Custer Regional Hospital- The Healing Garden

SDSPA hosted a garden tour at the The Custer Healing and Wellness Garden at the Custer Regional Hospital on Aug. 9, 2019.

Dr. Joy Falkenburg guiding tour at The Custer Healing & Wellness Garden, Custer Regional Hospital- Aug. 9, 2019.

When Dr. Joy Falkenburg talks about the Healing Garden at Custer Regional Hospital, the story is folded into her own experience as a community member and physician, her upbringing on a local ranch and the loss of her own mother while she was in medical school. She has a vision for what healthcare should be where the entire story of a person is considered and heard.

The hospital is only one year old.  The garden is only 4 months old, and given the amount of planting and vision entailed, it is truly inspiring. It started through the benevolent wish of a community member, Delmer Brown who wanted to invest in a cause that would further humanity. He turned to Custer Regional Hospital and the vision of Dr. Joy Falkenburg to create a healing garden for the community. Already patients can look out on the garden from their rooms. It aids in healing. Dr. Falkenburg has put up some picket like fences outside the patient windows where birds will land. Already a patient has requested to die in the garden surrounded by family members.

Bird Perch Fence at The Custer Healing & Wellness Garden, Custer Regional Hospital- Aug. 9, 2019.

The garden wraps the hospital from the western entrance to around the southern end where the hospice unit is located. It features two water elements: a waterfall and a fountain that has three stones representing mind, body, and spirit. There is a playhouse for children and a large pergola that provides shade as well as seating. A vast number of perennial flowers, shrubs, and vines envelope each visitor. One leaves knowing that in five to ten years this garden will be a beacon to birds and pollinators like butterflies and bees and wrap each person that enters in a profoundly moving and sensory experience.

It was Joy Falkenburg’s daughter Nancy who raised $5,000 for the playhouse and sensory garden. Other community members came together to help in planning including Tanya Olson with Tallgrass Architects; Jorgenson Log Homes provided the pergola; Jeff Prior (Dakota Greens) provided plants; Larry Pillard contributed $100,000. And there have been so many small donors from $5 to $5,000 that have invested in this vision for caring for community members to aide in healing and providing a space for end of life care.

Children’s Play House at The Custer Healing & Wellness Garden, Custer Regional Hospital- Aug. 9, 2019.

After Dr. Falkenburg’s informal presentation, she introduced Dr. Wyatt O’Day whose life experience took him from a career as an ER doctor at Rapid City Regional Hospital through an accident that radically shifted his perspective from treatment to holistic medicine. After working at Regional Hospital for 15 years he thought he was at the top of the ladder, but he was irritable and didn’t always feel very good. The life altering moment that thrust him into meditation was an accident where he was drug under his car off the road early one winter morning in 2005. The car was pinned on top of him. No one knew he was there. After yelling, he realized he wouldn’t make it through the ordeal. He surrendered and as unlikely as it sounds, found a deeply peaceful resting place in his mind. The pain left. When help did arrive later, he was calm and able to direct his rescue.

Everything changed. After recovery, he dedicated himself to understanding the connections between mind, body, and spirit. He moved to new places where he would learn practices not traditionally taught in western medicine. His first move was to Arizona where he stopped eating meat and he felt better, but still had heartburn and achy joints. He gave up gluten and the heartburn and achy joints stopped. He moved to Australia and learned about natural health practices where medication is not used. He went to India and learned yoga and formal meditation. In moved to Bali and experience amazing unprocessed food. Nutrition and meditation became central to his well-being. He found that when he gave up alcohol and gluten and ate a plant-based diet, he flourished. He provided pictures of his face after indulging in unhealthy eating and then again at 7, 14, and 21-day intervals. The pictures revealed a slimmer face gradually releasing inflammation.

Pergola & chairs at Custer Healing & Wellness Garden, Custer Regional Hospital- Aug. 9, 2019.

He provided statistics that patients who are exposed to nature like a garden have a decreased need for pain medications, decreased post op complications, and can be released 1 day earlier.  Both he and Dr. Falkenburg noted that in medical school they received zero training on nutrition or holistic practices, only about medicine. Through his experience, he now advocates, “Food is Medicine.” He spoke of a patient who lost 40 pounds in 28 days by following nutritional regime comparable to his.

Custer Healing & Wellness Garden, Custer Regional Hospital- Aug. 9, 2019.

Dr. O’Day made clear food is medicine, he also equally advocates for meditation as the path to wellness. While mindfulness is the ability to remain focused on whatever activity you are doing, meditation is a period of time dedicated to clearing the mind of mental chatter. Both can be done at any time and a small amount of effort. He took participants through a simple meditative practice where individuals as they walk can simply focus on “Right foot down. Inhale. Exhale. Left foot down. Inhale. Exhale.”

Although not presented in medical school, the Healing Garden, nutrition, and meditation offer real answers the health of individuals as well as healthy communities.

For more photos of the event, please visit our photo gallery-  SDSPA Farm Tours 2019.