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Kalubowila Kids – Needle With No Thread
by Elaine Hunter

(Note: This photo-journal blog was originally published in 2001 on website Worldisrounds.com.  In 2014 that website closed down without warning to subscribers.  It is a blog about experiences in Sri Lanka from Decemer 1993 through May, 1994.)                   ><:>   ><:>   ><:>


There are many ways to be as a traveler in this great round world of ours.

Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. (Tao te Ching )

Heal them. (New Testament, Holy Bible John 14:12)

This is a photo-journal essay about my journey to Sri Lanka, to learn and work at the Kalubowila Clinic of the Open International University for Complementary Medicines, under the direction of Lord Pandit Raja-Guru Prof. Dr. Sir Anton Jayasuriya.

This is a photo essay to share the good news about mending children (and a few adults) with the needle with no thread, the acupuncture needle. Other healing techniques used were: laser acutherapy, homeopathy, reflexology, patterning, exercises, love and laughter, and the healing energy of the Spirit of Life.

Acupuncture and variations on the theme of acupuncture offer new yet ancient hope for children (and grown-ups, too) with brain/neurological damage or abnormalities, such as cerebral palsy, injury or disease, as well as behavioral disorders.

So much of the news from Sri Lanka is about the war. These people’s lives go on in the face of that terrible war. There were four small bombing in the Colombo area while I was there, and there have been terrible bombing since I left. Yet there is much to write about Sri Lanka other than war. Besides wonderful healing techniques that millions of people could benefit from, there are the Kandian Dancers, the elephant orphanage, the broad religious and spiritual spectrum, the delicious foods(Oh! Their pineapple is soooo sweet, best I ever had), on and on. As one young Malaysian friend and I used to say to each other, “life in Sri Lanka is not boring!”

Born to a military family, I have changed homes many times and travelled far and wide. I don’t recall being homesick until I left Sri Lanka. My inspiration for photo-journalism is W. Eugene Smith, who published “Minimata”, a photo essay which brought attention to the mercury poisoning disaster in Minimata, Japan. I first learned of his work at the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography.



Chandralata and Amma

Chandralata, age 13, daughter of a Buddhist Sinhalese-speaking family who live in Navalapitia, Sri Lanka, a tea plantation region.

Chandralata was one of my first patients in December, 1993, though she began acupuncture treatment a month previous to this. Her mother moved temporarily to Dehiwela, not far from the day clinic, to a place where she was allowed to live free. Chandralata taught me how to count in Sinhalese–up to five at least.

When I first saw her, it was not possible to take her pulse because of her tremors. The family is very poor and her mother and two sisters also have health problems. Her mother received treatment frequently in the clinic, and her two sisters were also seen briefly as patients. Her name for me was “Dr. Auntie” and if I had to pick a favorite of all the nicknames I’ve been called in my life, that would be it.

Condition: Cerebral/spinal degeneration of undetermined origin: familial/microbial/environmental(i.e. pesticides)? She began to fall when trying to walk, chorea tremor, three months before seeking treatment. She appeared malnourished. A younger sister exhibited similar symptoms.

Therapy: Seven months acupuncture, laser acutherapy, homeopathy, exercises to strengthen. Some visiting Korean acupuncturists said it would take a long time, more than a year, to cure this girl.

Improvements: (interview with mother through Sinhalese doctor) “She has about 25-50% improvement. Now she can sort of eat her rice by taking it in the hand (this is how Sri Lankans eat–“food tastes better with the five fingers”). Before she didn’t have that ability. Walking is also slightly improved. In the morning she will sit down on the toilet, but can’t get up. Sometimes she can eat well, sometimes she can’t. She’s feeling better in mornings, and then she runs out of energy. When she first got here, the child was trembling, now all that tremor has gone. Those days she can’t hold a pen, but now she can. Now she can write again, also.” She feels acupuncture is not bad for this child.

You can see Rasika's ear & arm

                                        You can see Rasika’s ear &hair



Rasika      I didn’t take this photo; it’s the only one I have with Rasika in it. He is laying on his mother’s lap, all you can see are an ear, some hair, and his back. It was probably taken in December, 1993, as his was one of my other first patients.

What a joy it was to see Rasika go from an inactive and unresponsive 1-year-old in December of 1993 to  a little pickpocket (all my young patients were pickpockets when they were able–picking my pocket of pens, my glasses or anything else that was in them) who would try to leap out of his mother’s arms trying to get to me when she brought him to the clinic in my latter days there in April/May, 1994.

He had been having acupuncture treatment, massage, and activities to try to interest him for about a month when he became my patient. When needled he did not cry or even fuss. He did not try to do anything, wasn’t interested in anything. Mr. Dr. Lim, the husband of the Korean-looking woman toward the back of the photo, Mrs. Dr. Lim, showed me a special acupuncture technique, probably not in any textbooks, to do on him. It is supposed to stimulate reconnection between the brain and the body. After two or three sessions (in less than 2 weeks) of doing that technique, Rasika started crying quite vociferously! Sometimes a crying child is a desired result.

Rasika’s mother brought him to the clinic at the suggestion of her mother, who is seated next to her in the photo. Rasika’s grandmother had been pleased with the results of acupuncture treatment for cataracts that she had received at the clinic. Once Rasika became responsive and crying when acupunctured, his grandmother suggested that we save needling until the end of sessions. I’m glad she thought of that. With Rasika I also did massage, especially along spine, foot reflexology, patterning, and play.

I don’t know what his Western Medicine diagnosis was. I expect autism is a possibility. I have lots of thoughts about it would be a good idea to try the special acupuncture and other acupuncture on all cases of autism. Though we know much about the brain and how it works, still we don’t know much. Acupuncture may not help, but it won’t make the condition worse. It is an experiment worth doing.

I worked briefly with an older fellow, a teenager whose diagnosis was autism, but he also had a limp that would suggest cerebral palsy. What we call autism may sometimes be part of the constellation of limitations manifesting from some kind of brain injury or illness. Rumesh is the name of the fellow I mention here. He was large, a gentle giant (I’m only 5′ 1 1/2″ tall). I got away with needling him a few times, but after that he would not let me do it. He didn’t use force or get hostile, just would pull away or gently push my hand away when I tried to sneak a needle in to some place. He did have some improvement in terms of lessening of behaviors his mother wanted him to stop–they were embarrassing, not harmful. But we had to cut treatment short. I tried also laser on him, but could not continue because of unexpected limitations in circumstances.

When last I saw Rasika, as mentioned before he was always eager to get to me, so the needling did not make him frightened of me. He was able to creep, try to climb down from bench, started chasing after his big sister, talking, calling her Akka (big sister), trying to stand with help. He had weakness on one side, which became more apparent as his motor skills developed, but they were developing rapidly once he became responsive and aware.

I do have an interview with his mother, but it is not with me. It was done with the help of a Sinhalese-speaking doctor.



Judmary and Appa
Judmary’s father learns therapy too

Judmary, age 5, daughter of a Tamil speaking Catholic family from Horana Division. Judmary’s family moved to Borella, close to Colombo to be able to attend clinic. They must ride far on crowded buses and Judmary’s father must carry her. My pet name for her is “Chatty Cathy” for she chattered happily with her Daddy during therapy. She taught me one Tamil word “walikada” (it hurts).

Condition: Severe spastic paralysis with contractures. She had bleeding from the umbilical stump and was very ill a few days after birth. One year previous she had surgery, back side of both knees with little if any improvement of contractures. When I first met Judmary, she was a crumpled up little girl with charming and sparkling personality who could not sit, stand or move herself even with assistance.

Therapy: Three months acupuncture, laser acutherapy, exercises, patterning, homeopathy.

Improvement: (interview with father, who usually brought her for treatment, assisted by Tamil Sri Lankan who speaks more English than Judmary’s father) “Now she talks better. She moves fingers. Earlier hands were tighter. Rigidity is getting less. Now she likes trying standing and walking with help. The child had phlegm for a long time. She got allopathic treatment, but did not get relief. Now the child got relief after acupuncture treatment. Now she speaks much better (less stammering) and is more active. Now she can sit with the aid of a person. He thinks the acupuncture caused no harm to her and that it helps very much. He is working in a government Western-type hospital, but anyway he believes in acupuncture because the child got relief by this treatment.”

Judmary’s father was devoted to getting care for his little girl. He was so happy with the progress.

A few years ago I had a dream of Judmary. She was standing very straight in a beautiful white dress. It was the time of year for First Holy Communion for Catholic girls and she would have been the age for it. I don’t know if the dream is true. I hope so, especially the part about her standing straight. I rarely dream of people I know, but when I do it’s usually Sri Lankans.



Belinda laughing with friend
Belinda, age 19 months, German visitor to Sri Lanka. Belinda’s parents brought her to Sri Lanka at first for Ayurvedic treatment, however her condition worsened, rather than improved. Somehow they heard of the Kalubowila Clinic and came there the day before their last day in Sri Lanka. Belinda’s mother stayed on to attend the day clinic for three months.

Condition: Anoxia at birth, severely retarded, flaccid paralysis. At time of birth, doctor was not present, so nurse held her back. In Germany they told Belinda’s mother “this girl will never do anything.” Belinda’s parents tried Ayurvedic treatment, for about three weeks, with harmful results,especially increased seizure activity. (this is not to imply that Ayurvedic treatment is in itself harmful, just that the treatment this girl received was not right for her.)

Therapy: Three months acupuncture, laser acutherapy, exercises, manipulative treatments, foot reflexology, swimming. She also received some “Western” medical treatments/prescriptions for sources outside the clinic.

Improvements: (interview with mother assisted by a Hungarian woman who spoke more German than I and more English that Belinda’s mother) “Before treatment, she had problems to hold the eyes, sometimes all crossing or fall in one corner; now she can hold the eyes and look directly to the things a long time and she has more concentration. She start to pick up things from the table with the hand. Before she can’t pick up. She holds the things and puts in the mouth. She looks around and she is more open, she check what is around. She is interesting; before she was not so interesting, she was more inside. Now she is more outside. She is more moving around. Before she had no interest in play with a doll or other things, now she likes to play. Sometimes she talk, now. She said ‘banana milk’ (every day she had it to drink in her bottle, as far as we know those were her first words!) and it is very difficult word. I don’t believe. But the man sit nearby and I ask him ‘Do you hear?’ He said ‘Yes’, he heard, also.”

One day after I had been working with Belinda for a month or more, I saw her in the Haus Chandra swimming pool with her mother. Belinda was kicking her legs, but her arms were stiff at her sides. Then I started needling/lasering points for use of arms, and from the interview you can see the therapy was successful!


Muhammed in Baihui Clinis

Muhammed at Baihui Clinic

Muhammed, a man in his 20’s of Moorish Muslim ancestry came to Kalubowila Clinic because of his profound stammering. His eyes would roll up and he could not speak. Treatment with acupuncture, electro-acupuncture and homeopathy brought some, though not complete relief.

He was one of the few adults I worked with. He was a gem cutter and wanted very much to go to Germany to pursue his craft there. I was in Sri Lanka during Ramazan(this is how they say/spell it in Sri Lanka). It is a Sri Lankan custom to eat watalampan (a type of pudding) to celebrate the end of Ramazan. Muhammed brought me a bowl of it. He also sent me a Christmas card, as I was there during Christmas. I was surprised and delighted.


girlGirl and parents

Acupuncture and other complementary therapies are not panaceas. This happy looking girl is an example. Her limitations are due not to injury/illness, but to birth defects, club feet, can’t speak (can vocalize sounds), etc. She received acupuncture treatments for quite a few weeks. If she had any improvement, I don’t know what it was. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible, just whatever I did made no difference. There are techniques I know of, but did not feel confident to try, and no one else did either.


Noor Fasna & Appa

Noor Fazna, her father, and an elder

Noor Fazna was about seven years old, and the daughter of a Muslim family, so it was her father who brought her to the clinic. She was being treated for seizure disorder and paralysis, one side of the face. It is my understanding that her Western-type medicine had been greatly reduced by using homeopathic medicine instead. The procedure is to gradually increase the homeopathic dose while decreasing the dilantin dose, as long as there is the desired progress. The frequency of her seizures was considerably less and that the length of her seizures had decreased from minutes to seconds. However I was not the one who treated her for seizures. I worked with her only a few weeks and treated her for her facial paralysis, and yes, I did put needles in the girl’s face. She didn’t much like it, but did not put up a fuss or fight. The result was decreased facial paralysis and her father reported that she had later cried about something (not therapy), something she had not been able to do. He was quite pleased with Noor Fazna’s progress.



Tharindu, Amma and ant

Tharindu is 3 1/2 at this time. He was born prematurely at 6 1/2 months. He has experienced much improvement, such as being better able to hold up his head, during my time in the clinic.

Tharindu was not usually my patient. However his usual therapist went out of town for a while, so I got to work with him. He usually cried the whole time during therapy. My goal was that he stop crying, because I felt it was a sign he was resisting rather than cooperating or participating. He didn’t cry during the days I worked with him, but I don’t know what I did, if anything to bring that about.

That ant, of course, was on my lens.  Ants crawled around this outdoor clinic, didn’t bite or bother.  Ravens gave us plenty of comment.



Luxythan was eight years old and had developed increasing weakness on one side, with foot drop to the point he could not put his foot flat on the ground. I worked with him about one month, towards the end of my time in Sri Lanka, using laser acutherapy and acupuncture. He had improvement so that he could put his foot flat on the ground, though not total improvement. His improvement was such that he managed to get himself injured in one of the ways boys his age most enjoy getting injured, a minor bicycle accident. Just a scrape though, nothing serious. Probably got too exuberant with his improved locomotion.

One of the ways to identify where to insert needles, is to probe for acupuncture points which are tender to the touch. Ah-shi points, “oh, yes.” Well it seemed all of Luxythan’s points were tickle points.


Kapila writes

Kapila & some view of clinic area

Kapila & some view of clinic area

Kapila, age 27 has post-injection polio* (see note), since age 1 1/2, with extensive atrophy and contracture of limbs; limited use of muscles in three limbs, none in right arm. Kapila could not go to school, so he taught himself Singhalese and English. With his right foot, Kapila writes beautifully in both languages. His father brought Kapila to day clinic by way of tuk-tuk (three-wheeler similar to golf cart) taxi, then carried him. Kapila’s mother had died some years previously and his father was worried what will happen to him in the long-run.

Therapy: acupuncture, massage to limbs (mostly what I’d call a gentle type of Chinese wrist-burn–at least that’s what they called it when I was a kid–technique to bring down the energy), and gentle stretching to increase range of motion of joints.

Improvements: Kapila first came to clinic only two weeks before my departure. However, with two weeks of therapy, already he had increased motion of second joints of his contracted left finger and of leg joints, as well. I wish I could have worked with him much longer.

Some of the Sri Lankan students working in the clinic asked if there was any hope for improving the condition of Kapila. Since he did have some use of muscles in three limbs, I believed there was. I told them of a friend of mine, an older man in his 60’s who had some atrophy of his calf muscles because of disuse. The friend had physical therapy and the result was measurable increase in the mass of the calf muscles. With Kapila, it would take a long time, but the situation was not hopeless.

(*Note on post-injection polio: In the clinic we saw quite a few patients of various ages with either post-polio disorders or post-injection polio disorders. Here’s how post-injection polio happens. A child is taken to a doctor for flu-like symptoms, the doctor gives the child an injection of say, antibiotics. The child didn’t have the flu, but early signs of polio. The injection precipitates the polio–hastens, worsens? I’m not sure. This is not uncommon is Third World countries, so I’ve read.)

Gertraud--brave enough to drive in Sri Lanka

Gertraud–brave enough to drive in Sri Lanka

Gertraud from Austria – bless her heart

Gertraud from Austria, in her 70’s. She has returned to Sri Lanka to establish a rehabilitation center sponsored by a Catholic Mission for young women with physical limitations. At that time there were two young women, both of whom suffered the after-effects of polio. Getting special  shoes, braces, etc. just seems to take forever.

What a brave woman she is–she drives in Sri Lanka! I love to drive, but would have to live in Sri Lanka for at least a year before I’d brave traffic which flows the British way; where you see ANYTHING moveable in traffic (including an occasional working elephant) and the rule of the road is “BEEP BEEP I’m coming through!” She says it is difficult when she returns home to un-learn her bad Sri Lankan driving habits!

I did treat Gertraud but only with red laser therapy to acupuncture points and in ear canals (which contain acupuncture points). What I treated her for was a chronic ear infection. She had only three sessions within a few days of each other. She was awakened when she both felt and heard the bolus of mucus leave the eustachian tube and her infection was cleared up. I did not take on treating her arthritis, as there were others better at that.

Boy with microcephaly

                                         Boy with microcephaly

Boy, Mother, and Grandmother

I did not want to get this boy for a patient. I would be leaving in less than two weeks and could not follow through. Also I didn’t think it would do much for his condition. However, his mother and grandmother were so sweetly insistent, what could I do? I did acupuncture for him three or four times. His  mother and grandmother were certain he could hold himself better because of it.


hegufriendOur Lady of Hegu and friend

“Our Lady of Hegu” is a rendering of Dr. Prof. Sir Anton Jayasuriya’s artistry.  The name of the kind young man is very long and I do not know it.

He is also shown in the photo of Belinda.  He took great interest in her.  He kindly provided me with the camera used for most of these photos.  Alas it was before the era of digital photography.



MeMe using Me using a made-in-Sri-Lanka diode laser to Chandralata’s foot
(Someone gave this photo to me)


About Acupuncture for Children with Neurological Damage

There are many misgivings expressed about acupuncture for the small child. It seems there is some rule out there in never-never land not to do it on children under seven. If we wait until a brain-injured child is seven, most hope is lost. The child’s limitations are by then becoming “set in stone.” Development has been stymied. If we begin as soon as a problem is evident, there is much hope for improvement. We can’t be such cowards that we can’t help the patient. All evidence in my experience indicates that time is of the essence in these cases, and if the child’s condition is going to be responsive to treatment, we usually see that within a week or two. Another important consideration is that smaller children cannot resist treatment as well as older ones can.

We used a technique known as quick-needling on children. I was a one-needle acupuncturist; that is using only one needle with a 1/2 blade, holding the needle so that only about 1/8 to 1/4 inch penetrated, and in turn quick-needled all points which were to be needled on any given visit. Most acupuncturists insert a needle in each point to be used on a given visit and then leave all the needles in place for 15, 20, 30 minutes, depending upon the practitioner. Practitioners also manipulate needles once in place and there are quite a few theories about manipulation of needles. Quick-needling works just fine!

Does it hurt? Sometimes yes, often no. Does it harm? Ah now, that’s the point, first do no harm. The benefits are enormous.

Do the children cry? Often yes, sometimes no. When you think about what children cry about, what’s a few needle pricks and tears compared to not talking, not playing, just lying around doing nothing. If surgery is performed on newborns, even pre-borns, what is needle pricking compared to surgery and rearranging the anatomy? Sometimes a crying child is the result desired, when the child had previously been numb to needle pricking and did not respond to that or much of anything else.


Some Personal History and Thoughts

All my life I have done needle work. I have hyperactive hands; always they want to be doing something. My grandmother taught me to crochet when I was very young. In junior high, I learned how to sew on the sewing machine and started making many of my own clothes. Especially I loved making prom dresses. I’ve done plenty of embroidery: crewel, cross-stitch, and ordinary. I’ve done beadwork inspired by the splendid beadwork scattered everywhere at Native American Pow Wows. This needle with no thread–this is the best mending, the best needlework, the best handicraft I have ever learned. There were times when I felt like a sculptor in human clay, when I saw children that didn’t do much become animated and active.

It was after completing the B.S. in General Biology at the University of Arizona (a pre-med course of study) in 1982 (almost 40 then, it had taken me 21 years to complete college), that I began to learn that acupuncture and other complementary healing practices even existed. I was not a convert, though. It was for me instant recognition.

In the mid-1980’s I did some substitute teaching in a cerebral palsy preschool in Tucson, Arizona. There were two little boys in the four-year old class who among their other limitations had contracted hands and could not use their thumbs. “block of flow of energy, acupuncture can repair that” was the thought that came. I searched the University of Arizona Medical School Library for anyone doing anything with acupuncture and cerebral palsy. I found a textbook on acupuncture written by Anton Jayasuriya, of Medicina Alternativa in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka, where was that anyway?!) There it was, a photo of a boy being treated for cerebral palsy with acupuncture!! Finally the Creator made a way and I had the opportunity to fly over to where the door was open, where the way was being practiced.

One little girl, about 4 years old who came to Kalubowila Clinic had one contracted hand, could not use her thumb. One session of needling for contracture of the hand and her hand opened up like a flower. She was not available to photograph.




A Substitute Teacher’s Surprise
(Tucson, AZ, sometime in the 1980’s)
She asked me if I had liked working as a substitute teacher.  Umm, I thought, I could tell her a couple of shocking stories—then I thought, I’d tell her one of my favorite stories from those days:
The second grader came in from recess shaking a school milk carton that was empty except for some things that rattled in a wispy sort of way.  He was next to my desk.  Curiously I asked him “what’s in your milk carton.”
He replied with an innocent grin “sand rubies.”
My imagination sparked like from some fairy tale of old.  Such intriguing words “sand rubies.”  I’d never heard of such things.
“Sand rubies, what are sand rubies?” I inquired with even more curiosity than before.
He opened the carton to give me a peek.   There were more than a dozen quite small opaque crystals the color of some dark wine.
“Where did you get them?” came my next query.  “We find them in the sand in the sandbox on our playground.
It was time to get back to school work.  Next recess the children led me to where they found the sand rubies.  I sat with them as we carefully sorted through the sand.  Oh yes! We did find some.  I still have mine in a corked little glass vial.  Once, while I was examining them with the light of a flashlight and a magnifying glass, one of them glowed a bright transparent red.
It turns out these tiny gemstones are bits of garnet that washed down from the mountains and foothills to mix with the sand in the desert wash that provided the sand for the sandbox.
The magical view through the eyes of children of these little treasures still makes me smile.



Lanka – island, Sri – resplendent. Sri Lanka. The words do not roll easily nor often off an American tongue nor out of an American mouth. It helps to have heard it from a Sri Lankan mouth. Formerly Ceylon, if you drink tea, use cinnamon or a host of other spices, that may be where they grew, were harvested, prepared and shipped to myriad of places around the world. Since ancient times, Sri Lanka has been called many names: Taprobane, Serendib, etc. My favorite is—the Pearl in the Ear of India.

To get some idea of its size, think West Virginia with 20+ million people, though those days, 1994, the population was 18 million Buddhist, Hindus, Christians, Muslims; ethnic Singhalese, Tamils, Burghers, Moors, Chinese, Germans, on and on. Few Americans.

Did you know that Sri Lanka was the home to the first woman to be elected head of state? Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected Prime Minister after her husband Sololmon Bandaranaike was assassinated.

We weren’t tourists, but that day we were doing the touristy thing. We were an international group and all spoke some variation on the theme of English. The Chief of the free clinic where we were working and learning, Dr. Prof. Sir Anton Jayasuriya, had arranged a van to take us from Wellawatta to Anaradapura, the ancient sacred capital of the island and home of the also ancient Buddhist dagoba (temple, stupa) and the Bo tree.

The Bo tree (Ficus religiosa) is the only still living scion/branch of the original Bodhi tree under which Guatama Buddha attained enlightenment. Rooted at Anaradapura in 288 BCE, It has been lovingly tended all these centuries and is the oldest certified flowering tree in the world.

After admiring the Bo tree, we dutifully removed our shoes to tread on sacred ground and entered the dagoba. We had been inside for a few minutes when a gentleman asked for our tickets. Tickets? What tickets? We had no tickets. He told us that without tickets we must leave. We were astonished, but did exit, remarking to each other about needing a ticket for a place of worship.

Seems that detail of our journey had been neglected. Turned out the temple at Anaradapura was part of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle whose tickets can only be purchased in the Colombo area.

Though it seemed odd to be chased from a place of worship, when you think about it in a US cultural site, we would not have gotten that far without a ticket.

Life in Sri Lanka is not boring. A friend had warned me I was going to another planet.