Dec. 14, 2012 forever changed the lives of residents in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children, ages 6 and 7, and several adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School lost their lives in a mass shooting.
That date is engraved in Ahwatukee resident Jody Murray’s memory and in her heart.
It was a day that changed her life trajectory, leading her to reach out to the medically underserved worldwide, using her skills as an acupuncturist and an athletic trainer.
“Everything changed for me on that day when a shooter killed 26 individuals in Newtown, where I lived and worked,” she said. “I treated anyone who had been affected by the shooting at my clinic at no cost. It was an emotional and difficult time for all of us.”
Murray, who’d grown up in a small Vermont town where volunteerism was part of the fabric of life, followed the example set by her father, a volunteer firefighter and coach, and her mother, a volunteer with the Ladies Aid Society.
“It wasn’t called volunteerism; it was called being a good neighbor,” she said. “When I became a professional, my volunteer efforts centered around athletics. I volunteered at marathons and other community athletic events. I volunteered in the USA Olympic system and traveled with teams to China and Mexico.”
Murray, who moved to Ahwatukee two years ago, wears a necklace that reads, “One person can make a difference; that person is you.”
It is a belief she acts upon, especially since Sandy Hook.
“I believe we’re all responsible to share our humanity with each other,” she said, adding:
“My goals now, when I travel to treat underserved populations, are to be a positive representative of an American, and to learn as much as I can about the people I treat. I believe give-and-take between strangers can have a lasting and real effect.”
Recently, Murray set off for her third international medical mission trip as she heads to the Amazon rainforest region of Peru.
This is the third consecutive year she is serving with volunteer groups, sharing her skills. It is time well spent, even as she pays her own way while taking time from her practice at AZ Spine Disc & Sport in Ahwatukee as an acupuncturist, athletic trainer and exercise physiologist.
To help defray costs, Murray sets up GoFundMe accounts. Even then, the two-week trips are worth it all, she said, as the memories of those she’s helped stay long after the suitcases are unpacked and put away.
In 2015, Murray volunteered with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children and traveled to Kodaikanal, India – a city of approximately 36,500 people that, at more than a mile high, is a welcome refuge from the heat of the plains.
“I took the time to learn a few words of Tamil before I went to Kodai, and they served me well, but the physical therapy clinic rang with the words ‘How do you say...?’ during my two-week stay,” recalled Murray.
“I’d shout out my request and somewhere over the din, Raja or Dr. Arun or even occasionally another patient would shout out the Tamil for me to use. Try performing PNF – a rehab technique requiring verbal cueing to the patient – without speaking the language if you want to be humbled quickly.
“We worked it out with a lot of demonstrating, a lot of miming and a lot of laughing by both parties. No worry; laughter is indeed the best medicine.”
There was a wide variety of ailments, but one was prevalent.
“I’ve found what’s very universal is back pain, especially in those countries where their lives are so full of labor. You find women carrying 50-pound baskets on their heads. That’s not good for the back,” she said.
“And the people coming weren’t coming for a hangnail. They were coming for some pretty significant stuff. After they were treated, they all felt better, and they all came back usually bringing two or three friends.”
She said most of the local inhabitants weren’t familiar with acupuncture. But once they learned, and told their neighbors, Murray found herself a great deal busier.
“In India, they had no idea what I did, just that I was an American who wanted to help them feel better. The first day there, I had about a half dozen people. Two weeks later there was a line out the door. I find it so moving that they are so completely trusting,” she said.
Besides providing acupuncture and manual therapy at free physical therapy clinics, she also was able to instruct the staff physiotherapist in basic acupuncture techniques.
“A couple great things about acupuncture is there are no side effects, you see the results pretty quick and there’s little overhead.”
Last year, Murray accompanied members of the Phoenix chapter of The Flying Samaritans to their clinic in Baja California Sur.
For this shorter trip, in which she flew in on private planes, she gave acupuncture treatments to dozens of patients at at Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos at a new clinic built near the airstrip in 2003.
“I was told I saw 50 patients. I had two tables filled at all times, and I used a combination of acupuncture, laser acupuncture, mobilization techniques and stretching,” she said.
This year, Murray flew to Peru with Project Buena Vista that operates free clinics for communities in the rainforest, nestled in the foothills of the Andes Mountains.
The nonprofit maintains a 100-acre property in the cultural zone of the Manu Biosphere Reserve in southeaster Peru providing educational opportunities and health care to area residents who otherwise have minimal access to either.
“I’m headed to Peru with a small group that will provide treatments in two rural clinics. The group has been going a few years, so the patients are expecting us, and at least already know what acupuncture is. This hasn’t been the case in my previous experiences,” she said before leaving.
“I’ve heard we have no electricity in our living areas and running cold water as long as the rain doesn’t wash the pipe out.”
As for 2019 Murray said she isn’t making plans for another medical mission, but added, “Truth be told, I’ve really never planned any of these. They present themselves to me and I’m called, I suppose, at whatever is the right time.”