Danny Protas rated the pain seven out of 10. Back spasms were preventing the 13-year-old from playing hockey and football. From attending Coon Rapids Middle School. From getting out of bed. From smiling.
Then Dr. Stefan Friedrichsdorf entered his room at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and breezed past the medical chart to open the blinds. Afternoon sunshine flooded the gray room. Friedrichsdorf skipped the usual formalities and started doing pushups against Danny’s bed. He talked loud and fast about how he hadn’t done pushups in a while and asked: If he did 100 right off the bat, how might he feel tomorrow?
“Sore,” Danny replied flatly.
“And if I’m sore, am I likely to do more pushups tomorrow?”
“That’s right! Pain up, action down. Know anyone like that?”
“What do you like to do when you’re in pain? Watch movies? OK, if I just lay around and watch movies, and don’t move, what’s going to happen then?”
“It’s going to hurt more,” Danny muttered.
“Right again! Action down, pain up. You need to use the thing that’s hurting in the first place! It’s been written in the Journal of Duh!”
Sunlight bounced off Danny’s braces as he cracked a half-smile. Score one for the doctor. Over the next 30 minutes, Friedrichsdorf pulled various non-medical tricks out of his pockets. Danny popped balloon animals with an iPhone app. He discovered that blowing bubbles is as much fun at 13 as it was at 3. And then Friedrichsdorf transported Danny to a place with no noise, no pain—his favorite place: lakeside in Canada, fishing. The teen came out of hypnosis visibly more relaxed. Friedrichsdorf asked him again to rate the pain. Danny gave it a 6.
The only thing that could have made this visit more transformative would have been a change of scenery. Some place away from the buzz of fluorescent lights, the weird smells, and the institutional beds overwhelming small rooms. In January, Friedrichsdorf and his team will move into a new clinic up on the fifth floor of the Minneapolis hospital that will seem worlds away.
The new space will have lights that intensify and fade in harmony with the sun. Images of green birch leaves will stretch across the ceiling. It will feel more like an Aveda spa than a sterile hospital. The space will be better suited to Friedrichsdorf’s forward-thinking approach to care for his patients, children like Danny, who suffer debilitating pain, often with no conclusive medical diagnosis. And it will be a game changer not only for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota but also for the field of pediatric pain care, which, experts say, has been slow to integrate traditional and holistic treatments.
The advance is made possible by a man whose entire career was marked by breaking down barriers in the name of well-being: Horst Rechelbacher.
Rechelbacher knew pain. The founder of Aveda lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in February at the age of 72. While being treated at Mayo Clinic, he tried any number of integrative therapies: aromatherapy, sound therapy, meditation, massage, music. “I believe some of these therapies extended his life,” says his widow, Kiran Stordalen. “And certainly made it more comfortable.”
Horst Rechelbacher and his wife, Kiran Stordalen, at their Minneapolis home in 1990.
A lifelong entrepreneur and environmentalist whose passions included organic farming and plant-based medicine, Rechelbacher spoke to students at the Aveda Institute just weeks before his death. He was in a wheelchair, but his message was as inspirational as ever. Stordalen recalls him telling the beauty school students: “Do your own thing. Make your own rules.” This from the man who sold his Aveda company for $300 million and was in the process of building another beauty brand, Intelligent Nutrients. But he had begun his career as one of them. “He was a hairdresser first,” Stordalen says. “Then he built a salon, a school, a product line. It’s a pretty powerful message.”
Rechelbacher worked right up until the end at Intelligent Nutrients, creating certified organic beauty products, researching soil conservation, and experimenting with the anti-aging properties of plant stem cells. Rechelbacher also had time to consider his legacy beyond the beauty business. “He lived for two and a half years with his prognosis,” Stordalen says. “That gives you a lot of time to think about the ways you want to move forward. It’s one of the things cancer affords you.”
Around the time of his cancer diagnosis, Rechelbacher heard Friedrichsdorf speak about his approach to pain treatment—incorporating massage, acupressure, sound therapy, hypnosis, aromatherapy, and relaxation techniques along with medication. Friedrichsdorf is medical director of the department of Pain Medicine, Palliative Care and Integrative Medicine at Children’s, and a sought-after international speaker. His department at Children’s frequently hosts heads of other pediatric pain programs, eager for ideas and direction.
Rechelbacher was impressed and the two struck up a friendship. The doctor invited Rechelbacher to tour the 8-year-old clinic. They traded notes on meditation and aromatherapy (kids hate lavender, and tend to love peppermint). They swapped barbs about their neighboring homelands: Austria for Rechelbacher, Germany for Friedrichsdorf. And Rechelbacher saw first-hand that the doctor’s dated clinic space didn’t match his department’s innovative mission.
While in medical school in Germany, Stefan Friedrichsdorf witnessed a child dying in pain. “This stinks,” Friedrichsdorf recalls thinking. “We have to do better than that.” That’s when he decided to specialize in pediatric pain and end-of-life care.
Today, the worst cases—the ones drugs and physical therapy don’t help—find their way to Friedrichsdorf’s clinic. Eight million children in the United States experience debilitating pain, Friedrichsdorf says. “You can’t treat them alone. You need a team.” They are children recovering from open heart surgery. Children suffering from cancer. Kids with fibromyalgia or chronic pain.
His 33-member team of medical specialists, nurse practitioners, and experts in holistic therapies is one of the very few at the hospital that makes home visits as part of an ongoing treatment plan. That treatment might include not only pain meds but also relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and coping skills. Friedrichsdorf says nearly all of the children who follow his program are able to get back to normal life.
Medical care, fundamentally, is about curing pain. Yet pain itself is not a big focus in medical school. Doctors are taught drugs to administer and therapies to prescribe, but Western medicine has long boxed holistic treatment—from yoga to acupuncture—into a corner as something “alternative.” It’s also something insurance often doesn’t cover. But integrative care is becoming more and more mainstream.
“Eventually there will be no distinction. It will just be: Integrative medicine is what we do—it is medicine,” says Dr. Jeffrey Sawyer, medical director of Psychiatry and Integrative Care at North Memorial Health Care. Changing the environment where patients are treated is crucial to making that leap.
“We still have a long way to go in terms of making hospitals a calm and welcoming place,” says Dr. Leora Kuttner, a pediatric clinical psychologist and clinical professor of pediatrics at BC Children’s Hospital and University of British Columbia. “We’re not consciously addressing the stress of children coming to hospitals for treatment. Stress counters healing efforts. That’s where Stefan’s new clinic will take a big leap forward.”
The Kiran Stordalen and Horst Rechelbacher Pediatric Pain, Palliative and Integrative Medicine Clinic won’t look like any hospital clinic you’ve ever seen. At the entrance, right off the fifth floor elevators, visitors will be greeted by a large sculpture—a unique piece from Rechelbacher’s farm in Osceola, Wisconsin. In the lobby, a digital interactive waterfall will create sounds and patterns in response to people’s movements. The lobby floors will be made from white oak that was milled in Wisconsin and finished with VOC-free wax. Stone, cork, and large-scale photographs of Minnesota landscapes will create a spa-like vibe.
Friedrichsdorf uses forward-thinking therapies to treat pain patients such as Danny Protas. Photo by David Bowman
The new clinic will also be bigger— with nine treatment rooms, where the old clinic had two. Friedrichsdorf hopes to more than double the 1,900 annual patient visits his department currently averages (another 1,200 if you count physical therapy) and put an end to the waiting list for care.
Each room is designed to appeal to a different age group. Friedrichsdorf is perhaps most excited about the “Snoezelen room,” which has rounded walls and offers multi-sensory experiences for children with disabilities: lights that hang low for blind children to touch and beanbag chairs that allow deaf children to feel musical vibrations.
Friedrichsdorf had the vision. Rechelbacher knew the architect. Along with a $1.5 million gift to the hospital—the largest single charitable donation he and his wife made—Rechelbacher wanted the new clinic to be designed by Paul Udris of U+B Architecture & Design, the Minneapolis firm that also designed the Intelligent Nutrients store at Mall of America and Rechelbacher’s 12,000-square-foot downtown Minneapolis penthouse loft, currently on the market for $8 million. U+B’s portfolio includes a wide variety of residential and institutional projects, but as Udris was first to point out, “We’re not health care specialists.” Which was precisely the point.
Friedrichsdorf and Stordalen on the site of the new clinic. Photo by David Bowman
“The idea was to break the mold—satisfy all the requirements, but create a healing environment,” Udris says. “Horst was a very playful person. He was excited about the imagery, the fancifulness of it. The idea is to make it really fetching to distract people from what they’re primarily concerned with.”
When all’s done, the project cost will total nearly $3 million, which comes entirely from philanthropic donations. Having Rechelbacher’s name attached to the clinic made it much easier to raise the balance. “We would not be there without Horst’s initial gift and vision,” Friedrichsdorf says.
While the clinic does include a few Horst-style embellishments—the artwork, the lighting—Udris says the fundamental structure is not that much more costly than a traditional clinic. And even the staff area of the new pain clinic has been reimagined. It will look more like an ad agency than a medical office, with high ceilings, large common areas, hammocks, and a modern kitchen area.
“It’s all part of my evil plan,” Friedrichsdorf whispered playfully on a recent hard-hat tour with Stordalen. “Every other unit in the hospital is going to want to look like us. We want this to become the standard.” That’s just the sort of pioneering befitting the Rechelbacher name.
What's Next For Intelligent Nutreints?
Shortly before losing his battle against pancreatic cancer in February, Horst Rechelbacher penned a letter to the planet that is posted on the website of Intelligent Nutrients, his next generation of Aveda.
“In my opinion, there’s only one way to save our bodies, our society, and you,” he wrote. “Companies and conglomerates must tell the truth about what’s in their products—‘natural’ or not . . . I want to tell the world: buy certified organic whenever possible. It will heal everyone and everything.”
Rechelbacher revolutionized the beauty industry more than 35 years ago with the introduction of Aveda’s plant-based hair products. Intelligent Nutrients is the next frontier: certified organic beauty products, made with sustainable ingredients and practices—hair spray safe enough to drink, made without harming the environment.
Soon after his cancer diagnosis more than two years ago, Rechelbacher turned the company over to his wife, Kiran Stordalen, and daughter from his first marriage, Nicole Thomas-Rechelbacher. He stayed closely involved, but began preparing them to carry on without him. Both had worked by his side at Aveda. They now share 50/50 ownership of Intelligent Nutrients and continue to operate out of the same East Hennepin Avenue building where Aveda got its start.
“We’ve done this before,” says Stordalen, who worked her way up at Aveda, from copywriter to vice president of marketing. “That doesn’t mean it’s an automatic success—the marketplace is different today. But we understand the direction, and how to be relevant in the future.”
Although Intelligent Nutrients products are sold at hundreds of salons and boutiques around the world, including the Intelligent Nutrients flagship store at Mall of America, the company is still relatively underground, with a niche following. The question among industry watchers is whether it can continue to grow without Rechelbacher’s drive and vision. “With Horst no longer here to develop formulas, that is going to be the big challenge,” says Sue Remes, a beauty industry consultant who worked with Rechelbacher at Aveda and remains friends with Stordalen and Thomas-Rechelbacher. “My assumption is (Rechelbacher) taught them well and they worked together to develop formulas that will continue to drive the business well into the future.”
David Wagner, who was vice president of Horst Salons before becoming owner of Juut Salonspa, says, “What Horst created is, at the moment, on the edge of consumer consciousness. It’s not ahead of its time; it’s just ahead of the curve, which will undoubtedly grow in demand as awareness expands.”
Rechelbacher was famous for pursuing 10 ideas at once—constantly testing products in his labs at work and home. Stordalen says she and Thomas-Rechelbacher are trying to narrow the focus and cut some of the more than 100 products currently offered by Intelligent Nutrients. “We want to return to our roots: hair care, skin care,” Stordalen says. “Small is beautiful.”