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Musician Naomi Judd Advocates For Patients


Five-time Grammy award winning singer/songwriter Naomi Judd talks about her battle with Hepatitis C and her work advocating for patients.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): Doctors can usually tell you what's wrong with you and come up with a treatment for your illness. But they can't really tell you how to get healthy again. Learning how to regain a full sense of health is something that people often have to learn for themselves. One woman who has found her way back from major illness to health has a very famous name. Naomi Judd, Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter, half of the famous mother-daughter, country western group The Judds, left show business in the early ‘90s because of a chronic illness. Now, she's back in the public eye as an advocate for people dealing with chronic illness, and most especially patients who suffer from chronic pain. Naomi Judd is in San Diego to speak at the Scripps Natural Supplements Conference but we are so pleased to have her here with us this morning. And, Naomi, welcome to These Days.

NAOMI JUDD (Performer): I love these kind of programs.

CAVANAUGH: I’m glad you do.

JUDD: You know, it’s very conversational. I love the tone of your voice. And I say, Naomi’s my name and harmony’s my game. And, really, Maureen, for me it’s about going where my questions lead me.


JUDD: I was an RN before Wynonna and I, my triple-D, deluxe diva daughter, and I started singing together. In fact, I used to be head nurse in ICU, I see you, and I was thinking of becoming an MD. I had this romantic, noble fantasy of working with my people in Appalachia, the unloved and the unlovely back there. But anyway, Wynonna had such a – I think she had her destiny stamped on her forehead with the singing thing. So then after we started singing, because the chronology’s a bit weird, we’re on top of the world, you know, the six Grammys and all this report card of success the society wants to put on us, and all of a sudden, bam, I’m a patient. It’s my little white hillbilly butt sticking out of that hospital gown. And I saw it in a very different way and I was mortified.


JUDD: Absolutely devastated to see what modern medicine does. It does not acknowledge our lifestyle or emotional history. They take your medical history. And all that to say I’m absolutely a medical miracle now. I was declared a medical miracle in 1995, testified on Capitol Hill, the doctors took my medical records, and so all these years…

CAVANAUGH: I – We all remember – I think most of us remember that at the height of your career with The Judds, as you say, bang, you had to – you decided to leave show business because you developed Hepatitis C…

JUDD: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …which is a potentially fatal liver disease and…

JUDD: They told me I had three years to live.


JUDD: That stinks, man. That’s like putting a medical hex. When a doctor in a white, starched lab coat tells you that, they’re giving you a medical curse. Shame on them. And, you know, even though I could barely speak or talk or didn’t even know where I was, I was in a wheelchair, there was something down in my core, my essence, that said that’s wrong. Everything about it is wrong. HOPE stands for healing of painful experiences. And that’s when I started my search and I started hanging out with these geniuses, these bulging forehead guys and gals that are into integrative medicine because we can’t heal unless we acknowledge the spiritual, and basically we are spiritual beings living out a human adventure. We can’t do that until – and I came to Scripps last year, started hanging out with this cool dude named Dr. Robert Bonakdar. I just called him a cool dude. But he’s all that. And I travel the country and I meet with the people that have placebo based, double blind clinical trials because I have to have the documentation.


JUDD: So there’s this awesome thing going on this weekend and you probably know because you’re a bigtime journalist that Americans, these days, are spending $20 billion a year, 20 billion bucks a year, on herbs and supplements and the FDA doesn’t regulate it, so I’m all about that.


JUDD: I want to know who’s up, who’s in it for money, what’s real but also, in addition to seeing the cutting edge research, and this is scientifically based where Scripps is an internationally recognized and respected institute. But here’s the big deal. Tomorrow night, six o’clock at Paradise Point Resort, everybody knows that’s on Vacation Road.


JUDD: Six o’clock. I have been so upset about PTSD.

CAVANAUGH: Post traumatic stress disorder.

JUDD: Yep. Like what do you know about it? What are your ideas and thoughts about it?

CAVANAUGH: We’ve done some shows about post traumatic stress disorder and how it affects our veterans coming home, and we know that it’s a problem and that there are a number of different ways that it’s treated by psychiatrists but that it – it leads to homelessness. It can lead to a real problem for people who have had these traumatic experiences.

JUDD: Good for you. Yep, one out of eight. One out of eight, and I really think that this is – I don’t trust statistics. I think usually it’s a lot more. But anyway, we’re saying right now that one out of eight of our vets, male and female, returning from Afghanistan or Iraq are profoundly emotionally disturbed. And emotions drive our behavior. It’s not how smart you are really. It’s not IQ, it’s EQ, emotional intelligence. And it is so wrong that I have to speak into it because as a healthcare advocate for standard issue folks…


JUDD: …which is where my heart’s always going to be because I get to go behind the scenes.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I just have got to ask you, though, because you were so sick and now you’re healthy, and I want – when you go and speak with people now, do you tell them the tools and the things that you’ve learned how to get from being that sick to feeling the way you do now?

JUDD: Oh, of course.

CAVANAUGH: And what are they?

JUDD: I’m not going to tell them anything that I haven’t tried…


JUDD: …myself. And I’ve learned to be discriminating. My RN background really helped me with that. I have a book out called, “Naomi’s Breakthrough Guide,” how if you’re going to be proactive and choose to live, to survive and thrive – There’s eight characteristics and you can check that out in my book, “Naomi’s Breakthrough Guide.”


JUDD: The eight characteristics, by the way, come through the American Psychiatric Institute. And, you know what, my best friends—of course I still hang out with Dolly. I’ve seen Dolly naked. I can’t believe I did that.

CAVANAUGH: You just did, though.

JUDD: Hello, America. I’ll tell you later.

CAVANAUGH: Are we all talking about Dolly Parton, here.

JUDD: What?

CAVANAUGH: We all talking about Dolly Parton?

JUDD: You’re talking about Dolly Parton?

CAVANAUGH: Is – Who – Which Dolly are you talking about?

JUDD: There’s only one Dolly. I’m just saying that now I have this other coterie of friends.


JUDD: My best gal pal is a neuroscientist and a Ph.D. neuroscientist and she’s also an MD psychiatrist, Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz. So when I get to hang out with these folks, they tell me about PTSD. Again, one out of eight people have severe emotional disturbances because of it, so tomorrow night, six o’clock, and it’s just show up. Just show up, bring yourself, get your butt up off the couch and watch the real reality show, which is your own life and…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I know – I know one of the things that you advocate for is the proper use of pain management and you talked about a friend of yours who really had a terrible illness and was suffering terribly and that’s why that issue became so important to you. Tell us a little bit more about that. How is pain managed in this country?

JUDD: Terribly. Terribly. So many times – And what you’re referring to is Dr. Robert Bonakdar, who’s at Scripps Integrative Medicine Institute (sic), who’s an expert in pain management – And, again, I’m watching for the underdogs. These are the folks that have maybe fibromyalgia, which is real. I just…

CAVANAUGH: We do, yes, we…

JUDD: I just want to pinch people that don’t know that. It’s real. And he’s an acupuncturist, a master acupuncturist, Qigong, and at the integrative place, they acknowledge the spectrum of healing. You need to just go over there sometime or call and find out what all their resources and therapies are. But pain tells you something’s wrong. When I worked on the clinical floor, if a patient – if you called, buzzed me and said, I’m in pain, I knew that was a symptom and I may give you a morphine drip, whatever, but I was more interested in what was the core issue, what was underneath. So like with PTSD, we have to go back and figure out what was that traumatic event. Were they hit with an RPG? Did – One of my oldest girlfriends, Carolyn Merck (sp), that I used to walk to school with, her son did two tours of Iraq. 48 hours after he returned home in Virginia, he committed suicide. So tomorrow night, I’m going to read her letter because we are having a – an epidemic, an epidemic of suicide from these fabulous, great heroes who come back and can’t adjust to real life because of the horrors. So tomorrow night at six, Vacation Road, paralyzed point – paralyzed, see? I’m in that mindset. Paradise Point Resort. Boy, that was a Freudian slip.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I have to ask you…

JUDD: Whoo…

CAVANAUGH: You know, is this – this work with the Scripps Integrative Medicine, how does that relate to the Naomi Judd Education and Research Fund? Because I know that that’s so important to you since you’ve regained your health and you’ve become an advocate for patients of all sorts.

JUDD: Well, when I was told that I had 3 stinking years and – You know I can only be serious for so long. Actually, Wynonna and I actually have timed it, it’s 3 minutes.


JUDD: The doctor was telling me after the liver biopsy that based on the pathology slide of the liver biopsy, you got three years. And I said to him, hey, nope. Nobody can tell me that. I intend to live long enough to see the day that Wynonna and Ashley Judd don’t blame me for all their problems. I’m serious. And having said that, I – That was sort of the catalyst and I started investigating all these other ways that people heal, actually the way that 85% of the world—America’s way behind in this. And I said, well, I have to do a farewell tour, that’s part of my healing. I have to say thank you, you’ve changed my life forever, to these dear souls that accepted us and exposed us, let us come into their homes and their hearts with our music. And while I was doing that, I thought, you know, I’ve got to start a research fund. Again, I’m all about prevention and wellness, so I said let’s do an HBO special. And I gave all the money from that to start a research and education fund, and that’s what Scripps does. You know, they’re about research and education because information, hallelujah, is our most important tool in dealing with any reality. We’re here on the campus, you know, information is everything.

CAVANAUGH: Right, that’s so true. Now back in 2000, you did reunite with Wynonna to come – for a 30-day, I think, tour. Ever think about doing something like that again? I know that just recently you were on a country music television network program about people singing duets. It was one of these contest programs…

JUDD: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …that you were on. You were a judge. How much more would you like to get your foot back into show business, do you think?

JUDD: For me, it’s about communicating. All I am is a storyteller. I’m writing a song, I’m talking to you, I’m at the carwash on Highway 96 yesterday getting my truck washed, talking to a guy about his prostate cancer. You know, he’s wearing bib overalls and doesn’t even know how to talk about himself. So the answer is I would love to do something with Wynonna this summer. Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: Do you have plans to do that?

JUDD: You heard it here first. Yeah, in two thousand and – When we reunited for the “Power to Change” tour and did a couple of major cities, we didn’t pull each other’s hair once so… But last summer we came out here to Palm Springs and did a concert with the Eagles and, let’s see, it was Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, yeah, it was the Eagles and us. And I have to tell you, man, going out at sunset out at the state fairgrounds in Palm Springs, 40,000 people. I just – I levitated. I went somewhere else, man, for that 90 minutes.

CAVANAUGH: I can’t believe our time is up. It is up. But I’ll tell you, you heard it here first, look for the Judds this summer. And I want everyone to know once again that Naomi Judd will speak tomorrow night at six at the Paradise Point Resort on Mission Bay and that’s part of the Scripps Natural Supplements Conference which runs through January 23rd. Naomi, thank you so much.

JUDD: A quick ending. Brain State Technologies is a scientific organization I work with, Brain State Technologies, to help PTSD of any kind, whether it’s rape. Certainly the people in Haiti are going to have PTSD, and I want to talk to the vets more about that. But check out Brain State Technologies.

CAVANAUGH: Naomi, thank you so much. And if you’d like to post a comment about this segment, go online, Stay with us for the second hour of These Days coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.

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