It’s a topic that touches everyone: health. Whether it’s preventive medicine with your primary care or state-of-the-art treatment for life-threatening illnesses, New Mexico doctors and researches are on the forefront of discovering the best way to keep us healthy. On this episode of Legendary New Mexico, we unpack the history of the current state of affairs and the future of wellness in the Land of Enchantment. 

Frontier Medicine

Arsenic for what ails you?  In the New Mexican territory before becoming a state, that was a common treatment for infection. Before the discovery of antibiotics, doctors used a variety of what we could consider unconventional medicines to treat common illnesses.  Cocaine drops were used to numb the pain of toothaches. Morphine was used to treat fussy babies. These were common cures to illness.

Native American treatments were also prominent within the territory. Cedar bark could be used as an analgesic and piñon sap was used to cover open wounds, promoting healthy healing.  Herbal teas ground from naturally-occurring ingredients were also commonplace, as were spiritual practices for better health.  

Yet, one of the most remarkable stories of faith healing comes from a man affectionately referred to as the New Mexico Messiah.

His name was Francis Schlatter, a wanderer who made his way to New Mexico in the 19th century.  Many believed he was capable of healing the infirm, and in one case, the blind.  Skeptics viewed him as a charlatan, but believers embraced his miraculous skills as the work of a higher power.  

Top Cancer Care in New Mexico

New Mexico’s history and climate are believed to play a factor in our unique forms of cancer.  High sun exposure, arsenic levels and uranium mining may be why we have higher cases of melanoma and other forms of the disease. 

Fortunately, the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center is here, standing on the front-lines of research and treatment. The Center is part of the National Cancer Institute, one of only 49 such facilities in the country.  They are also considered to be in the top 3-percent when it comes to the best cancer treatment facilities in the United States. 

Among their five key missions is to gain a greater understanding -and potential therapy- for New Mexico’s particular ailments. Our state has the highest number of liver cancer cases in the US among males. Our state also suffers from higher-than-normal kidney cancers.  We have the greatest number of melanoma cases among non-Hispanic males in the country.

The center is engaged in next-generation treatments, which are focusing on the genetic make-up of cancer, customizing treatment and paving the way to greater success in recovery and remission.

Matters of the Mind 

As Americans are living longer, thanks to improvements in cardiovascular health and treatments of disease, a chasm has formed in the field of degenerative neurological diseases.  Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are on the rise simply because we are living longer.  

But is there a cure for the diseases?  

UNM Department of Neurology chair Gary Rosenberg, MD says that the MIND Research facility is asking that very question.  What they have discovered in their years of residency at UNM is a direct link to vascular health and mental health.  Patients with hypertension and diabetes have a greater risk of developing white matter illnesses, such as Binswanger’s disease.  

Keeping a healthier lifestyle in our younger years may be the best defense of healthy brain function in our older years. Until a cure is found, the offense will be the best defense.  

The Future of Medicine

Could we see an end to open-heart surgeries within the next several years?  If so, what would be the option for treating patients in need of bypass surgeries?

The answer may lie in catheters.  

Alex Schevchuck, MD with the UNM Division of Cardiology is thrilled with clinical trials showing great success in the use of catheters to fix blockages and installing stints.  The device enters through the groin and travels to the affected area, potentially making open-heart surgeries a thing of the past.  

In addition, researchers with the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center are focusing efforts on molecular discovery.  The technology breaks down the genetic make-up of a patient’s particular cancer, zeroing in on the specific mutation.  They can then create a customized cocktail of medicines to focus specifically on the disease, potentially reducing -or eliminating- damage to healthy cells.  

The science is awe-inspiring, and as Dr. Schevchuck says, happening with incredible speed.

Presbyterian Hospital

From the humble beginnings of helping those afflicted with tuberculosis, to becoming the largest acute care hospital in the state, medicine has experienced the biggest growth at Presbyterian Hospital.

Started by Hugh Cooper in 1908 after noticing that two-thirds of his congregation was fighting tuberculosis he began the Southwest Tuberculosis Sanatorium. From there, that expanded to a full-fledged hospital in 1933.

Sandia National Laboratory

Its main job is maintaining the security of the nation, but a simple invention from one of their own placed Sandia National Laboratory into the world of medicine.