All in the family
These chiropractors have made their practice a family matter
By Mari-Len De
Drs. Megan and Mailie Harris have taken almost the exact same path in their careers, albeit at different times. They went to the same university, took the same program, held the same summer jobs, operated a business together, went to the same chiropractic college, and now work in the same clinic. When it comes to practice, however, each sister assumes her own identity.
Megan, who is three years older than Mailie, has an interest in prenatal chiropractic care. She is certified in the Webster Technique for pregnancy through the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association, and has a large pregnancy practice, often collaborating with obstetricians, midwives and doulas in her community. She co-owns the Chiropractic Wellness Studio in Edmonton.
Coming from a professional sports background, Mailie has established a connection with the Canadian Football League and the National Hockey League. While a student at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC), Mailie was also part of the cheerleading team for the Toronto Argonauts. Her patients include NHL and CFL players, mixed martial artists, Olympic athletes and professional cheerleaders.
“We’re the first chiropractors in our family,” says Megan, whose interest in chiropractic was sparked by her mother’s positive experience with chiropractic treatment. “My mom had really bad sciatica and it was chiropractic that actually got her on her feet.”
After finishing her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Megan enrolled in the chiropractic program at CMCC where she graduated in 2003. In the same year, her sister Mailie started her freshman year at CMCC. She also graduated from the University of Guelph with a bachelor’s degree in Human Kinetics.
The Harris’s grew up in Tweed, Ont. When Megan was 15, she applied for a scholarship and got accepted at Albert College, a co-ed boarding school in Belleville, Ont. This meant she had to live away from home during the last three years of high school and then go away to university.
In university was when Megan confirmed chiropractic is the career path for her – but not before exploring other viable options.
“When I got into Guelph University, I started experimenting by going to different offices back and forth, between chiropractic offices and physiotherapy offices. I noticed all the chiropractic patients were happy, and all the chiropractors were happy as well and they were encouraging. My decision was made pretty quickly,” Megan recalls.
Following her graduation from Guelph, Megan went to Calgary to volunteer at Dr. Greg Kawchuk’s spinal research lab at the University of Calgary. With a reference letter from Kawchuk, she applied to CMCC a year later and got accepted. Throughout the process, her little sister Mailie was always right behind her.
Mailie acknowledges it was her sister who was a big influence in her decision to go into chiropractic. After graduating from university, she worked in sales for a company that sells lab equipment and chemicals in Ottawa – but that didn’t last long.
“I wanted to do something that has an impact on more people directly. And my sister had been telling me about chiropractic,” Mailie says. Hearing her sister talk about chiropractic encouraged her to visit CMCC and see for herself.
Years later, Mailie made her way to Edmonton to start a practice with her sister. She now says she would not want to practice anywhere else.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in Alberta in the long term because we don’t have our family here. But things just keep going really well… so I don’t want to mess with a good thing,” Mailie says.
Megan shares her sister’s enthusiasm. “It’s just a really good province to practice. We have a large patient base of people who want to access chiropractic. People are a lot more open to alternative therapies and use them regularly.”
She points out that chiropractors in Alberta have a practitioner ID number that is the same as a general practitioner, which means DCs can refer patients to a specialist and the specialist treatment will be covered by the province.
“Often, I have somebody who has massive hip degeneration or someone where they need to see a specialist. I can skip the MD and go directly to the specialist by referral,” Megan explains. “We can also order x-rays, bone scans, CTs and MRIs and they are all covered, so it gives us a lot of diagnostic capability.”
The Harris sisters are not unique in their chosen path, and chiropractic as a family profession is not unusual among DCs. A number of chiropractors in Canada belong to a family of multigenerational DCs. Among the most famous is the West family, whose chiropractic roots can be traced as far back as 1910 when Archibald West became a chiropractor. For more than a hundred years, the West family has carried on the tradition producing at least 11 DCs across four generations.
The latest one to join her family’s chiropractic dynasty is Dr. Megan West. She and her husband Dr. Tony Varsalona, also a DC, run the West Niagara Chiropractic and Wellness Centre in Grimsby, Ont.
Drs. Roy and Bob Kariatsumari of Alberta hope to be able to start a tradition – perhaps, ultimately, a chiropractic dynasty – in their family as well . When Roy learned of his son Bob’s desire to pursue chiropractic as a profession, he was ecstatic.
“I think every chiropractor has that dream to have their children following their footsteps,” Roy says. He notes chiropractic is not only a career for them but also a way of life. “We have raised our children as naturally as we could: they weren’t vaccinated; we basically kept them away from a lot of the sugars and junk food; and just tried to make sure that they are active and exercising.”
Roy is a first generation chiropractor. He grew up in a farm in southern Alberta, and had his first encounter with chiropractic when his father was injured falling off more than 12 feet of hay, fracturing his spine.
Because the injury happened during harvest season, Roy’s dad had deferred going to the hospital for treatment and was trying to endure the pain so he could continue to work. He had, however, sought help from a nearby chiropractor and relied on Bob and his mom to help him ease the pain.
“My mother and I would work on my dad the best that we could, just trying to ease the pain,” Roy recalls. “My dad would instruct me as far as how the chiropractor would work on particular muscles – without adjusting it.
“We did this for three months and I can just remember my arms being so tired, but I knew that my dad was hurting worse than I was so I continued on with it.”
Roy remembers talking to his dad’s chiropractor and noting how enthusiastic he was about his profession and greatly encouraged him to consider chiropractic, especially after seeing how Roy had been helping his dad relieve his pain in his own little way.
That conversation made an impression on Roy even as he went into pre-med at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. “When you go to premed, that’s just basically science without the actual medical part of it. And then I realized I had to find out what this chiropractic is all about so I went to CMCC.
“I couldn’t believe how I was so in-tune with what they were saying and that was really in line with the ways that I thought about what health should be. So, I just said, ‘This is it.’ I wanted to become a chiropractor.”
Roy has been practicing for 45 years in Rocky Mountain House, Alta. Thoughts of passing on the torch to his children may have crossed his mind, but Roy wasn’t one to force his own aspirations onto his children.
Growing up, Bob and his two other siblings have always been under their dad’s chiropractic care and were getting regular adjustments. They were all involved in competitive swimming in their younger years.
Bob fondly recalls that as a child he thought everybody’s father was a chiropractor. “I would tell my friends to go home so their dad could fix them if they’re sick or hurt – just get their dads to fix them.”
Despite his parents’ resolve to bring up their children as naturally as possible and live their life by the principles of chiropractic, Bob never felt pressured to take up his father’s profession.
“Dad never really pushed me or said I should become a chiropractor. He just allowed me to have my own choice and he was really supportive in whatever I want,” Bob says.
The realization that he wanted to be a chiropractor, however, did not come until Bob’s third year in university. Because of his athletic background as a competitive swimmer, he was very interested in the care and performance of the human body.
He remembers coming into his dad’s clinic one day to “shadow” him and see first-hand how his father works. “I saw how he interacted with patients and saw them come in, see the level of community. That was the first time I saw him practicing… that was the first time I saw him interacting with patients.”
In 2001, Bob made his dad proud by graduating magna cum laude from Palmer West in San Jose, Calif. He has since been practicing in Calgary, about two hours south of where Roy is in Rocky Mountain House.
Megan and Mailie Harris may have a lot of things in common, but each one has taken a slightly different route in practice. “We find that we attract patients that are similar to our personalities,” Megan notes.
Because of her special interest in pregnancy care, Megan finds many new patients through referrals from OB-GYNs and midwives in her community. She also participates in the Welcome Wagon Baby Shower, which is a regular community event for new and expectant moms.
Mailie’s community circle is a little different. Being a chiropractor has not prevented her from pursuing her other passion for cheerleading. In addition to her DC title, Mailie is also the director and head coach of the Edmonton Oilers Octane cheerleading team – which she helped found.
“I do both jobs,” Mailie says. “Chiropractic works really well because it has flexible hours. A lot of my patients know what I do in the community. The Edmonton Oilers Octane does community work, and because I help lead that it makes me visible in that regard.”
They may each have special interests, but one does not make one exclusive of the other. At the clinic, Megan and Mailie will often bounce ideas off each other and discuss cases.
The similarities and differences between the sisters do not go unnoticed by their patients, either.
“We respect each other’s differences and we embrace them. A lot of our patients will say we’re kind of similar but we’re kind of different – my sister likes to wear her stilettos when she adjusts her patients and I am always in flats. They make direct comparisons about our height, our body weight or our make-up or our clothes.
“We don’t take those things personally. I think it’s been part of our brand. It’s been really positive for us to have that sister relationship,” Megan says.
The Chiropractic Wellness Studio, which Megan co-owns with another chiropractor (not Mailie) maintains a diverse patient base – men and women, pregnant moms, athletes, children and seniors – and treats a variety of conditions. It’s a four-women team of DCs that offer various techniques and modalities, including Diversified, Graston, Kinesio taping, functional dry needling and acupuncture, Webster for pregnancy, and foot orthotics.
Personality differences – and similarities – not withstanding, practice continuity is important for the Harris’s. This means providing consistent patient experience and care, regardless of which sister is treating them at a given time, Mailie points out.
With a difference of a whole generation, Roy and Bob also have a slightly different approach to practice. Although they both practice applied kinesiology and muscle testing methods, Roy says his son has been exposed to a “lot more new material” and newer techniques like Thompson and Activator. The older Kariatsumari likes to keep his practice more conventionally and “basically kept with hands only.”
On the other hand, the younger DC looks to his dad for his experience and wisdom. As chiropractors, Bob and Roy would attend continuing education conferences together. At these events, Bob always notes how committed his dad is to the chiropractic community and how involved he was with the Alberta Chiropractic Association.
His dad’s decades of experience made him Bob’s go-to-person for questions about patient care and practice building.
“I’m always asking him questions about how to handle patients, especially in the beginning when I was just learning about business administration, and he would always say, ‘Take care of the patient and everything else will take care of itself.’ Your best decision in practice is just what’s best for the patient,” Bob notes.
Roy also taught Bob another valuable lesson: the importance of family and work-life balance. Weekends are always spent with the family, says Bob, who is now a father of three young children ages nine, seven and five.
With all his children out of the nest, Roy still enjoys life outside work. He now works four days a week. Hiking and photography are two of his other passions. He takes Wednesdays off to reconnect with nature and go hiking with some friends, his camera always at the ready.
Much like his father, Bob also has a secret dream for his children to follow in his chiropractic footprint. Although it’s really early to tell, one daughter might be exhibiting some inclination.
“My youngest, her name is Kyra. She thinks because she’s Kyra she’s already a ‘kyra-practor.’ I think she’ll probably be the chiro; whenever I’m taking care of my wife at home she is always trying to help out. If I’m testing one leg, she’ll be holding the other leg. She’s really interested when I tell her about the bones of the body.”
Adding another generation to the Kariatsumari chiropractic bloodline may not be farfetched, considering Bob’s father-in-law, Dr. Sigfried Zierath, is also a chiropractor.
This article originally appeared in our December 2015 issue.