It’s been a month and a half since the Traditional Chinese Medical practitioner Jim Zheng passed away. Those who he helped will remember him fondly, and those who depended on him to help manage ailments will be wondering how to manage the void he has left in their lives.
“Dr. Jim,” as he was known, amazed people with the things he could know just by looking at their hands/eyes/ears/tongue.
On Aug. 19 Zheng passed away, leaving the community shocked and saddened, and leaving his patients clinging to the lessons they learned from him over the years.
Zheng and his wife, Xiu-Mei Zhang, moved from China to Whitehorse in 1991. Right away the couple started connecting with the community, helping people with acupressure, and making friends – even though they didn’t speak much English. They made the Yukon their permanent home, raised two sons here – David, 23 and Alex, 20 – and opened the East West Health Centre.
In the 24 years the couple have lived in Whitehorse, Zheng has helped many people with many different ailments.
Sheryl Rost Van Tonningan, Zheng’s assistant for the past four years, said she has witnessed the positive impact he had on people over and over again. Sometimes people would return to the waiting room dancing after an appointment with Zheng.
“We had people come in, and they were grumpy and you could tell they were in pain, and… they’d go in to see Jim, and come out with a big smile on their faces and happy and dancing around the office and swinging their arms and saying, ‘I should have come here sooner.’ And that was not just one person. Quite a few,” she says.
Zheng was passionate about healing. It was more than a job. He enjoyed helping people, and it was important to him to reach people in remote communities. He travelled to Inuvik three times per year to meet with patients and he travelled to such places as Fort McPherson, Carcross, Dawson City, and Beaver Creek.
“He was very well-loved,” Rost Van Tonningan says. “I could tell that even before he passed away.”
He was said to have an uncanny intuition, a vast knowledge of the mind and body, and he changed people’s lives. Robin Boynton is one of those people. She and her husband live in Skagway, Alaska, and she had been driving in to Whitehorse to see Zheng once a month for the past 18 years. Zheng helped her with several health issues, from acute tooth pain, to high blood pressure, to problems with her gall bladder. His program has kept her off medication.
It was her eczema that first brought her to Zheng. She had suffered from eczema on her arms and legs for years, which became pre-cancerous. She had consulted several doctors, but they had not helped.
“Nobody could find out what was going on with the eczema,” Boynton says.
Then she went to see Zheng.
“When I went to him he said, ‘Here’s 10 things to not eat, and here’s 10 things to eat.’ And he said to call him every three days,” she says.
His plan healed her eczema. The phone calls helped Zheng to refine the program – and helped Boynton realize Zheng just knew things, sometimes.
“He’s very intuitive,” she says. “Over the years I’d call him, and he’d say, ‘Have you been eating cheese?’ And it was like, how did you know? You’re 110 miles away.”
With his passing, Boynton has lost a friend, not just her doctor, she says.
Judging by the memorial service for Zheng held at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on Aug. 30, many people are feeling this loss. More than 500 people attended the service.
Zheng’s wife, a western medical doctor, said people from all walks of life were there.
“Almost all of the available physicians in town went to his celebration of life and they commented on how unusual it is for so many people from different backgrounds to be there,” she says. “Doctors, First Nations, including Gwich’in and Inuvialuit from the Northwest Territories, Chinese, Christian, Baha’i and (agnostics). They said that it is unbelievable for these people to all sit in one room.
“I really think that this is proof that healing is universal.”
During the ceremony, Zheng was adopted into the Daklaweidi Clan, from the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, as a brother to Allen Murray. In addition, former president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council Fred Carmichael flew in from Inuvik to pay respects from that community.
“These traditional Gwich’in and Inuvialuit people, what he said made sense to them – they were so open to (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and responded so well to it,” Dr. Zhang says.
Dr. Zhang says her husband’s intuition guided him, and healing involved energy and connection.
“He would just look at your hand, and he would know things – he knew right away,” Dr. Zhang says. “I do feel he had something really special.
“He treated people with an open heart, with love, so they could open up and heal. It’s not just technique. It’s a heart and soul connection – that’s how his healing energy could get through.”
The Jim Zheng Cultural Fund was started to give an avenue for people to remember him, and to promote his passion for local Chinese culture and healing work. The fund is managed by the Chinese Canadian Association of Yukon. For more information or to make a donation send an email to [email protected].
Jim (Fang-Ping) Zheng – February 9, 1958 to August 19, 2015.