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Saving the Hands That Heal

After Dog Attack, Painful Recovery

  • Occupational therapist Ruth Ciofreddi, left, fits Susan Kellogg, of Lebanon, with a removable cast last month. Kellogg, a chiropractor, broke both wrists in a dog attack. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Occupational therapist Ruth Ciofreddi, left, fits Susan Kellogg, of Lebanon, with a removable cast last month. Kellogg, a chiropractor, broke both wrists in a dog attack. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susan Kellogg packs items at her Lebanon practice in early July. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Susan Kellogg packs items at her Lebanon practice in early July. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susan Kellogg hands garden shears to Esme Thompson, who was helping Kellogg manage her garden in Lebanon earlier this month after Kellogg had surgery on her wrists. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Susan Kellogg hands garden shears to Esme Thompson, who was helping Kellogg manage her garden in Lebanon earlier this month after Kellogg had surgery on her wrists. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • While being fitted with a removable cast last month, Susan Kellogg has the scars on one of her wrist massaged by occupational therapist Ruth Ciofreddi. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    While being fitted with a removable cast last month, Susan Kellogg has the scars on one of her wrist massaged by occupational therapist Ruth Ciofreddi. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Occupational therapist Ruth Ciofreddi, left, fits Susan Kellogg, of Lebanon, with a removable cast last month. Kellogg, a chiropractor, broke both wrists in a dog attack. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Susan Kellogg packs items at her Lebanon practice in early July. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Susan Kellogg hands garden shears to Esme Thompson, who was helping Kellogg manage her garden in Lebanon earlier this month after Kellogg had surgery on her wrists. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • While being fitted with a removable cast last month, Susan Kellogg has the scars on one of her wrist massaged by occupational therapist Ruth Ciofreddi. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Lebanon — When the dog came charging, Susan Kellogg instinctively threw her hands toward the sky.

She’s a chiropractor, after all. Her hands are her livelihood.

It was a quiet Sunday morning in early June, and Kellogg and her partner, Mark Lansburgh, were walking Teva, her 12-year-old Australian shepherd, Kellogg would later tell police and the Valley News. The couple was climbing the hill on Forest Avenue when they heard the barking and saw the dogs tugging at their leashes.

The dogs’ owner said the one barking frenetically was just being playful, Kellogg said.

But the other dog, eerily quiet, was aggressive, its owner told the couple, though she would not comment for this article. This account is based on police records and interviews with Kellogg.

The owner shouted that she would hold the dogs tight while Kellogg, Lansburgh and Teva passed. Cautiously, they began walking by.

Then the dog, which police say is a chow chow mix, lunged.

Snapping its retractable leash, the dog sank its teeth into the shoulder of Kellogg’s dog. As Lansburgh and the chow chow’s owner tried pulling the dog from Teva, the chiropractor backed away, protecting her hands.

Standing a safe distance from the tangle of teeth, arms and legs, Kellogg felt helpless. Her partner and the chow chow’s owner couldn’t get the dogs apart. The chiropractor wanted to help, but didn’t know how.

“Hit him, hit him!” the owner yelled.

Kellogg gave the chow chow a couple swift kicks to the left haunch, and it finally released Teva. But the dog then turned toward Kellogg.

Trying to distract the chow chow so Lansburgh and Teva could get away, the chiropractor put her arms into the air and roared as she backed down the hill. The chow chow seemed perplexed, and her owner, crouching, was able to take hold of the dog.

But Kellogg’s feet met uneven pavement and she toppled backwards, her hands breaking the fall.

The chiropractor felt the sharp pain, looked down, and knew.

Her arms were broken.

Healing With Hands

Susan Kellogg has been practicing chiropractic for three decades, two of them in Lebanon.

A 52-year-old mother of three, Kellogg has sun-kissed skin, long fingers and admirable posture. She doesn’t use tools or adjusters as she realigns her patients with calculated pops and cracks.

Just her hands. Her strong, dexterous hands.

“I feel like I practice, in some ways, some of the lost arts of chiropractic,” Kellogg said, equating her methods to the swift movements of a martial artist. “It’s about applying the right amount of force, in the right direction, at the right time with a lot of speed.”

It’s what she’s known for in the Upper Valley — a gadget-free practice — but Kellogg doesn’t do the promoting. If you Google her business’s name, there’s no website. She doesn’t advertise, either.

Her skills — and her patients — speak for her.

“She is very compassionate about whatever is going on and she looks at the whole situation, your emotional, spiritual and physical,” said Susan Sanzone-Fauver of Meriden, a longtime patient. “She’s really interested and really good at looking at everything, at looking at people as a whole being, not just this person that needs adjusting.”

Carole Petrillo, who has worked as Kellogg’s receptionist since 2008, said nearly all of the chiropractor’s patients found her through word of mouth or patient references. At least once a week she’d get phone calls from potential patients, but often had to put them on a waiting list.

“And that waiting list did not open up very often,” Petrillo said.

Kellogg has 200 active patients. Some are children who’ve grown up with the chiropractor. A few, in college now, even chose to study the profession themselves. Others have been seeing Kellogg for decades.

“I’ve watched my practice age as well,” Kellogg said. “There are certain individuals who started with me in their thirties or forties who are now in their seventies and it’s beautiful. It’s really a gift to feel like I’ve contributed to their healthy aging.”

The chiropractor has an intuition that her patients have difficulty describing. With her hands, she reads them.

“She is a very intuitive, talented healer,” said Jill Johnson, a close friend and owner of the Ancient Healing Arts Yoga Studio in Lebanon. “She does much more than chiropractic.”

The community — patients, yogis, colleagues — have surrounded the chiropractor with support in the wake of the dog attack. Johnson initiated a collection fund for Kellogg, but the chiropractor declined the donations. There are people who need it more, she protested.

So instead they made her meals. Patients volunteered to take care of her garden and friends helped wash her hair. They even cleaned her toilets.

A Role Reversal

In a chair in a room covered with hand anatomy posters, the chiropractor surrendered her composure. Tears escaped from her blue-green eyes.

“You provide such healing to people that they want to do the same,” Kellogg’s occupational therapist Ruth Cioffredi said consolingly. “It’s a gift they can provide you with.”

The patient nodded her head, wiped her tears and smiled. Receiving isn’t in the chiropractor’s nature; she’s much more comfortable giving.

“You’re on the road now,” Cioffredi said, offering an encouraging pat.

It was Kellogg’s first occupational therapy appointment, nearly a month after her fall. She’d endured two surgeries, lasting five hours total, to repair three broken bones in her left wrist and two in her right. Her 81-year-old mother, Dorothy Kellogg, made the trek to New Hampshire from Tampa, Fla., to help her drive, eat, dress and bathe.

“Never in a million years would I have thought at 52 years old my mother would be helping me bathe,” Kellogg said during her therapy session.

After surgery, she found herself immobilized and in a lot of pain. But her jet packs — the mechanical coolers that pushed icy water through tubing inside her casts — made it better.

“I can’t always be the giver, and right now I really don’t have a choice,” Kellogg said. “I hate it, but I need help.”

Kellogg’s doctors had crafted casts for both wrists, which later gave way to splints. Her prognosis? It will take a year, at least, until she can resume her regular practice. First, Kellogg will have to do months of therapy — bending, stretching, squeezing, flexing — to restore full range of motion in both arms.

As Cioffredi cut away Kellogg’s temporary cast and unraveled the Ace bandage, the two women caught up on life. Their kids were classmates at Lebanon High School. As moms, Cioffredi and Kellogg have crossed paths at athletic team dinners and pre-prom photo opps.

But in a therapy room in the basement of the River Valley Club, the moms were navigating new territory. One healer mending another.

The two threw around medical terminology — radial and ulnar deviation, edema, lymphatic cells, dorsal sensory branch, retrograde massage — without pause for explanation. They didn’t need to.

“This is quite an occasion for your left hand,” Cioffredi said, testing the chiropractor’s flexibility and strength.

“A coming out party,” Kellogg said with a laugh.

“A debutante!” the occupational therapist smiled. “And you don’t even have a dress.”

A Family’s Calling

She was young, but sure. At the age of twelve, Kellogg knew she wanted to be a chiropractor.

Just like her dad.

It was the early ‘70s, and the young girl was attending a chiropractic conference with her father, one designed for families. John Kellogg, a practitioner in Tampa, Fla., introduced the bright eyed youngster to his colleagues. One man after another.

And then ... a woman.

The girl just assumed she was a wife of one of her father’s colleagues, but her dad had called the woman “doctor.”

“Immediately the light bulb went off,” Kellogg said. “Oh, women can do this, too.”

She worked in her father’s office throughout high school, and she began her college courses the summer after graduation. She earned a Doctor of Chiropractic at Life University in Atlanta, Ga., a six-year program. Kellogg graduated early, at 23, and worked two internships. For a few months, the young chiropractor worked alongside her father, filling in while his partner was on leave.

Chiropractic is in her blood — her sister, too, is a chiropractor, and took over their father’s practice when he retired. Before he died five years ago, John Kellogg practiced for more than three decades in Tampa.

“It’s definitely been a way of life for us and somewhat of a legacy,” Kellogg said. “A family legacy.”

By example, the chiropractor’s father taught her to be gentle and compassionate and nurturing.

“He cared for me from the ground up,” she said. “If there was any teaching it was by receiving.”

There are moves Kellogg uses on her patients, ones she learned not in a textbook or in a classroom, but from her father. But she’s not sure her damaged wrists will be able to execute all of them anymore.

“I feel my dad is with me,” the chiropractor said. “When I’m in a difficult situation with a patient, I think ‘What would Daddy do?’ I still feel like I can draw from his expertise and manner and gentle confidence.”

Once she is healed, the chiropractor will probably have to incorporate the tools she’s tried to avoid over the years. That makes her sad, knowing she’s lost a part of what makes her practice unique. But she believes deeply in the power of positive thinking.

“It’s almost like everything that has come before this in my life has been training for this moment,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll receive a lot of guidance, inner guidance, on how to remake my life and my practice when I get back into work. There will be a creative element to it.”

Gaining Independence

Kellogg’s injuries weren’t just physical. They hit her financially, too.

A few weeks, ago the chiropractor emptied her office, an old house on Bank Street just a two-minute walk from her own home. She’s been there five years, but now she has to break her lease. Kellogg can’t afford to pay for an unused space; the injury forced her to direct her patients to colleagues in surrounding communities.

Like many small-scale practitioners, Kellogg didn’t have disability insurance when she broke her wrists. There were too many stipulations, the deductible was too high and it wouldn’t kick in for three months.

Kellogg has a $5,000 deductible through her health insurance and her out-of-pocket expenses have been hefty. She’s filed a claim against the dog owner’s insurance company, but that won’t be settled for months.

(Police issued a citation to the chow chow’s owner, Carrie Fradkin of Lebanon, for allegedly allowing her dog to behave in a way that state law deems “a nuisance, a menace or vicious to persons or to property.” She pleaded not guilty last week in court. Fradkin declined to comment for this article.)

Kellogg’s eldest daughter, Meta Bergwall, is living in Colorado, but the chiropractor and her ex-husband are still putting their other two girls, Lucy and Hallie Bergwall, through college.

Hallie just graduated from high school in June and is headed to St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt. Come August, Kellogg will be an empty nester. She plans to live with a friend and rent her house to generate some sort of income while she isn’t working. She has requested tuition relief from her daughters’ schools.

Despite the challenges, Kellogg said there are “bright spots on the horizon,” too. Now she gets to spend more time with Hallie before she heads off to school.

“You just have to look at the little gifts in all this, and that’s definitely one of them,” Kellogg said. “Sweet time with my little girl.”

“I’ve been a single mom for the last decade, bringing up three kids and dealing with my practice. I haven’t had time to sit and think or reflect,” Kellogg said. “I’ll take it. It’s not how I would have chosen it to happen, but I’ll make the most of it.”

Between therapy sessions, the chiropractor hopes to find a new hobby and perhaps to offer nutritional counseling until her hands are healthy again. In August, she’ll spend a week hiking Glacier National Park with her daughters.

One friend recommended she write a book.

The splints can come off if she is typing on her computer or eating, which is good because Kellogg can cook now, or at least throw together a salad. The swelling in her wrists has gone down, so she no longer has to walk around with her arms pointing skyward.

At first, it was nerve-wracking removing the casts. Now she looks forward to taking them off occasionally. It means she gets a bit of independence.

But she still can’t drive. Or do heavy lifting. Or practice her profession, her art.

When she gets frustrated, she’ll meditate, read spiritual and philosophical literature, even strike a few yoga poses — the ones that don’t involve her hands, of course.

She’ll take “breaths, deep breaths.”

“This is my turn, to put it into practice. All the things I’ve learned. All the things I’ve instructed other people to do,” she said. “I’ve got to practice what I preach.”

Katie Mettler can be reached at kmettler@vnews.com or 603-727-3234.

CORRECTION

This story has been amended to correct an earlier error. Lebanon police say the dog that charged toward Lebanon chiropractor Susan Kellogg’s dog in June is a chow chow mix. An earlier version of this story misidentified the dog.