Mind over Matter, Connection between Body and Brain

FRESNO, Calif. John Cressman was 7 years old when he fell into a fire pit.

"I put my hands in to catch myself. I remember looking down at my hands and seeing the skin almost melted," Cressman told Ivanhoe.

Doctors told him he suffered third degree burns, would need skin grafts and could lose feeling in his fingers forever.

"I knew it was bad, and I knew it was painful," Cressman recalled.

With his hands wrapped, he was sent home. Although he was focused on a fast recovery, he never imagined what he would see three weeks later when the bandages were removed.

"The skin, which I still remember them peeling off, had re-grown," Cressman said. "I know the power of the mind is amazing."

It's that power that psychotherapist Peggy Huddleston tries to capture for thousands of people before surgery.

"No one is going to have positive emotions about surgery," Huddleston said. "Everyone has negative emotions, but it's how you can see it as a positive."

Huddleston created five steps for patients to use before, during and after surgery. A Harvard study reports the program reduces anxiety and promotes healing. The steps include listening to a relaxation CD twice a day several days before surgery.

Step two: positive healing imagery. That's taking worries and turning them into positive thoughts.

"The third step is my favorite one," Huddleston explained. "They ask their friends and family to think of them wherever they are in the world and to wrap them in a blanket of love."

Step four: The patient takes healing statements from the book and tapes them to their hospital gowns. The doctor then reads the statements during the surgery.

Gynecological surgeon Nina Carroll has been using the Huddleston technique for several years. Skeptical at first, her patients quickly changed her mind.

"Instead of being in bed, uncomfortable, the frown on the face, distant with the post-operative pain experience, they were like, 'Hi, Doc, how are you? I'm fine,'" Carroll explained.

The last step to healing faster: meet your anesthesiologist. A Harvard study found that by just meeting your doctor, you'll be calmer. Another study also shows calmer patients used 50 percent less pain medication and went home 2.7 days earlier than those who didn't meet their doctor.

"It really seemed like my body was listening to the suggestions that I was imagining in my mind," patient Debra Burns said.

Debra Burns used the technique before a biopsy.

"During the actual biopsy, I didn't feel any pain," Burns recalled.

"When there is expectation of recovery, that expectation changes brain physiology," Jon-Kar Zubeita, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Radiology at the University of Michigan, said.

But some say a quick lesson on the positive will not affect your surgery outcome.

"They imply that all you need is to assume a positive attitude, and everything will be OK," Richard Sloan, Ph.D., Professor of Behavioral Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, said. "That's very different from being characteristically optimistic. There's no evidence you can assume a positive attitude and survive."

Lisa Bohner hopes that's not true. She plans to use the power of her mind to not just lose weight-- she's hoping for much more.

"To live, because right now, I only merely exist," Bohner said. "That's all that I do."

She's traveled from Ireland to Spain for a chance at a new life.

"I'm 455 lbs.," Bohner explained. "I sleep in a hospital bed, and I walk with a roll aider, and I refuse to stay in bed and say 'I'm done."

Instead, she's trying a new experimental technique -- Gastric Mind Band. Patients are hypnotized and imagine they are having gastric lap-band surgery.

Patients imagine a band is being placed around the upper part of the stomach, creating a smallerfood pouch -- reducing the size of their stomach from a coconut to a golf ball.

"It works if people want it to work," Marion Shirra, a clinical therapist at Gastric Mind Band in Malaga, Spain, said. "It's so effective because we're working on people's minds."

Joh Smith underwent mind band two years ago.

"When I came back, I knew that I hadn't had an operation, but then when I went to go and eat, something had changed," Smith recalled. "All I know now is I can't physically eat the same amount of food I used to eat."

Joh was 184 pounds and had given up on diets. She's now 50 pounds lighter and hopes to be an inspiration for Lisa and others like her.

"I'm going to do everything I can to make it work, follow what they want me to do and keep my fingers crossed," Bohner said.

Expectation is a big part of mind over medicine. A Duke study looked at its role in pain relief. When scientists gave volunteers identical dummy pills before and after an electric shock, they told some the pills cost two dollars and 50 cents -- others only 10 cents. Eighty-five percent of those getting the more expensive pill reported relief compared to 60 percent of the people who got the less expensive version.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Peggy Huddleston Author of Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster (800) 726-4173 peggy@healfaster.com |   Watch Video Above for Extended Coverage   | -->

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.