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How We Got Started: The Story of the First Tape

Belleruth had always been intrigued by the mind-body connection and the power of altered states to catalyze deeper healing, insight, growth, and change.

In 1987, she began experimenting in her Cleveland private practice with creating personalized guided imagery audio cassette tapes for interested clients -- people who wanted to speed up their progress in therapy.

She sat at her kitchen table with two boom boxes, one for recording the narrative and the other for playing background music. She gathered feedback on what worked and what didn’t. Altogether, she made thirty-eight of these individualized tapes for clients over the course of the next two years.

In 1988, a new client appeared at Belleruth’s door who had heard about the personalized recordings. She had advanced, metastatic breast cancer which had spread to her bones, brain and lungs. She was badly frightened and wanted an audio program to help her get through an upcoming course of chemotherapy. Her goal was to live long enough to see her daughter, a sophomore in high school, graduate. She was motivated, charismatic, appealing and bossy, and when B.R. demurred, saying that she didn't know enough to make such a tape, she replied, "Don't worry; I'll tell you what to do."

Belleruth checked with her oncologist, who encouraged her to go ahead and give her whatever she wanted, because she was not likely to live past six months anyway.

Their collaboration came up with this woman’s most comforting childhood memory of walking on the beach with her beloved father, her little hand in his big, warm one; she also imagined her mother, a formidable house cleaner, vacuuming cancer cells out of her body with characteristic ferocity. She conjured images of tumors shrinking and white cells becoming more active and potent.

The recording turned out to be about fifteen minutes long. She responded well to the chemotherapy, and the lesions began to shrink dramatically.

On the chemotherapy unit of the Ireland Cancer Center, she was no longer anxious. Instead, she was a woman on a mission, telling other patients, staff, and anyone who would listen that they too should have a guided meditation. She dispensed bootlegged copies of her own tape, and as a result of her ad hoc promotional campaign, the oncology nurses requested recordings for their more anxious patients in the waiting room.

This woman lasted two years longer than predicted, with very little discomfort and good quality of life, up until her last weeks. Belleruth was captivated by the way the audio had empowered a frightened woman, giving her a sense of agency over her circumstances.

Evolution of Health Journeys Inc.

Word got around. Other requests for tapes came in – for multiple sclerosis and surgery, depression and stroke, diabetes and stress. Belleruth began buttonholing doctors, nurses and patients, digging into the medical literature and the guided imagery research to create appropriate content.

A friend introduced her to George Klein, a local businessman, who funded the initial production of seven new health-specific guided imagery tapes. In 1990,

Belleruth networked her way to find award winning composer Steven Mark Kohn after four failed attempts with other musicians. Steve in turn introduced her to the Cleveland Orchestra’s sound engineer, Bruce Gigax. The three have been working together ever since, producing spoken word guided meditations to the highest standards.

In 1991, Klein and Naparstek launched Health Journeys, Inc. to produce and distribute the guided meditation tapes. Not long after, Larry Kirshbaum, then editor of Warner Books, opened a new division, Time Warner AudioBooks, which picked up the first fourteen audio titles and began national retail distribution of the library.

In 1994, pharmaceutical company Smithkline Beecham had private-labeled 200,000 Health Journeys chemotherapy audio cassettes, to dispense to cancer patients undergoing treatment with help from their anti-nausea drug, Zofran. Soon after, a competitor, Roche Laboratories, did the same with their anti-emetic, Kytril. Before long, Amgen, Glaxo and others followed suit with different meds for different ailments.

Also in the early 90’s, groundbreaking research by Henry Bennett at UC Davis and Penn State University established that the Health Journeys guided imagery for surgery reduced blood loss, length of stay, pre- and post-op anxiety and use of opioids for pain.

Blue Shield of California followed with its own study, determining that the surgery meditation heightened member satisfaction while reducing cost per surgery by $2003 (in 1999 dollars). As a result, several HMO’s and insurance carriers, starting with Kaiser Permanente, began dispensing Health Journeys recordings free of charge to members.

By 1997, the Brecksville V.A. hospital asked Belleruth work to with them to create a guided meditation to specifically address posttraumatic stress in traumatized Vietnam veterans who were also being treated for chemical dependency. By 2005, Health Journeys was in over 80 VAMC’s and Vet Centers around the country, and featured prominently at Walter Reed, Bethesda Naval Hospital and U.S. military bases, hospitals and installations around the world.

To date, Health Journeys has produced nearly 90 audio titles by leaders in the mind-body field, and distributes over two hundred carefully curated spoken word titles.

We are in 90 countries, in over 3,000 hospitals and health facilities, and enthusiastically distributed by over 4,000 health and wellness practitioners. Recent initiatives have resulted in our building web-based, private label download pages for several hospitals and universities. In 2017, we moved our offices from our longtime location in Akron to the Health Tech Corridor of Cleveland.

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