Louis Graziadio vividly recalls attending a meeting as a young boy in the early 1960s, with his dad, noted philanthropist and longtime Palos Verdes Peninsula resident the late George L. Graziadio, Jr. The gathering was inside a trailer on the construction site of Torrance Memorial’s soon-to-be-built new patient tower.
The discussion, led that day by George, a co-founder of the Torrance Memorial Healthcare Foundation (now named the Torrance Memorial Foundation), centered on raising funds for the project that would move the hospital across town from its original Engracia Avenue location. In April of 1971, the new Torrance Memorial Hospital opened at 3330 Lomita Blvd.
“My dad had a very outgoing personality and he could talk anyone into supporting something,” says Louis. “The vision he described that day has pretty much come to fruition. He rounded up a lot of local businessmen to get them involved. Karl McMillen called my dad before he decided to make a significant donation to the hospital.”
George and his wife Reva understood the importance of strong local health care and were avid supporters of Torrance Memorial. In 1987, George would establish one of the medical center’s longest-standing fundraisers, the Torrance Memorial Golf Tournament. In 2001, George and Reva made a $1 million donation for the acquisition of cutting-edge radiology equipment and to name the Graziadio Radiology Center.
Even as George’s health began to fail in his early 80s, the medical center continued to be one of his favorite charitable endeavors, according to Louis.
“My father succumbed to cancer and our mom had a tough route too. It affected all of us and pushed us to expand our views on health and our desire to help families and support the community,” Louis says, speaking for himself and his sisters Mary Lou Area and Alida Calvillo. That desire has led the siblings to work with Torrance Memorial’s Health Education Department to steer the community in the direction of prevention.
“My sisters, especially Alida, have been into the holistic health approach for decades. After our parents died, we wanted to continue to support the hospital,” says Louis. Alida adds, “We realized integrative medicine was the new trend in health care. Then my brother had an idea. Instead of just cutting a check, he said, ‘Why don’t we support the hospital and community through a lecture series?’”
With an initial seed gift of $100,000, the family established the Graziadio Wellness Center in 2011 to offer a series of free lectures for the public and medical staff, centered on integrative medicine and mind-body wellness. The program would add weight to the hospital’s existing offerings in mind-body healing techniques that included massage therapy, yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, Reiki, meditation, stress management, and proper diet and nutrition. While their target audience was the community as a whole, an added objective was to open the minds of doctors and nurses who have direct influence over their patients.
Following her introduction to the family, Vickie Hershberger, a health education instructor at Torrance Memorial with a master’s degree in clinical holistic health education, was challenged to contain her excitement.
“Many of the doctors and personnel at Torrance Memorial don’t have a great depth of knowledge on the movement health care is making toward integrative medicine, and I’m not really in a position to educate them. So when I found out the Graziadio family had an interest in helping to inform the community about options in their healing, I was ecstatic,” says Hershberger. “I love Alida. We share a passion for empowering people in their decision-making.”
She continues, “Working with the family gives me an opportunity to really use my skills and training. I get to investigate speakers they are interested in, and it has given me the opportunity to meet and work with leaders in the field.”
The practice of holistic medicine is often associated with eastern approaches that include acupuncture, herbs, supplements and meditation. Many western trained physicians are now using the term integrative medicine as the marriage of allopathic (western, evidence- based medicine) with holistic/complementary alternative medicine (CAM). As Stanley Tobias, MD, a retired Torrance rheumatologist who serves on the series’ planning committee explains, allopathic medicine, which utilizes organ system diagnosis and emphasizes treatment with surgery and/or medications when indicated, has been the medical science norm. However the challenge, he says, is nothing is absolute.
Dr. Tobias first began exploring eastern methods back in the 1960s, which led him to a 15-week course on acupuncture at UCLA.
“When you treat complex chronic disease, the goal is to manage pain, increase function and allow for the best quality of life,” Dr. Tobias says. “The best approach may be to employ all modalities that allow for the best life possible for the patient. Integrative medicine encourages a personalized and multidisciplinary, multi-modal approach.”
To develop topics and select speakers for the series, the family worked with Hershberger to create an advisory committee that includes Torrance Memorial doctors, staff and community members.
Erin Hoffman, MSW, MHA, a retired licensed clinical social worker who specialized in the medical/public health arena, was invited to join the committee after sharing her own personal experience with Hershberger.
Hoffman was diagnosed at age 40 with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that requires lifetime medication to control. She witnessed her father grapple with this same condition, along with a host of other autoimmune conditions.
“I saw my dad suffer the last 30 years of his life and I didn’t want to follow that path,” Hoffman says. “I decided I needed to change course. Our genes are not our destiny. You can turn them off and on based on your lifestyle.”
Hoffman became a vegan five years ago but says she was not a “healthy vegan” at first. “I thought I could eat everything I wanted to within a plant-based diet, including sweet potato French fries,” she says. “So I very quickly gained 15 pounds and my arthritic symptoms came back.”
After attending the Graziadio Wellness Center speaker series lectures and hearing speakers such as Chef AJ in 2014 on the topic “Food Is Medicine,” and John Pierre on “The Pillars of Health,” she switched to a “super clean, whole food, plant-based diet” and now, at age 52, is symptom free.
“I will always have to take thyroid medicine, but every other lab value has been pristine,” Hoffman says. “We have the ability to make the greatest impact on our health three times a day by what we choose to eat. By contributing in this way [through the Wellness Advisory Committee and her group] I can be more impactful than anything I did in my career.” Hoffman now leads a monthly group to help community members learn to live a plant- based lifestyle.
Lecture titles and topics to date have included “Being an Urban Monk,” “Power Foods for the Brain,” “Prevention: Nutrition & Supplements for A Healthy Lifestyle,” “Goodbye Diabetes, Heart Disease, & Cancer Risk: Preventing and Reversing Disease the Natural Way” and “Memory Rescue.”
The next challenge the committee is grappling with is trying to resonate with 20- to 30-somethings who don’t typically attend health lectures.
“How do we get that message across?” Alida ponders. “We don’t want them to wait until something goes wrong.”
Louis continues, “Diseases don’t just show up. They have been percolating for a long time. We’re coming to a place where it’s not just about popping pills and having operations; it’s about prevention through healthy living.”
The success of the live lectures is evident through its standing room only crowds of nearly 500 attendees with an overflow viewing area. The family is currently working with the advisory committee to choose speakers for 2018. In the meantime, the series is reaching new audiences through the Graziadio Wellness Center’s library of past lectures that lives on the Torrance Memorial website.
For more information about the Graziadio Wellness Center and the lecture series, please call 310-517-4711. To view past lectures, visit TorranceMemorial.org/IntegrativeHealthLectures