Kevin was a patrolman with the New York Police Department and Catherine was a stay-at-home mom. When the World Trade Center was attacked on 9-11, Kevin was dispatched to the scene and, like many first responders, he eventually developed respiratory problems. He left the NYPD to become a Suffolk County Parks Officer, but while on duty in Setauket Woods Park, Kevin was struck by an illegally operated ATV, and suffered extensive back and leg injuries. For the second time in his career, Kevin, only 30 years old at the time, was injured in the line of duty. His medical condition worsened when he developed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) syndrome, a chronic and systemic neurological condition with severe pain, swelling, sweating and other changes to the skin.
Catherine says that Kevin was prescribed a huge amount of medication, mostly to help ease his constant pain, but the numerous side effects severely impacted his quality of life.
“The pain was unbearable for him,” she says.
Unable to walk on his own, Kevin had to use a wheelchair.
When the O’Connors were advised that the next course of treatment to alleviate Kevin’s pain was a procedure to embed a permanent catheter in his back for morphine, they were devastated.
Then a friend recommended that they see Dr. Christie Harrington, an acupuncturist in Port Jefferson.
“We were going the wrong way with treatment,” Catherine says. “Dr. Harrington was a big turning point for us.”
Almost instinctively, Catherine made radical changes to Kevin’s diet to start the healing process.
“We began eating vegan and Kevin started to get healthier,” she says.
As Kevin’s health improved, Catherine made more changes to her family’s lifestyle, which meant social changes as well.
“We used to eat at McDonald’s, but we realized it wasn’t for us,” she says. “I was raising my kids in a different way than everybody else.”
To meet more like-minded people, her pediatrician suggested that Catherine contact the Holistic Moms Network (HMN), a national community of more than 10,000 members who raise awareness and support for holistic parenting. Catherine immediately embraced their philosophy and mission. But the nearest HMN chapter was almost two hours away. Catherine started a chapter in Lake Grove in January 2012, bringing the network to families on eastern Long Island.
The Lake Grove chapter has grown to more than 40 members and meets once a month at the Panera Bread restaurant in Port Jeff Station. The first meeting is free for those who want to see what the network is about. Membership costs $45 per year and includes access to the HMN’s co-op that purchase products in bulk or at a discount.
“People come with their kids and they learn together,” she says of their meetings. “It’s a group effort led by example.”
For the O’Connor family, holistic parenting has opened up an entirely new world where they embrace a lifestyle of green living, non-violent communication, natural health and a respect for the connection between all living things.
To complete the transformation, Catherine went back to school and became certified as a holistic health care practitioner. She also studied Iridology, the study of the human iris. “It’s fascinating and another tool to be healthy,” she says.
Now prepared to help others, Catherine has opened her own practice, Inspired by Life, in Port Jefferson, where she counsels her clients on diet and nutrition, and teaches yoga for children and adults.
Choosing to live an alternative lifestyle has reaped numerous rewards for Catherine and her family. “Kevin is no longer on medication and has gone from being bedridden to now walking with a cane,” she says.
At home, the O’Connors raise their own chickens and have an organic garden and a small greenhouse. They sleep on organic bedding and their children play with “green” toys.
By living simply, they have fully embraced their alternative lifestyle.
“It’s a personal choice that you have to decide for yourself,” Catherine says. “For me, there’s no room for discussion.”