heal. It is the most highly rated elective among students in almost all the schools that teach it. Students nationally report that the course fills a gap in their existing curriculum and enables them to become the sort of healers they hope to be. At present we have been consulting with nursing leaders and deans nationally to enable the development of a similar course for nursing students and are presently piloting a Healer’s Art curriculum for medical residents as well.

What is on your horizon, what’s next for you? 

I am interested in furthering the dreams of my colleagues and my students. Healthcare cannot move forward unless we all move forward together, unless we all have a dream of the way this work could be and we are willing to fight for that dream. Medicine is not a job, it is a way of life. Each one of us is called to this work because of an inner direction.  I hope to help people hear and honor the truth of their own vision, their own personal dream of service. That is what is going to heal this broken healthcare system and that is what I am interested in, enabling people to live and work by the best that they know.

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Let the Meditator Beware

Reposted from Huffington Post

A few years ago I made a commitment to meditate regularly. I had read a huge amount of literature about the healing power of meditation and all the positive aspects of having an ongoing meditation practice. It was hard to get started, and every day there seemed to be another obstacle to beginning the ritual. There were so many distractions and so little time. When I did finally settle into a morning schedule that made room for a short sitting meditation, it was preceded by a set of steps to help me achieve my goal to just sit down, sit still and breathe for a few minutes. I happily made an agreement with myself that 10 minutes would be a successful effort. So I began each morning splashing my face with cold water, brushing my teeth, making a hot water and lemon drink and clearing a seat in a comfortable and quiet spot in the house.

At first, the 10 minutes seemed like an hour. I gave myself permission to just let my mind wander. The notion that I was going to be able to “empty” my mind seemed a task too daunting to even attempt. Creating a space, a container for new ideas to emerge, was the image that seemed to work best for me and I was enthused by the amount of wonderful and new thoughts and ideas that did emerge; even in the short time I allowed for them to appear. As I began to sit and meditate for slightly more time each morning, I felt a real shift in my awareness. I enjoyed seeing new ideas emerge, bubbling comfortably up to my consciousness and thinking dreamily about life with a new perspective. The stillness allowed me to access deeper understanding and offered an opportunity to explore hidden truths.

The meditation time focused on heightening my level of compassion and created an open-heartedness within me that was palpable. What I did not expect was that this open-hearted and compassionate space made it impossible to stay shielded from real-world suffering. I lived a blessed life full of optimism, happy, inspired energy and a positive spin on any difficulty that managed to sneak in. Now, the combination of ongoing international news stories of human tragedies, coupled with the intimate challenges of family and friends, leaves me feeling the pain of others at an almost unbearable level. I spent decades seeing the world through rose-colored lenses, and meditation is at least partly to blame for the extreme change in my prescription. I will admit that middle age and a generally more solitary and contemplative life may play a part in these new heart-wrenching feelings, but I do not think I would have succumbed so easily if not for my meditation practice.

The rawness of emotions and feelings that surfaced for me was quite unexpected. It was as if a floodgate burst. Perhaps it was even more surprising because I have spent a good portion of my life actively working to heal people and to make the world a better place. I am no stranger to the ills of the world or human suffering. I am sure those women and men more senior and skilled in meditation than I are jumping to comment about their knowledge of this transition time for one who meditates. It is with great anticipation that I await an easier time of acceptance and understanding. In the meantime, I write this piece for all those other earnest newbie meditators who should beware of what might rise up from within once you allow yourself to sit still.

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An interview with Dr. Devra Davis

Reposted from the

It is always fascinating to learn more about a famous or special person, to hear about what personally motivates or inspires someone you admire, or to have an opportunity to connect deeper with an individual whose work you have respected from afar. This interview with Dr. Devra Davis is no exception. She is a thoughtful and courageous woman and a true leader in safeguarding our public health.
Devra Davis, MPH is the author of the bestselling books, When Smoke Ran Like Water (2002, Basic Books), a National Book Award finalist, and The Secret History of the War on Cancer (2007, Basic Books), a top pick by Newsweek. Her newest book, Disconnect (2010), was selected by TIME magazine as a top pick and provides shocking details about cell phone radiation and your health.

Dr. Devra Davis was the Founding Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, and Professor of Epidemiology at the Graduate School of Public Health (2004-2009). She created the Environmental Health Trust in 2007 in Teton County, Wyoming to conduct basic research and provide education about environmental health hazards and promote constructive policies locally, nationally and internationally.  She is an active lecturer at Georgetown University, Harvard University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her impressive career has spanned all areas of academia, public policy, and scientific research.  Dr. Davis has authored more than 190 medical and popular publications in the Lancet to The New York Times and Huffington Post. She is an appointed Global Environmental advisor to Newsweek Magazine and has been honored extensively for her groundbreaking research and public policy work by various national and international groups. She also served as a Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the group awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with former Vice President Al Gore.

Ufberg: How did you come to be involved in this work of environmental oncology? Why is this work for you? Who were your early role models?
Davis: When I was a little girl growing up in polluted Monongahela Valley, in Southwestern PA, we didn’t see the sunshine for days at a time. I thought all grandmothers were in bed all the time as my own grandmother was bedridden for much of my childhood. However my mother used to tell me that my grandmother was the first woman to drive a car in the town, hand cranking a Model T car. But the grandmother that I knew was always sick in bed. She had so many heart attacks and I remember watching them as a young child. When she finally died after her twenty-fifth heart attack I didn’t believe it as she had survived so many of them. My grandmother, we called her Bubby, always said, “When you have nothing to stand on you can always stand on the truth,” and I learned at an early age that it was important to look for the truth. I began as soon as I went to school to ask whether there was a connection between the environment and health. I have spent my entire professional life working on those connections.

From my mother I got a dose of real world feminism. She was involved in many women-focused non-profits because she believed that women have to help other women because no one else will. My mother was born twenty years too soon. She had her first child at age twenty and raised four children. At forty-four, as her son graduated from law school, she graduated with her degree in women’s studies and education.

Your topic for your presentation at the upcoming 2011 Integrative Health Symposium is titled: “The Environment and Cancer. Observations from the Field.” Can you tell us about what you’re hoping to share with the practitioners in March? What are the takeaway points?
The first and most important point is that most cancer is not born but made. By that I mean, that only one in ten cases of cancer comes about because you have inherited a defective gene by your mother or father.  Nine out of ten cases of breast cancer, colon cancer and even more for brain cancer arise because of something that happens to you after you’re born.

As I have always said, the genes give us the guns and the environment pulls the trigger. My presentation will include a discussion of the work in my three books: the first one, When Smoke Ran Like Water, published in 2002, focusing on air and water pollution, and my second book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, published in 2007, which talked about asbestos, tobacco, benzene, vinyl fluoride and toxic chemicals and speculated about radiation and cell phones. I will also be discussing my new 2010 book, Disconnect, and talk about the truth about cell phone microwave radiation.

Congratulations on this new book, Disconnect. Would you share a bit about the book with us? How has the cell phone industry responded to your book?
I am happy to say that the people in the cell phone industry have been reaching out to me in a positive way. They have expressed support for my work and are encouraging me to continue as I am on to something really important.

What is on the horizon for you? What vision do you have for your work going forward?
The cell phone story is going internationally and has become a global movement. The word is spreading that a cell phone is really a two-way radio and should never be held against the brain or body for hours at a time.

If you take samples of sperm from a healthy man and split them in two, you can count how long it takes for the sperm to die. The sperm that are exposed to cell phone microwave radiation from the same man will die three times faster.  These sperm also have more markers of damage on them. Many studies have shown that men that keep a phone in their pocket for over four hours per day have half the sperm count as others. Now why is that not a headline story? And what about the effect of cell phone radiation on the prostate, libido and impotence? So these are some of the questions I will be working to answer.

Let me also say this to you, Integrative Medicine saved my life on several different occasions. At the age of twenty-four, I spent two months unable to walk due to a back injury. I was over medicalized, pumped full of drugs and told I had to rest. I became within a hairs breath of having a spinal fusion. That is when I discovered what is now called integrative medicine through a neurologist who was using acupuncture back in 1972 when Nixon had come back from China. Through acupuncture, massage, and meditation, I was able to compensate for my structural defects and just this June 2010, I was the oldest woman in the Washington, DC triathlon. I came in third place in my age group.

Back then I came very close to being crippled by medicine and more recently I have been dealing with another health issue and once again, integrative medicine has kept me from needing fairly drastic surgery. So I am now working on my next book and the working title is Survival Lessons, the transformation of medicine with ancient practices. I am thinking about a series of stories about survivors, and frankly one of them is me. I will be including some amazing people who are so inspiring, friends of mine with diagnoses of stage IV lung and ovarian cancers yet are living full healthy lives.  One of the major characters will be a Washington, DC area acupuncturist who does herbal medicine and has had extraordinary results.”

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This Independence Day defend your health and well being

July 4th, Independence Day—what a perfect time for us all to stand up and defend our own health and well being. Let’s revisit the same spirit that propelled us to grab onto this great nation and make it our own. As individuals and Americans we have plenty to be proud of this weekend.  How about awakening that rebellious attitude of our predecessors and start thinking more independently about what tests we let our doctors perform on us, what we are willing to eat or what is happening to our food supply?

There is enough information floating out there and plenty of well-researched studies to convince us that we better start taking responsibility for our own individual wellness.

 The first step is the search for the right health care professional for you, someone that speaks to your sensibility and that you trust. Figuring out whom to “tie your sail to” is not so easy these days. With so many choices and such a wide variety of options, the process of finding Dr. Right can be very confusing. Get recommendations from friends and colleagues, Google different docs and find out who appears to know the most about your particular needs. Then go meet them in person and you be the judge.

 Trust your own instincts. If a doctor gives you advice that does not “feel” right then it probably is not right for you. Ask questions, seek out different opinions, talk to loved ones and then do what YOU want to do—even if it goes against other people’s suggestions and experiences.

Believe in setting some standards for yourself. Where does your food come from and how much are you eating? What ways can you stress less and live more fully? When did you last take a holiday from your cell phone?

Look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Do I like what I see?” If you do, then give yourself a round of applause and keep up the good work. If your reception was more tepid then decide today to make some independent changes to feel better about the person staring back at you in that mirror. Start by getting a new haircut, a facial or a new shirt. Every small move counts towards recapturing that lovable, free-spirited YOU!

Write down two ideas that you want to address this month. Clean out your closet, throw away those bad food choices in your fridge, go to bed earlier, drink less soda, walk for 15 minutes more each day—the possibilities are endless to jumpstart your own wellness.

Only you can enrich your life and improve your productivity, creativity and happiness. Start this Independence Day by “thinking outside the box” about ways you can develop an unruly attitude and take control of your own health care decisions.

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Thoughts from a “Father’s Daughter”

It happens every year. About one week before Father’s Day I start having dreams about him, a mixture of past and present meshed seamlessly together to create that blissful feeling of being in his presence again. It has been 24 years since my dad died but in these dreams I can still smell his aftershave, feel the smoothness of his cheek and hear his voice and that laugh. Oh the laughter that filled so much of my childhood still resonates in my subconscious and comforts my soul. When I awake from these visits I am both delighted to have spent some time beside him and sad once the realization hits that it was just a dream.

The famed Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman, would call me a “father’s daughter”, and I whole-heartedly agree. A strong connection to all that male energy has served me well and a heightened awareness of some of those archetypical features of my personality has perhaps made me both more empowered and consciously feminine.

Those of us lucky enough to have incredibly close and unconditionally loving father-child relationships walk through the world with an extra dose of self-esteem and confidence. There is no doubt that my mother also supported and encouraged me but she was no match for the charismatic, larger-than-life man she had married. As soon as I was able, I became the sidekick to every one of his practical jokes, magic tricks or creative party games. I loved scheming with him—whether planning fabulous family vacations or going on impulsive shopping sprees.  He was all about fun and one of my fondest memories is those Sunday morning pony rides—just me and my Dad. Later in life, I shadowed him around his office and chose the same profession. We relished in studying together and discussing absolutely everything. There was no topic off limits and no personal story that was too private. When my mother died, he shared secret stories of her family that were off limits while she was alive, the scandalous affair of a relative and my mother’s fierce protection of her reputation. Friends often marveled about my father’s complete acceptance of me and our almost psychic levels of connection and camaraderie. Two peas in a pod people would say—nothing made me happier.

I named my only son after my Dad and in this way have kept his memory fully alive—sharing his namesake’s life story and watching with joy how similarities appear almost spontaneously as my son becomes a man himself.

This Father’s Day, I will again raise my glass and toast the man who most inspired the woman I am today.  I encourage others to share in my gratitude and appreciation.

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Collaboration is at the Core of Healing

While attending the Integrative Health Symposium in New York City, a question kept surfacing within me, bubbling up to the forefront of my mind: “How can I appropriately share the wisdom of these other practitioners with my patients?”

There were a number of practitioner panels at the Symposium that presented informative and practical recommendations that I would like to put into my ‘repertoire of good advice’ immediately.

In our current integrative health environment, so many of us risk becoming a “jack of all trades, and master of none.” Our desire to be well-informed, knowledgeable, open and creative healers can be overwhelming. We are expected to determine the best integrative synthesis for patient care within an ever-growing list of options and offerings.

My advice to my fellow practitioners is to become good . . . no GREAT, at one or two areas of the healthcare spectrum. Focus your clinical expertise, speak from your passion and then liberally refer to other practitioners.

Share the wisdom of others freely, encouraging your patients to seek out additional sources for their total wellness needs. Recommend books to read and websites to surf.  Offer advice but don’t feel the need to be the qualified expert on every integrative approach available.

Working collaboratively with other practitioners for the benefit of the patient is a very generous and enriching experience for both the patient as well as the practitioners. My own work is often done in concert with acupuncturists and physicians. This team approach offers our patients an opportunity to see two practitioners during a single visit and assists in facilitating a faster healing time by addressing multiple facets of a health problem simultaneously. The practitioners work together with each patient to design an appropriate treatment plan. Patients that have chosen this program have reported positive results from the focused coordinated care.

Many of our patients are enthusiastic participants in this maze of healthcare opportunities. They are ready and willing to try new methods and explore new avenues to wellness. We must be the facilitators, not the gatekeepers, of their care. The practitioner as “all knowing” is and always has been a myth. Now is the time to put that story to rest. The specific expertise that each of us does possess is more than enough to fulfill our desire to heal and care for our patients.

Give back the power of healing to the patient. They deserve it.

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Heart disease still #1 killer of women in USA

Lead researcher Dr. Lori Mosca, professor of medicine and director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center, has shared information about the high rates of heart disease in women from a survey published in the journal of the American Heart Association.

 Over half of women were not aware that heart disease is the number #1 killer of women in the USA. Way ahead of breast cancer. Post menopausal and African American women are even higher risk groups.

The disturbing findings include that less than half of women polled were likely to call 911 when they are faced with symptoms of cardiac distress and that women have a greater likelihood of not surviving a severe heart attack even after admission to a hospital.
Dr. Mosca points out that some of the surveys dramatic gender difference results are due to women living longer than men, heart disease being a disease of aging, thus a higher of number of women have reported cardiac conditions.
Still there is concern of the lack of awareness of the high risk of heart disease for women by their families, their physicians and themselves.
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