Dr. John Bastyr: Biography of a Healer
On June 29th, 1995, John Bartholomew Bastyr, N.D., D.C., made his transition from this life into the next. He was a man of unsurpassed integrity, kindness, compassion, and intelligence; but most importantly, he embodied the true sense of the word "HEALER".
by Eva Urbaniak, N.D.
He was born on May 16th,1912, in New Prague, Minnesota. His family moved to Fargo, North Dakota, and in 1928 they came to Seattle, Washington. Dr. Bastyr's father was a pharmacist, and he enjoyed watching him mix herbs. (In the early days of this century, medicines were still made from natural substances, not chemically synthesized in pharmaceutical laboratories.) He attended Seattle College High School, which later became Seattle Prep High School. He immediately went on in his studies of choice and received doctorate degrees in naturopathy and chiropractic from Northwest Drugless Institute and Seattle Chiropractic College, respectively. He became licensed to practice naturopathic medicine in 1936. In 1937, he married Aletha LaMonde. His practice began in Georgetown and moved up to Capitol Hill on 10th Ave. in Seattle, where it remained until he passed on. He commuted from his 4-acre farm in Kent until he was 81 and practiced up until his last year. He practiced the art and science of medicine for over fifty years and treated several generations of patients, delivering many of them into the world. (I would like to mention here that I was most fortunate to have become Dr. Bastyr's patient back in the early eighties after a serious rear-end auto accident. At that time, he was no longer accepting new patients because his practice was full, but my mother was able to pull a few strings to get me in. That was the beginning of a long and wonderful relationship with this incredible man that most assuredly changed my life and the course that it took.) When I interviewed Dr. Bastyr for a career planning and self-assessment course, he shared a story about delivering babies, about a woman who gave birth to triplets! This was before the days of fertility drugs, ultra-sound and fetal monitors, so everyone was expecting only one baby. In his jovial and most disarming way he chuckled and described his surprise when another baby was presented, and then another!
During his long and honorable career, Dr. Bastyr worked diligently with the Washington State legislative process, helping to establish proper licensure for the profession as well as regulation and enforcement. He really was the caretaker and torch-bearer that kept naturopathic medicine alive through the many years of oppression from the AMA and pharmaceutical companies.
With the advent of antibiotics and "scientific" magic bullet medicine, alternative medical providers began losing ground on the health care scene.
In the mid-1950's, when Western States Chiropractic College in Portland decided to discontinue naturopathic training, Dr. Bastyr knew it was time to take action, so he and few colleagues decided to open a school in Seattle. In 1956 National College of Naturopathic Medicine was born and Dr. Bastyr and other practitioners became teachers. In 1976, National College moved to Portland, Oregon, to take advantage of the more liberal licensing laws there. So some of Dr. Bastyr's students, among them, Joe Pizzorno, past president of Bastyr University, decided to form another naturopathic college in Seattle. In 1978, the John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine began operation. It is perfectly fitting that the university be named after him. For years, he was the major force that moved naturopathy forward. Bastyr University now boasts an annual enrollment of 900 students per year, an indication that the truth of " the healing power of nature", or "vis medicatrix naturae", which is one of the primary tenets of naturopathic philosophy, has most assuredly been rekindled in the consciousness of those seeking the healing path.
Dr. John Bastyr believed in and knew the truth and power of naturopathic medicine, but it was the love and caring he felt for his fellow man that I feel made him stand out as an exemplary physician. He always was present in the moment with the patient, listened very attentively to all of what the patient was saying, pondered often, asked very specific questions, was always kind and gentle, and always laid his hands on the patient. I used to joke with him and tell him he had radar in his hands. His was so acutely sensitive to what was happening in the body that he could tell a patient, " this side of your neck hurts more, doesn't it?" Of course, the patient didn't even need to answer because he was always right. When I was fortunate enough to have 20 hours of observation with him while still a student, he would take my hands and place them on the patient, superimposing his over mine, guide my palpating fingers to feel what he knew I would feel, and would quiz me, asking what felt different and where, always making learning challenging and fun. One could certainly tell that he loved and lived his medicine. Many believe he must have had a photographic memory because besides being a voracious reader and retaining all that he read, he could quote pages from the Homeopathic Materia Medica and other texts. Another truth that he understood very well was that each person is a unique individual with his or her own unique predispositions, weaknesses, and complexities, and even with a confirmed diagnosis, he always treated the person, not the disease.
Today's naturopathy sees a blending of basic primary care with the gentler types of treatment. Many insurance companies are now covering naturopathic care. A naturopath can do blood tests, pap smears, annual exams, and can prescribe antibiotics if necessary, but remembers the whole person, a physical, emotional and spiritual being, and may give counsel, massage, nutritional support, or an herbal preparation to help restore balance in the body. The idea is to always do everything to assist the body to heal itself, because given the chance, it will.
Dr. John Bastyr embodied all the aspects of natural healing. He loved and thrived on his work so much that I feel that when he was no longer able to see patients, he decided to leave this earthly plane. Although he and Mrs. Bastyr, who made her transition in 1989, had no children, and there are no surviving members of Dr. Bastyr's immediate family, he left a legacy for all his "adopted" children. Diane Wardrip, his devoted assistant for over twenty years also cared for him in his declining years. She undoubtedly has amassed a wealth of information having worked so closely with him for so long. He influenced and inspired me to follow his example to become a licensed naturopathic physician. His healing presence was so powerful it was irresistible. My life was changed by this most remarkable man, and I can only hope, dear readers, that I have even in some small way conveyed to you how special he was, and how great was his gift to the world; the gift of his life, the gift of healing.
"My life is my message"
- Mahatma Ghandi-
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