The Seasons of Chiropractic Care in Arctic Alaska

What kind of care does Lew Pagel, DC ‘04 provide at his practice in Kotzebue, Alaska? Well, it depends on the season. Berry picking, seal hunting, and moose hunting seasons throw backs out, as does “snow machine” (snow mobile) season when riders get stuck and lift the machines out. Winter brings slips on the ice, but summer brings injuries too: “the tundra is the worst surface to do anything on. Every step is a potential broken ankle.” 

When he’s not treating patients, Dr. Pagel is out there too. One of his favorite stories is from his second year of practice. His 10:30 appointment told him that the caribou migration was hanging out on the edge of town. He treated her, changed into his hunting gear, shot two caribou, and made it back for his next patient. “That’s the epitome of arctic Alaska,” he shared. “When the caribou are coming through everything kind of stops. That’s a big source of meat here.”  

Kotzebue is a small town in artic Alaska, where 80% of the population is Native Alaskan. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to end up in a [Native] village in the Alaskan arctic,” he laughed. He started his career in Owatonna and was doing well. Then he and his wife decided they were ready for a change.  

He had jobs lined up in Australia and Africa but saw a posting for a position in Alaska and decided to take it. They never dreamed they would stay long-term, but now Kotzebue is home. Dr. Pagel has gotten involved in basically everything there is to do. He was even mayor for two years.  

What’s kept them in the Arctic? “The community here. Everybody helps everybody get through this harsh environment. On top of it, the hunting and fishing up here is just unparalleled.”