Courtesy of Megan Saunders.
Courtesy of Megan Saunders.

As an AmeriCorps volunteer just out of college, CIRI descendant Megan Saunders was certain of one thing: “I wanted to have this big, broad impact on the world. I was working with the International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement agency. It was exactly what I thought I wanted to do.”

But as she soon discovered, “It was a lot of time in front of a computer.”

Meanwhile, Megan was also working for a small acupuncture school, where she was learning more about natural health. The experience reminded her of her granny, CIRI original shareholder Mary Frost Koenigs. Koenigs had grown up on Afognak Island and had shared with Megan the herbs and natural healing techniques she’d learned from her own grandmother.

“I realized I was on the wrong side of the table,” Megan recalled of her decision to study naturopathic medicine. “I wanted to help people by empowering them to create a better world through their health.”

Today, Megan is a naturopathic physician with The Natural Path to Healing in Woodinville, Wash. She completed her education with support from The CIRI Foundation (TCF). “TCF scholarships helped me through a decade of school—first undergrad, then graduate,” said Megan. “The support made a huge difference. I don’t have the burden of quite so much student debt that most people have, so I’ve been able to practice in the way that I want to, rather than taking any old job because I have to. I can feel driven and passionate about this work without that pressure. ”

At Bastyr University, she learned how to integrate natural and mainstream medicine. But a real life scenario showed her firsthand how natural medicine can find answers where traditional medicine doesn’t.

Two years into graduate school, Megan found herself laid low by frequent migraines. “There was a lot of personal stress going on at the time, so everyone chalked the headaches up to that,” she said.

But what she thought might be a sinus infection led her to perform a naturopathic technique called the warming sock treatment. “The treatment induces an artificial fever,” explained Megan. “That fever alerted my immune system to the fact that I had a serious underlying infection my body hadn’t been responding to.”

A brain scan confirmed that she had an abscess, the cause of her migraines and the sinus infection symptoms. That spring, she underwent two brain surgeries and was back in school sooner than her doctors predicted—something she attributes to both the mainstream and natural health care she received.

“By applying what I’d learned about natural medicine, I was able to get the life-saving treatment I needed. That experience emphasized for me the importance of integrative medicine,” Megan said. “I think to be the most effective, you need to be a naturopathic doctor who’s going to bridge the gap between mainstream medicine and alternative medicine.”

She hopes to encourage young people to explore the relationship between the two practices by someday establishing a TCF scholarship. Giving back, she says, is a way to do for others what TCF did for her.

“TCF’s monetary support was nice,” she explained, “but the support of having a group of people say, ‘I believe you can do this and I’m going to make an investment in you and your dreams’—that was really important. I feel a deep debt of gratitude for that.”

Megan Saunders pictured with her grandmother and CIRI shareholder Mary Frost Koenigs. Courtesy of Megan Saunders.
Megan Saunders pictured with her grandmother and CIRI shareholder Mary Frost Koenigs. Courtesy of Megan Saunders.

As part of her endeavor to give back to the CIRI community, Dr. Megan Saunders, ND, is offering a free naturopathic health consultation to five CIRI shareholders or descendants in the Woodinville, Wash. area, an estimated value of $120 to $200. Consultations will be given on a first come, first served basis to those whose insurance does not cover naturopathic doctors. Appointments are available Monday through Friday. Interested CIRI shareholders and descendants can call (425) 489-5900 and mention this offer to have the fee waived.