"I don't remember the first week that I was there," Hinton Leichtle says. "It was almost like I was in a huge detox." Doctors surgically inserted a feeding tube and gave her more medications to treat the side effects of the narcotics, which had slowed some of her organs to a near-stop. "I went to this place to bring me back to life," Hinton Leichtle says. But even then she realized that her life had been saved by the same type of medicine that almost killed her.

When Hinton Leichtle started to improve, her family held a meeting. "We started having conversations about, 'What's going to be the plan so we're not back in this situation?'" she recalls. That's when Crystal, who'd been studying yoga and politely preaching about the body's ability to heal itself, spoke up. What about trying alternative therapies? she asked.

"I was going off this intuitive feeling I had," Crystal says now. "I was like, 'Why isn't she getting more physical therapy? Why isn't she getting daily movement and different nutrition?' Acupuncture is huge for people with spinal cord injuries. It helps to stimulate their energy. There are 72,000 paths of energy in your body. When you sit in a stagnant posture, they get a little dim."

Hinton Leichtle had her first acupuncture treatment in early 2004, shortly after she was discharged from the hospital. "For the first time in three years, I had no pain," she says. "I had this idea of, 'Oh, my God, is this just in my head?' And then I stopped myself and I'm like, 'Oh, my goodness, if it is just in my head, I don't give a shit. I don't have any pain right now.'"

The acupuncture had no side effects, and after several sessions, the chronic pain episodes stopped altogether. Hinton Leichtle was charging the acupuncture to her credit card, and in mid-2004, she did the math and called Medicaid. At that point, she hadn't taken an ambulance to the ER or been admitted to a hospital in six months.

"My argument was, 'Hey, if you were to pull my claims...you're going to see a significant drop,'" she says. "Their answer was, 'Well, we don't fund alternative therapies.'" Frustrated, Hinton Leichtle asked to speak with a supervisor. The woman on the phone explained that it wasn't her supervisor's decision.

"She said to me, 'It's our legislative body that makes those decisions.'"

******

The year 2005 was a big one for Hinton Leichtle. She graduated from the University of Denver, won the Miss Wheelchair Colorado competition and met her husband, Paul Leichtle, at a fundraiser for an organization that helps athletes with disabilities. Paul races road bikes and was there in support of a friend and fellow cyclist who was hit by a car and paralyzed. Hinton Leichtle had come in her capacity as Miss Wheelchair (she wasn't wearing a tiara or sash, she points out), and the two started talking. That year, she also founded the Chanda Plan Foundation and was introduced to Andi Leopoldus, a Colorado lobbyist who built her practice advocating for people with developmental disabilities and kids in the foster-care system.

Leopoldus describes Hinton Leichtle as a natural when it comes to politics, despite her initial naiveté. "You can spot the naturals really quickly because they're comfortable and not intimidated by the process," Leopoldus says. "And that would be Chanda."

Hinton Leichtle had two goals. Long-term, her sights were set on convincing Medicaid to see it her way. But in the meantime, she decided to start a foundation to help people who were suffering at the moment. "I was in a place where I was feeling really good, and I started to...picture people in acute episodes — bed-bound, depressed, isolated — and they can't wait for the law to be changed," Hinton Leichtle says. "They need services now, and if we can start a nonprofit and raise money, we can touch some of those people."

Smart, likable and passionate, Hinton Leichtle is, above all else, determined. But there's a joyfulness about her doggedness. She laughs often, and when she does, she throws her head back and opens her mouth wide, scrunching her pretty face. She loves the outdoors and owns both a handcycle — a bicycle operated by hand cranks — and a ski bucket for adaptive skiing. Her nights and weekends are filled with dinner parties, drinks with friends and, before she was married, trips to the Stampede country bar for ladies' night. She gets asked often about her sex life and isn't shy about answering. "We totally have sex," she says of herself and her husband. They've even given talks to newly injured people about sex after injury.

Hinton Leichtle also has a knack for finding the right people to help her achieve her goals. "I met Chanda at a birthday party of a friend," says Virginia Carducci, the director of rehab and behavioral health services at Boulder Community Hospital and the Chanda Plan's current board chair. "She sat beside me and looked over at me and said, 'I have to have you in my life.'"

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My Voice Nation Help
9 comments
Corners
Corners

Hi Chanda, I appreciate all you are doing to try and help others with spinal cord injury. I have an L1-L2 level injury from an accident when I was sixteen years old. Today I am walking with crutches, but I have worked really hard in physical therapy for a lot of years to walk.You can learn more about my story: http://zinahermez.wordpress.com  I agree with you, and I have never been a fan of pain medication myself. 

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

we'd like to publish some of these comments in our print edition, ideally with the author's full name/town. If that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

notonmydime
notonmydime

Thanks Westword for alerting us to the use of the Medicaid waiver program to waste taxpayer money.

No one wants to say no to pretty victims of spinal cord injuries like Chandra, or self-motivated men like Mr. Haenel, so it is easy to see how the Chandra foundation has made progress. Sadly, its goals are clear--to get public money for unproven treatments.

 

Conventional medicine is based on scientific knowledge whereas alternative medicine is based on clinical or anecdotal evidence. We have an entire wing of National Institute of Health devoted to trying to prove that alternative therapies work (with little success, I add), and their website states: "there is insufficient evidence to draw definite conclusions about the effectiveness of acupuncture for acute low-back pain."

 

There are no control groups to this pilot program, and the medical person administering it is someone with a vested interest in the therapies offered. Proven treatments like physical therapy are lumped in with pseudo medicine, invalidating any objective demonstration of success that may come from the program. However popular these alternative therapies might be, we need to see evidence that they work.

 

I hope Colorado citizens and legislatures will thank the Chandra foundation for ironing out kinks in the Waiver program while demonstrating exactly how to suck scarce dollars from taxpayers in the name of the disabled. I also hope we demonstrate our thanks by showing poorly designed programs out the door, because our Medicaid patients deserve better.

 

kcm2us
kcm2us

gee Westword, could you make the lede to the story a little more lurid?

"carries her, like a bride over a threshold. He props a pillow between her legs, hikes up her redNebraska Huskers T-shirt, unwraps his sterile needles and taps them into the skin above where her black lace underwear peeks out from the top of her yoga pants."

 

kcm2us
kcm2us

Great! Will medicare start paying for my Budweiser? It kick-starts my kidneys, bladder and ureter and I prefer it to noxious drugs. 

cheryl.bianchi
cheryl.bianchi

this is fantastic news...now to get california to step up...thanks for your hard work

brendacombs
brendacombs

@notonmydime I certainly hope you never have a family member to suffer from a spinal cord injury and have only drugs with horrible side effects to deal with their health issues.  Please, where is your compassion?  Not all things are known and able to be proven by a medical system that will not listen to information that does not pad the pockets of  big pharma.  Is not the word of the patients any good for whether the alternative health care is working for them.  Would you rather pay for a surgery and and hospital bill with medicaid dollars than to pay for a few acupuncture treatments that takes care of the problem with no side effects?  Please open your mind and learn more about this issue before condemning disabled people to issues you can not begin to understand.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

ybarcewski
ybarcewski

 @kcm2us I won't pay for you Bud but maybe it will pay for your rehab.

notonmydime
notonmydime

Medicaid and private insurance should both be paying for effective rehab, but this is a poorly designed program. We could just as well pay for toothpick based placebo treatment and point to its cost-effectiveness.

 
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