Business Journal – Up Close: Amy Greeson
By: John Harrison of the Business Journal –
Originally Published: Monday, September 20, 2010, 12:00am EDT.
In 2004, Amy Greeson traveled to South America with a group of doctors, nurses and fellow pharmacists to study the healing practices of indigenous Amazon cultures. She soon saw that preserving the region was of critical importance.
“I realized how much the environment was being destroyed and how cultures were being destroyed,” Greeson says. “I thought we should document these places before we lost them, so we began filming our experiences.”
The experience inspired Greeson to launch a nonprofit project called Healing Seekers, which is based in High Point. The group seeks medicines and treatments from indigenous cultures, while simultaneously promoting conservation and sustainability in those regions through film documentaries.
Greeson is also the president and co-founder of Natural Discoveries Inc., which oversees the laboratory analysis of the plants that she and her team bring back, and director of the Healing Education Foundation, which is committed to teaching students the importance of studying the various approaches to medicine.
Why did you pursue pharmacy?
As a kid, I always wanted to be a surgeon. One day, my father, who was a pharmacist, brought a dissecting kit and surgical gloves home for me and I began to think I would go to medical school. But during the course of college, things shifted and I decided to go into pharmacy. Part of the reason was that I highly respected and admired my father.
How do you think modern medicine and indigenous treatments differ?
In my mind, they are really one in the same. A lot of the chemistry we use for Western medicine originated from nature, and I think that’s why I love my work so much. That teamwork — literally bringing the gifts of nature and combining it with the brilliance of science — leads to the most optimal discoveries.
How do you select which plants and treatments to bring back?
It’s difficult, because you don’t always know exactly what the healers are treating. They don’t have words for cancer or words for diabetes. There are certain things we have learned over the years that help us pick out good candidates to bring back and test. But you never know until you get it back to the laboratory. Currently, we have about 40 plant extracts that are being analyzed at UNC for anti-cancer and anti-AIDS uses.
Which disease do you predict we will find a cure for next?
I hope it will be cancer. I think there are just so many possibilities and so many people working on it across the globe right now, and I just refuse to believe that all those amazing minds can’t come up with something better to fight cancer.
Where does your funding come from?
Initially, this was independently funded, but we have received some grants recently. The Blessing Foundation has been very generous to us. Also, we have a grant from the Molly Millis-Hedgecock fund, which helped us create educational videos for the Guilford County schools. Still, the most trouble is finding funding for the actual expeditions. It’s extremely expensive.
Your biggest challenge?
Initially, it’s always the funding. Beyond that, there are so many international laws and guidelines, from bio-piracy to working with government officials to making sure we have the right film permit. So that can sometimes get tricky.
Favorite place you’ve traveled?
The Amazon, specifically a place called Jaldar. We stayed with one group of people for five days, and when we left, it was incredibly emotional. We had become very attached. But that was one of the most beautiful trips of my life.
Where to next?
Four are heading to Papua New Guinea. We will be there for one month, and we will be joined by Céline Cousteau — the granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau. The country is one of the most bio-diverse hot spots (areas threatened by habitat loss) in the world. Also an area where there are tribes that have not been contacted by outsiders. It is also home to more than 44 uncontacted tribes.
How do you work around the communication barriers in these remote areas?
We often have to have double translators because of the different dialects. Madagascar was very difficult at some points, but New Guinea is going to be a whole different world. There are more than 800 languages spoken in the country, so we will have a guide who will connect with an individual in a village who will connect with other people in a village. We will be looking at triple translation, if not quadruple. And of course, as that word passes hands, it gets changed a bit each time.
The most interesting food you have tried?
There was this one piece of meat, when we were in Ecuador, that I later found out was boa. I now take a jar of peanut butter with me wherever we go — just in case.
Most peculiar custom you’ve witnessed?
In Madagascar, some of the healers had in a ritual in which they embodied the spirits of they’re ancestors so as to seek guidance. That was a bizarre, unforgettable healing practice.
Favorite part about returning home to the Triad?
This will always be home. I was born and raised here, and I’m happy to still live in this area. I love the people here, the Southern hospitality, the geography, and of course, ACC basketball.
Goal yet to be achieved?
I want to have more influence in education — not only inspiring the minds of kids, but also their hearts. I think that by inspiring them to do more than they dream possible, we set the stage for the next generation to take over our work.