It's contagious. From the moment Tammy Born Huizenga, D.O., first says "Hello," her enthusiasm, upbeat attitude, hopefulness, insatiable curiosity, and incessant desire to know, do, and be more are apparent.
She lives, breathes and loves her occupation.
Tammy, who grew up in Minnesota, always wanted to be a doctor. There was never a plan B. Her mother was a nurse, who quit working to raise her children. "That got me interested in the health care field. It was probably my first motivation to learn about medicine." Her banker father—still her earnest supporter—taught Tammy to follow her dream. She recalls wishing she could help a man with cerebral palsy in her church; she knew there was plenty of work and plenty of joy in being a doctor.
She moved to Grand Rapids to attend then Calvin College, where she received her undergraduate degree. When she was accepted at Michigan State University to study osteopathic medicine, the first doctor she was assigned to follow was Grant Born, founder of Born Preventive Health Care Clinic. Tammy was excited to realize he practiced differently, pioneering integrative medicine by combining nontraditional therapies with conventional medicine's tried-and-tested techniques. This fueled her curiosity to learn more about and understand his methods of patient care.
Tammy joined Grant at Born Preventive Health Care Clinic in 1987 and later married him. They worked together for 11 years developing the practice, which she owns and operates today as Born Clinic. It was bursting at the seams in 1996, when they decided to build a new office—a state-of-the-art facility five times larger than their existing clinic and a hub of best practices and technologies to help patients uncover the root causes of their symptoms, with the help of open-minded, compassionate, gifted providers. They were in the midst of opening in 1998 when a catastrophic event struck: Grant died, his heart no longer able to sustain him. That's when Tammy's faith sustained her.
"My life became a story of grace," said Tammy. "I was a widowed mother of two beautiful children and in my late 30s—with a multimillion-dollar mortgage on the clinic, 20-some employees, thousands of patients, and the intent to build this clinic while being the best mother possible." She leaned on her faith in God and prayed for his guidance.
By continually challenging the one-size-fits-all model of medicine, Born Clinic became a leader in preventive health services. "We worked hard. We got it done." With the support of 40-plus team members, Tammy is highly enthusiastic about the future of healthcare and believes a paradigm shift is underway. "The energy around health and wellness is buzzing, and concerns over the influence insurance systems and big pharma wield in patient care are more evident than ever."
The number of sick people and degree of complication seem to be rising, based on the clinic's growing patient base that's nearing 10,000 individuals. People are seeking a whole-body approach, wanting to take control of their health and better understand the causes of their illnesses while cultivating a true provider-patient relationship.
Tammy pushes herself and her team to dig deeper into each patient's story—to figure out the puzzle of their body and what went wrong. "Once we find certain key pieces of that puzzle, often through extensive lab testing, we can send people down a better path."
She believes her clinic has an opportunity to remain significantly relevant in future medicine. "Science is finally catching up to support our clinical experience. In the past five years, we've seen a $20 million double-blind study released in support of chelation therapy for those with diabetes. Most recently, a Journal of the American Medical Association study showed that patients treated with functional medicine—like the approach at Born Clinic—feel better."
The culture of the world is changing, and Tammy wants to stay in the lead. The world is ready for functional medicine, she notes, with larger names opening clinics. And medicine is changing quickly, she adds. "Doctors aren't, but research is! We need to keep up with it. We need to open our minds to what's available."
Tammy looks around the globe for treatments that are easy, safe and not expensive. She thinks about things differently, considering what could be modified or how to change the way someone's immune system is working. As people strive to rely less on drugs, they want to take a different tack in being healthy. She wants to teach people—to change their focus and get them looking more at the big picture. "It's really fun to get people better from the inside out. It brings me joy!" She loves seeing patients.
To those considering going into medicine, she offers that while being a doctor is a great job if you like helping people feel better, it does take a while to get there: "You have four years of undergrad, four years of medical school and three years of residency before you have your own patients. But the joy and satisfaction of seeing those patients is worth it!"
Someday, she muses—if she could turn the clinic over to a team who would help continue her mission—she would love to go to a third-world country and aid people there. The most important thing to Tammy, always, is helping people feel better.
After two decades of stewarding Born Clinic, Tammy has no intention of retiring just yet. "It's exciting to watch functional medicine evolve from being on the edge to being mainstream." She's hiring others with talent and skills, who love making people feel better. She's hiring millennials. "They think outside the box for me." She's investing heavily into the work culture to attract, develop, and retain the best professionals, ensuring the mission of the clinic for years and years to come.
"I'm excited about the future!"
Beyond the World of Medicine ...
Tammy Born Huizenga, who remarried 15 years after Grant died, still goes professionally by Dr. Born. "There has to be a Dr. Born here," she says with a smile.
Tammy loves to talk about her children and their spouses and is quick to show photos of her 6-month-old grandson. She has a "wonderful husband": local businessman and philanthropist J.C. Huizenga. "He is very supportive of our clinic's mission." She and J.C. enjoy travel, with a recent trip to Croatia and Greece being memorable. "The weather was beautiful, and the scenery was gorgeous!" Tammy loves the history in Greece. "Art, music and education were valued—5,000 years ago!" She enjoys bicycle riding and reading and would like to author a book, to write down some of what she's learned through the years. "I want to convey my passion."
She appreciates art and surrounds herself with it. She played flute and still plays piano. "A little." If she could have a gift she wasn't given, it would be better musical talent. "And a better voice, so I could sing. I play for my own enjoyment." Tammy also enjoys cooking and would love to go to France to further learn.
Written by Amy L Charles, Editorial Director for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Feb/Mar 2020 issue of West Michigan Woman.
Main photo courtesyof Kelly Braman Photography.
Photos within the article courtesy of Tammy Born Huizenga.