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Although public opinion varies, especially among those seeking alternative and holistic healing, many consider chiropractic care akin to quackery. The most vociferous skeptic is William T. Jarvis, Ph.D., who claims, “Chiropractic is the most significant nonscientific healthcare delivery system in the United States.” Dr. Ryan Hewitt and his wife, Kendra, are challenging and changing this perception.

The Merrimack Valley Wellness Center (MVWC) of North Andover, which the couple owns and operates, offers nothing pseudo-scientific. It is a polished, efficacious, and multidisciplinary pain-management program, “program” being the operative word. Patients who suffer from neck, shoulder, and back pain typically visit a chiropractor to be adjusted. At MVWC, however, they find much more: a holistic wellness program. “The majority of our patients come because they want a whole-body approach,” says Kendra. “They look at Ryan as their health coach.” While Kendra is their wellness coordinator.

“Wellness is a catchphrase, a buzzword,” Dr. Hewitt explains. “A lot of people don’t know what it means to be well.” At MVWC, people join a wellness center where they receive the tailored care necessary to reach their potential. This care is physical, mental, emotional, and nutritional. Upon ascertaining a patient’s toxicity levels and deficiencies, they treat the actual causes of poor health, rather than the symptoms. The latter are typically “masked,” according to Kendra, by most prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.

The program MVWC offers is referred to as “Eight Weeks to Wellness,” or 8WW, for short. Trademarked by Dr. Dane Donoghue of Philadelphia, it is available in 70 centers worldwide. MVWC is the only 8WW facility in Massachusetts.

When a client arrives at the center to get started, Ryan and Kendra, with the help of their staff and a visiting phlebotomist, conduct an intensive assessment. This is based on a comprehensive blood panel (which charts cholesterol, sugar, triglycerides, and vitamin levels), blood pressure, height, weight, core strength, flexibility, BMI (body mass index), a neuro/spinal analysis, and a detailed questionnaire in which patients divulge their full medical history, life stressors, and nutrition patterns. This yields a wellness score, a letter grade similar to what students receive in school: A through F.  Most people, even those who feel as if they are relatively healthy, receive a failing grade. The two-month goal is to score within the B range or better.

From there, patients enter a program that monitors their nutrition and the factors that went into calculating their original wellness score. In a spacious room next to the main office, clients engage in yoga and a sundry of core-strengthening exercises. The center, whose motto is “Where Health Comes Naturally,” also offers therapeutic massage and, of course, corrective chiropractic services, which are the foundation of the program.

The team services clients of all ages and boasts many success stories. Hanging from the soothing blue-gray and soft yellow walls in the waiting area are framed testimonials of people who have shed pounds in the double digits, lowered their cholesterol levels to the point that they no longer need medication, been cured of migraines that plagued them for decades, and corrected spinal problems that resembled scoliosis.

Ryan and Kendra opened MVWC in October 2010, shortly after they wed. The business has evolved over time, but the Hewitts’ focus on quality care has not changed. “We wanted to be a pillar of health in our community, and we want to be shining examples of that, so we’ve always been practicing what we preach,” explains Ryan. That’s evident. This clearly healthy couple looks as if they stepped off the cover of a fitness magazine. Although they have been in practice for five years and embody a vision reflecting Donoghue’s model, they have only been offering the Eight Weeks to Wellness service for a year.

A native of Winnipeg, Ryan moved to the North Shore after graduating at the top of his class at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Minnesota. Upon taking his doctor of chiropractic degree, Hewitt had three options: He could open his own practice, work for someone else, or start a business under someone else’s umbrella. He decided to hone his business skills and spent two-and-a-half years under the tutelage of Dr. Stephen Franson of Beverly, who was named All-State and All-American Chiropractor by his peers.

The Hewitts see MVWC as much more than a business, though. It is a family. Kendra not only knows the name of every patient they treat, but she also knows when they joined MVWC and why. They are building reciprocal relationships with the wider medical community, too. They are not anti-medical care. They are pro-lifestyle. Their hope is that in the future, more progressive primary-care physicians will refer patients to MVWC. That way people will remedy the root causes of their health problems instead of simply taking yet another prescription.

“People do not want to treat the symptoms. They want lasting change,” Kendra says. “That is exactly what we wanted to offer from day one.” Today, the Hewitts are rewriting the definition of wellness, one patient at a time.