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Uptown in the News  

August 1, 2003
Chicago READER
Free Needles
Working from a makeshift clinic in his van, a retiree offers acupuncture to the homeless.

By Cliff Doerksen

On a recent Friday morning just past 11, Myung Paul Lee wheeled the House of Brightness Free Acu-Clinic for Homeless People into the parking lot of the McDonald's at Sheridan and Wilson. He parked in the far northeast corner of the lot, got out, and threw open the back and side doors of the late-model Dodge panel van. He was removing a tenor saxophone from its case when Chuckie Schenkel arrived and greeted him warmly. Then the two men got down to business.

"Every day when I open my clinic I praise the Lord with prayer and song," said Lee as he led Schenkel to the side of the van that faced Sheridan. Letting the sax dangle from its neck strap, Lee clasped his hands and bowed his head. Schenkel followed suit. After the amens, Lee put the reed to his mouth to play a somewhat halting rendition of "Nearer My God to Thee."

A native of South Korea, Lee immigrated to Chicago with his wife, Young, in 1975. While Young trained to become a registered nurse, Lee began a master's program in engineering at IIT. "But I never finished the degree because my babies came along," he said, referring to has daughter Susan and his son Christopher, both of whom are now medical students. Instead, in 1978---by which time the family had moved to the suburbs---Lee opened a dry cleaning shop in Schaumburg. The idea of providing free acupuncture to the homeless first came to him in the wake of the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. "I felt a lot of things when this happened," he says. "It made me want to help people from the bottom of my heart. Dry cleaning is useful, but it does not help people so completely as medicine."

Lee enrolled at the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine in Uptown in the spring of 1998. After graduating in December 2002, he filed for an acupuncturist's license from the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation and closed his dry cleaning shop. He chose to practice in Uptown because he knew it had a high concentration of homeless people. "Uptown was the first place I lived with my wife when we immigrated, and I remembered this community needs help." Originally he'd hoped to establish a regular clinic in the neighborhood but found the cost of leasing professional space prohibitive. "A clinic on wheels is cheaper," says Lee, who spent just under $50,000 to buy and outfit his van.

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