Since establishing the acupuncture clinic Starting Point in 2013, Bothell-based naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist Ellie Heintze has sought to make treatment accessible and affordable for those seeking pain relief.
For Heintze, acupuncture is personal. Years ago, while pursuing a master’s degree in chemistry at Northern Arizona University, she experienced severe and painful digestive issues.
She went to several gastroenterologists in the area, but the root of her affliction was left unexplained. Her pain continued to be untreated.
“Everyone’s like, ‘It’s all in your head, nothing’s wrong,’” she said.
As a result, Heintze went to a naturopathic and acupuncturist in Flagstaff, Arizona to see if acupuncture would at least put a temporary end to her symptoms. The visit ended up changing her life.
Tests were still performed as they had been on previous occasions. But what stood out to Heintze was how acupuncture was used as a sort of pre-care treatment before the cause of her ailment was known.
During that fateful first visit, Heintze felt her symptoms go down almost immediately. She also felt as though she was taken seriously, and that through acupuncture, her doctor had shown that it was genuinely important to him that her pains be relieved.
“It helped me so much,” Heintze said. “I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’”
After completing her master’s, Heintze moved to the Seattle area and enrolled at Bastyr University in Kenmore. She knew she wanted to study in both the school’s naturopathic and acupuncture programs.
Because acupuncture had proven to be life-changing for Heintze, it became important to her that other people have similarly positive experiences. She eventually graduated with a master’s degree in acupuncture and a doctorate in naturopathic medicine.
Even before graduating, Heintze knew she wanted to have her own clinic.
“I thought, ‘I want to help other people,’” she said.
In 2013, she saw that ambition through. She’s been at the Bothell location (18223 102nd Ave. N.E., Suite A) for the last three years and had a space at a nearby senior center before that.
To Heintze, offering customers relief at a low cost is a huge priority. Acupuncture insurance is common in Washington but can still be expensive.
Acupuncture treatment isn’t covered by Medicare or Medicaid either. As a result, Heintze said people who might benefit from acupuncture don’t come in because of the cost.
“That didn’t settle with me, that people weren’t coming in because they couldn’t afford to,” she said.
Because of this, the clinic offers discounted prices as part of a recently launched nonprofit organization called the Pain Relief Project, which is separate from Starting Point but is run out of the same office.
“I wanted a way to help more people,” Heintze said. “There’s no excuse why you can’t work on your health. Taking the financial thing out of it makes it so people can be seen if they have insurance or not.”
Heintze said customers who do not have acupuncture insurance only have to fill out an application verifying income to receive discounted prices. Reduced prices can also apply to low-income families, full-time college students, unemployed individuals and people with disabilities.
Through the nonprofit, Heintze hopes to reach more people. In the future, she plans on partnering with satellite clinics, senior centers and other small businesses in the Seattle area to help expand the Pain Relief Project.
“By the end of the year, I would hope to have at least three other clinics around town that people can go to on a regular basis,” she said.
Heintze also wants to change the way people think about acupuncture.
“People think it hurts,” she said. “I always tell people, ‘It doesn’t always have to hurt to work.’”
Heintze added that acupuncture can help more than just pain. It can also be beneficial to those dealing with anxiety, insomnia and digestive issues, for example. There are addiction protocols in place as well, which can be helpful for those who have been affected by the nationwide opioid crisis.
Ultimately, Heintze wants people who are dealing with pain and other afflictions to know that acupuncture could be a viable solution.
“I never want someone to think there isn’t hope,” she said. “Because there is.”
For more information, visit www.painreliefproject.org or call (425) 686-4498.
Blake Peterson is journalism student at the University of Washington and an intern for the Bothell/Kenmore and Kirkland Reporter newspapers.