The first time I heard of Ketamine was a few years ago from a friend in nursing school. Then again recently from another friend whose mother suffers from fibromyalgia as she began researching therapies to relieve chronic pain. A growing number of studies have found that Ketamine can be effective for people with a myriad of chronic pain and mental health conditions, including treatment-resistant depression, anxiety and PTSD.
Based in San Juan Capistrano, Renew Ketamine Infusion is the brainchild of Tanya Dall, MD and Justin Yanuck, MD – board certified physicians who became colleagues and friends in their emergency medicine residency training at UCI Medical Center. Both have extensive experience utilizing Ketamine for various medical indications and treating complex pain disorders. Dr. Dall studied physiology at the University of Arizona, and went on to obtain her medical degree from Georgetown University. Dr. Yanuck received his medical degree from UCI and then completed a Pain Medicine Fellowship at Harvard Mass General Hospital.
Ketamine was originally FDA approved in 1970 as a safe way to anesthetize patients. However, as is common in medicine, often one medicine can have multiple uses and over the last 20 years research has been building showing Ketamine’s safety and efficacy for a range of psychological disorders. Dr. Yanuck and Dr. Dall use Ketamine nearly every day in the emergency room for things like procedural sedation, and treatment of acute pain. A few years ago, they had a conversation about how frustrated they were with the current framework for how most mental health and chronic pain conditions were treated, and that for many patients, they not only get little to no relief from these traditional medications, but often suffer undesirable side-effects. That night, some new articles on the efficacy of Ketamine came up in conversation, and the rest is history. Renew Ketamine Infusion was founded shortly thereafter.
The basis of Renew is to treat each patient as a unique individual, and to take a holistic approach to the entire Ketamine experience. “We don’t believe in a model where everyone receives the exact same dose, or the same dose at each infusion. Everyone responds differently and we treat you like the unique person you are,” says Dr. Dall. The infusions don’t happen in a vacuum: each session has a specially-trained MD (Dr. Dall or Dr. Yanuck) to oversee it, which allows for in-the-moment adjustments as needed, and is preceded and followed by integrative psychotherapy consultations with a licensed clinical psychotherapist specially trained in Ketamine assisted psychotherapy. Furthermore, each infusion takes place at their clinic which places an emphasis on patient privacy and comfort. Their clinic is far from the typical sterile medical office and has more of a spa-like atmosphere. The clinic opened last year, and the program is built on years of clinical experience and research.
Renew treats depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, addiction, suicidality, chronic pain and fibromyalgia. All of which have something in common: stress. When someone is in a chronic stress state, there is a reduction in the number, function, and quality of brain connections. Ketamine has been shown to increase the function and quality of connections. These connections allow neural pathways to open back up, producing proteins that increase the number of synapses in the brain. These synapses lead to a rapid resolution of symptoms – if your mind-body connection is restored in a big way, you’ll find relief.
Dr. Dall is quick to add that while Ketamine is not a drug that will solve all psychiatric ailments, “we believe Ketamine combined with psychotherapy gives patients – especially those who have not responded to previous therapies – the best chance of relieving one’s symptoms so they can live a life free of the burdens of mental and physical anguish.”
Patient Claire says she had been suffering from depression for years and despite trying multiple medications and years of therapy, she “couldn’t get out from under the weight of depression.”
“To be honest, I was skeptical about Ketamine clinics, I felt like if this worked so well, everyone would be doing it,” she says. “After my first session, I was a believer. I’m now two months out from my last injection, and while I would say I still have some baseline depression, I feel 95% better. Words cannot truly describe what the experience through the infusions taught me and how much better my quality of life is now. I’m so grateful for the entire staff at Renew Ketamine Infusion for giving me my life back.”
Dr. Deepak Chopra was interviewed recently, and stated that as a physician, he was taught to never use the word ‘healing.’ You could treat a patient or their symptoms, but you might not heal them. He disagrees, and so do Drs Dall and Yanuck. “Ketamine takes advantage of the idea that our brains are moldable: even when our brains have been damaged, we have the capacity to heal from within. Ketamine kickstarts this healing process.”
I don’t believe in a miracle drug. I don’t think that the medication we have on the market today is capable of solving all our psychiatric ailments. But I am beginning to understand that repairing the mind-body connection might give patients, like my friend’s mother, a chance to feel relief from years of chronic pain. Especially in cases where previous or traditional treatments have fallen short.
In Drs Dall and Yanuck’s experience, and based on clinical studies, about 70-80% of people will have significant relief of their symptoms. Long-lasting relief. This is a positively staggering response rate given the patient population are those who have tried and failed multiple other therapies. They set out to open a space that allowed for the optimal delivery of this powerful medication, and have succeeded in creating a program that treats patients “not as objects that are broken, but people that have the capacity to heal from within.