Documentary Thursday-“9000 Needles”

It’s Documentary Thursday–because I watch The Real Housewives and must redeem myself with something worthwhile.

9000 Needles documentary cover

9000 Needles – Photo credit

The documentary I watched this week was 9000 Needles (2011). It follows the rehabilitation of Devin Dearth, a man who suffered a bleed in his brain stem which left him barely able to move or speak. After his insurance stopped paying he went to China for intensive acupuncture therapy where his condition improved immensely.

It’s not only a story of one man’s recovery but also of the limitations (failure?) of medical insurance in America and the positive integration of Eastern medicine in recovery.

Devin Dearth is a former competition bodybuilder in his early 40’s who went to the gym every day, ran a company, and was full of life. He was at the gym one morning when the right side of his body went numb and he collapsed.

At the hospital a CAT scan showed that he had a bleed that occurred on his brain stem, also called a hemorrhagic stroke. This is usually fatal and particularly debilitating on the brainstem because all of the nerves that originate in the brain to go to the periphery of the body and all of the nerves sending signals to the brain from the body go through the brainstem, so it affected literally everything in his body.

Devin was in intensive care not responding or moving at all for 3 weeks before he finally stabilized and was able to move his hand a bit. At that point he was moved to a rehabilitation center and there the battles with his insurance company began.

The film shows the therapists at the rehab center explaining that they have to get a stroke patient rehabbed within 100 days otherwise the patient’s benefits are cut back so greatly that they are  unable to proceed with the therapy they need. Their care is completely dictated by insurance.

This was the case with Devin. He had just started to make some gains in his recovery when his insurance ran out and he had to go home slumped in a wheelchair, drooling, and unable to speak intelligibly. It would have cost him $100,000-$150,000 a month out-of-pocket to continue the therapy he needed.

His insurance didn’t even cover a day nurse so his wife couldn’t work and was left to the duty of doing everything for him. She’s a small woman and had to lift her 200-pound husband in and out of his wheelchair and bed. He couldn’t even go to the bathroom by himself.

Appalled with the situation and searching for a solution, his brother Doug went to the American Stroke Association website. There he read a story about a woman who had suffered a brainstem bleed like Devin. She had gone to China for a three-month stroke rehab program and had great success. And all for $20,000 total.

He started Skyping and chatting with the woman to get as much information as possible before presenting it to his family. They had a lot of concerns about acupuncture and the prospect of sending Devin to China.

After a video chat question-and-answer session with the woman and the whole family, Devin said he wanted to go to China.

His brother Doug and wife Stacey accompanied him to the First Teaching Hospital of Tianjin, China where his therapy began immediately.

The doctor gave him an initial check-up with Devin lying on an examination table. We see Devin shaking all over, barely able to lift his left leg, unable to lift his right leg at all. His look of concentration and frustration in this scene is heartbreaking. He is also unable to feel that the doctor is touching his right foot.

The team of doctors then stuck an acupunture needle under his nose and a few different needles in his leg. After only that, on the very first day, he was able to lift his his right leg 1 or 2 inches off the table. Amazing!

His 6-week treatment that follows is incredible. His Chinese team of medical professionals treat him like family, he makes amazing gains in his rehabilitation, stops drooling and begins to sit up straight. He even begins to smile, which is a huge change from the sad blank mask his face has been up until that point.

Though disappointed that he is still unable to walk on his own, he is finally able to walk out of the hospital with the help of his brother. The documentary ends by saying that he plans to go back to China soon to continue his therapy.

9000 Needles is definitely worth viewing. It is inspiring to watch Devin fight to recover and to see the almost unbelievable effect that acupuncture has on his body. I have no idea how sticking needles in the body helps it to recover–I think it has something to do with nerve stimulation–but it definitely, amazingly, does.

You can rent or buy 9000 Needles here. Please let me know if you have watched or plan to watch it. I’d love to hear your feedback.

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Thanks for reading!


4 thoughts on “Documentary Thursday-“9000 Needles”

  1. Acupuncture therapy has been around a long time but, thanks to you, I no longer think of it as a sort of weird Chinese torture or some medical voodoo. I plan to read the article. About your Documentaries, Stephanie, good for you!

  2. I agree that Western Medicine should not be so close-minded.It is also a crime that health care should ruin a person financially.We need a better way, all the way around.

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