Young Islanders launch health venture

Allyson Cook (left) and Dardanella Slavin in the office of their new Integrated Health Care in Vineyard Haven where they will offer a variety of healing techniques. Photo by Ralph Stewart

By Julian Wise - May 18, 2006

There's much talk among town planners about the need to encourage and foster the next generation of Vineyarders. So what happens when two high school friends return as young adults and business partners to forge new lives? In the case of Dardanella Slavin and Allyson Cook they run into the blend of heartening opportunities and vexing challenges that characterizes Martha's Vineyard in the 21st century.

Dr. Slavin and Ms. Cook are opening Integrated Health Care, a 1, 000-square-foot facility in the Woodland Center building in Tisbury. Dr. Slavin is a graduate of New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls. She is certified in applied kinesiology, activator technique, The Webster Technique of pelvis/uterus alignment, and the Six Steps to Wellness created by Dr. John Brimhall. She is currently working towards certification in pediatric chiropractics. Ms. Cook is a nationally certified massage therapist with training from the Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge. She practices a variety of massage techniques, including orthopedic, deep tissue, Swedish, sports, prenatal, reflexology, and European hot stone massage.

Allyson Cook will use massage therapy to enhance the effects of chiropractic care. Photo by Ralph Stewart

Dr. Slavin and Ms. Cook aim to enhance one another's practices by creating a professional synergy where each one's technique enhances the other's. In their collaborations with clients, both have noticed improved healing when chiropractic and massage techniques are combined.

"Already we've been working on a couple of patients together, and I've noticed that their adjustments are holding better and their pain is going away faster," Dr. Slavin says. "When Allyson works on a patient before I see them, their adjustments go easier."

They have decided to rent one of their treatment rooms to an acupuncturist, Cathleen Vincent, making an additional treatment technique available to their clients.

This level of professional cooperation comes easily when the two health-care professionals are longtime friends. Both were born in 1975 and graduated from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in 1993. Dr. Slavin grew up in Chilmark and Ms. Cook lived in Oak Bluffs. Both were avid athletes (Dr. Slavin excelled in field hockey and Ms. Cook was a tenacious soccer player.). Ms. Cook attended Springfield College to study Rehabilitation Services. After graduation she worked in a group home for those with mental health issues in Oak Bluffs before training as a massage therapist. Dr. Slavin majored in mathematics at Connecticut College. She worked as a field hockey coach at the regional high school and as a special police officer in Chilmark while taking prerequisite courses for chiropractic college.

Chiropractor Dardanella Slavin at work. Photo by Ralph Stewart

The two began discussing business options last summer and searched for commercial space that fall. When they secured the Woodland Center building, they began designing the space with their practices in mind. While the two juggle the twin stresses of starting a new business and shepherding a construction project, their excitement remains intact.

"I can't wait to be in the office," Dr. Slavin says. "I'm looking forward to creating this great community of patients and helping them not only take care of the aches and pains, but also with their wellness and ways to live healthier lives."

On a larger scale, the two describe a familiar challenge of establishing adult lives on the Island - housing. Both are married and want to raise children in the community, yet the harsh vicissitudes of the rental market make home ownership a prerequisite to a long-term plan. Ms. Cook's parents purchased land 25 years ago and are able to provide her and her husband with a buildable lot. Dr. Slavin is a candidate for Chilmark's youth lot program, though she cites the cutoff at age 35 and says, "In four years when I'm 35 and don't qualify for the youth lot program, if someone hasn't found a way to be generous to us, I don't know what I'll do."

Spring tune-up

Vineyard Complementary Medicine in West Tisbury offered a Spring Rejuvenation Retreat last month, welcoming participants to sample a variety of health and wellness activities and services. After a yoga class with Megan Grennan in the new Santosha Yoga Studio, practitioners offered acupuncture treatments to the relaxed retreat group. Body work for stress reduction, foot reflexology, and other therapies and techniques were also on the wellness menu, along with light and healthy refreshments. A second rejuvenation retreat will be held this Sunday, May 21, and the facility will offer similar events in the future. For more information, call 508-693-3800.

Yoga instructor Megan Grennan stretches tall, leading a class in the Santosha Yoga Studio to begin the retreat. Photo by Betsy Corsiglia

Ms. Cook points to the pressures land prices put on young couples, and says, "It bothers me that growing up here, the reality is that if my parents hadn't bought a piece of land 25 years ago, being here wouldn't be a possibility. It's sad, the possibility my children may never be able to live here."

Speaking to the community at large, Ms. Cook says, "Keep moving on the housing situation, because if young people don't have somewhere to live, we can't stay here. Though we're hard workers, we can't make enough money to buy the houses at the cost they are."

Foot reflexology treatments by Betsy Shands were just one of several offerings at the Vineyard Complementary Medicine retreat. Photo by Betsy Corsiglia

As the two women launch into their business partnership venture, they reflect on how their lives have run parallel courses through childhood, schooling, graduation, training, marriage, and now the desire to return to their home community and start families. They begin their business encouraged by the support of their families, the community, and each other.

"I was very hesitant through a lot of the process," says. Ms. Cook. "I was really nervous about the financial side of jumping into this, but now that we're right around the corner, I'm really excited. We've started a great working relationship, and it can only get better."

Integrated Health Care will hold an open house on Thursday, May 25, from 5 to 7 pm, at #12 Woodland Center (behind Humphreys and Karpet Kare) in Vineyard Haven. For more information, call 508-696-1863.

Julian Wise is a frequent contributor to The Times, specializing in music, film, and the performing arts.