In Memoriam - Donald Harrison DC, Ph.D, MSE, FICA
It is with a sense of great sadness that I write about the passing of one of the greatest chiropractors, researchers and leaders I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, Donald Harrison, DC, PhD, MSE, FICA.
Dr. Don Harrison received his DC degree from Western States Chiropractic College in 1979, an M.S.E. (Mechanical Engineering) in 1997 and a Ph.D in Mathematics in 1998. He had private practices in California and Wyoming from 1979-1993. He originated CBP® Technique in 1980 and was the author of three CBP® text books, a CBP® x-ray workbook, and more than 50 articles in peer-reviewed indexed journals. Don served on the ICA Board of Directors for four years and, among many awards from ICA, was honored as ICA’s Chiropractor of the Year in 2006.
I first met Dr. Harrison a couple of years into practice when he was teaching a module for the Diplomate in Applied Chiropractic Sciences program for the ICA. The module was a 15 hour course on biomechanics and little did I know what I was in for that fateful Saturday morning.
As Dr. Harrison began to lecture and introduce us to the concepts of rotation, translation and deformation I couldn’t help but experience a mix of emotions. I was angry because I didn’t understand how I got through 4 years of chiropractic college and had never been exposed to real biomechanics. I was embarrassed at this at the same time because I didn’t have the sense to know that what I had been exposed to was in many cases completely false. At the same time I was also thrilled because I had already become increasingly frustrated in practice having been taught that chiropractic adjustments changed spines but I was not seeing this on the post films I was taking.
Don and I had dinner together that night and for those of you who knew Don I’m sure all have your own “first time” story and mine was no less life changing. I left dinner a changed person because I could certainly not go back to practicing the way I had been and having gotten an earful about the politics of this profession I could no longer sit back and keep my mouth shut. You can imagine my poor staff’s response when I walked into the office Monday morning and explained to them that we were going to be doing things differently. Those in the political realm of chiropractic who often wish I would keep quiet can thank Don for inspiring me in that realm as well.
I suppose there are lots of people like Don who have lived and changed people’s lives but there aren’t too many in this profession that did it on the scale that he did. For me he embodied the notion of the “last chiropractor” and would any of us do what is right and not expedient in that situation. Here was a man who went back to school to get degrees in engineering and mathematics so that he could advance what many think is a simple concept: that there is an ideal normal spinal model. Imagine someone having to spend their life – indeed giving their life - to prove what is in every anatomy textbook that’s ever been written.
What also struck me about Don was how he saw no threat to the philosophy of chiropractic from science. Quite the opposite. Having grown up in chiropractic from a young age I’ve had occasion to hear the philosophy of chiropractic from some of the greats. I have to say that few if any could hold a candle to Don and what made it better for someone as analytical as me was that he did it based on fact, not belief, faith or dogma.
Beyond the voluminous amount of research he was responsible for providing to the profession (more than any other technique) Don got heavily involved in politics. He knew that all the research in the world would not move subluxation centered chiropractic forward unless we were engaged in the politics of this profession. Don experienced the controlling cartel within chiropractic first hand. The profession’s own research journals rejected his work and caused him to go outside the profession to publish. Once he did, suddenly these same chiropractic journal editors were angry at him for that as well. You see, Don and the work that he represents is antithetical to the Chiropractic Cartel’s master plan because if there is an ideal normal spine and there is evidence that it can be restored then this throws a monkey wrench into the Cartel’s focus on short term, musculoskeletal pain treatment. It certainly causes the owners of chiropractic managed care companies who base their payment schemes on short term pain relief to lose sleep at night.
The last time I saw Don in person we spent the day together in Atlanta and it was then that he and I compared notes on the Cartel. He even had a sketch of the diagram that he went on to publish just a few months ago. Everyone has been talking about it since.
Something that I don’t think many people realize about Don was his ability to rise above the petty arguments that engulf chiropractic – especially in regards to the technique wars. In fact, he did so to an extreme extent. Putting aside selfishness and ego he spearheaded perhaps the most thorough review of chiropractic literature ever conducted with his involvement in the ICA’s most recent practice guidelines. Putting technique wars aside he made sure that everything was included. When I spoke with him about this on the phone as he was in the middle of it he remarked that it wasn’t about him – it was about the profession. Indeed. I’m sure only his family knows just how much he gave to this profession.
Don will be greatly missed.
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As always, I look forward to your feedback, comments and suggestions.
Matthew McCoy DC, MPH
Editor – McCoy Press Journals