by Laurie Fisher, Associate Publisher, Prescott LIVING
As Founder and Medical Director of The Mobile Health Doc, Dr. Karissa Walton offers a full line of naturopathic medical services on an innovative platform — a cargo van containing a 90-inch hyperbaric chamber and sporting a photo mural of Thumb Butte on its side.
Inspired by her mother’s difficulty in finding adequate care at the end of her fight against cancer, Walton rolled out her practice months before the pandemic triggered huge growth in demand for home-based care.
An Arizona native, the 33-year-old Walton graduated from Tempe’s Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2018 and quickly found her way to Prescott, briefly practicing out of an office before launching her mobile practice in October 2019.
She also opened a site-based clinic at 140 N. Granite St. in April 2021, and last fall a second Naturopathic Doctor and a Family Nurse Practitioner (who can accept Medicare and commercial health insurance) came onboard.
The Mobile Health Doc provides primary care, pain management, nutrient IV therapy, regenerative injection therapies, acupuncture and more through the mobile clinic and office. For more information see www.themobilehealthdoc.com.
Walton also is a world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor. She and husband Darrell, an airline pilot and 20-year military veteran, recently started a new business, Divergence Training, to offer survival, medical and self-defense courses.
Prescott LIVING: All right, Karissa, where were you born and raised?
Dr. Karissa Walton: I was born and raised in Arizona. We lived in Phoenix when I was a kid, then I moved to West Virginia for a short time when my mom was married, and then we moved back to Arizona when she got divorced. We’ve been all over Arizona, including Tucson. I went to high school at the Academy of Tucson. I was happy to get out of Tucson, but I met my husband there, so that was nice. So, I’m an Arizona girl raised by a single mother of three. I mean, other than that short time she was married when we lived in West Virginia.
Prescott LIVING: Where in West Virginia?
Dr. Karissa Walton: I think it was in the Charleston area. I was really young. It was age 2 to 6. I remember climbing trees and helping my mom mow the lawn and that kind of stuff, but I don’t remember a lot of details.
Prescott LIVING: What was your relationship like with your mom, who has had a profound influence on your life and career path?
Dr. Karissa Walton: We were very, very close. I was her righthand girl, especially after she got divorced. When we came back to Arizona, it was just her and I caring for my younger brother and sister. I think I just naturally went into that role of, “Hey, I’ve got to help my mom and take care of these little ones.” She was still pregnant with my little brother when we went cross country to move back to Arizona in our station wagon. It was me, my mom, my sister and our dog in the station wagon; just traveling across the country to move with the U-Haul and all our stuff. I was keeping a log of her gas mileage because we were poor, really poor. So, my job was budgeting every single little penny.
Prescott LIVING: At 6?
Dr. Karissa Walton: Yeah, at 6. I learned how to divide before I learned how to add. At the time, it seemed normal.
Prescott LIVING: What fueled your lifelong dream to become a doctor?
Dr. Karissa Walton: I always knew from a young age. I told everyone; that’s all I talked about when I was a kid. Even at 6 years old, I was already telling everyone, “Hey, I’m going to be a doctor.” I was always a big planner, even as a child. So, I had my plan on how I was going to become a doctor, and there was no other option for me as a kid. It was almost like it was within me. I just always believed that it was my calling. So, I said, “All right, God, this is what we’re doing.” I was always in a caregiver role from that point forward. And then, I eventually transitioned to caring for my mom.
Prescott LIVING: What was your mom sick with?
Dr. Karissa Walton: She had stage 4 colon cancer. She ended up dying at age 47, and she was diagnosed about a year and a half prior. And by the time they diagnosed it, it was already in the liver; it had metastasized at that point. The doctors said there was nothing that could be done, but they went ahead and did the surgery to remove as much as they could. Even with chemotherapy, the oncologist said she had maybe six months to live, six months of misery, so she chose not to do that. She still had the surgery, but then after that, she decided to find some alternatives.
Prescott LIVING: Oh no. How old were you when your mom died?
Dr. Karissa Walton: I was 23. It was right between college and when I would have started medical school. I was applying for school and still working full-time at the University of Arizona while taking graduate classes. When my mom got sick, I instead decided to hit the brakes and go on family medical leave so that I could care for her full time. She didn’t have anyone else. She had a really hard upbringing, and our family’s never been super close or anything so all we had was each other. So, we were just very, very close. I wouldn’t want it any other way; she didn’t want it any other way. She didn’t want to go into a care home or anything like that. She said, “If I’m going to die, I want to be at home. I want to be at peace.” And she was. When I was at home with my mom, through that process of her seeking better forms of health care, we found naturopathic medicine. And she was able to extend her lifetime and completely turn around her quality of life during that time. She ended up living a year and a half, and all the oncologists were like, “What is happening?” They hadn’t seen anything like it. And it was because of the type of medicine and the care that she was receiving through naturopathic medicine. She was so healthy. She was a beautiful, vibrant woman. You would’ve never known that she had any kind of cancer and was as sick as she was. Unfortunately, there was a point when things started to decline. Had we caught it a little earlier, she would have been fine, but it was just too late. That’s why I nag everyone about prevention and screening now. If insurance won’t cover your screening, who cares? Go get it done!
Prescott LIVING: What was the process of earning a naturopathic medical degree, and how is it similar to getting a conventional MD degree?
Dr. Karissa Walton: Getting into school’s essentially the same. And then once you get accepted into a naturopathic medical program, the first two years look nearly identical to a traditional MD program, but they start introducing different modalities on top of that. For example, my favorite modality is physical medicine. We learn how to actually feel the joints, basically from day one. Doing a very good physical exam is so important, especially when you’re learning orthopedic and sports medicine, stuff like that. We also learn how to perform manipulations similar to chiropractic, but we call it NMT, or naturopathic manipulative therapy. It involves using your palpation skills, or touch, and orthopedic exams to diagnose and correct imbalances in the spine, other joints, or tissues throughout the body. We learn Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM) as well. That’s where acupuncture comes in. We learn how to make a TCM diagnosis and then also how to treat based on that. I love acupuncture.
Prescott LIVING: How much of your business is from acupuncture?
Dr. Karissa Walton: It’s probably 10% or less. Most of what we’re doing is primary care, pain management, and IV therapy. Those are the top three.We’re trying to bring as many therapies as possible here; that’s the goal because Prescott needs it. Real, quality health care is so needed, and we’re so shorthanded, especially when it comes to integrative medicine, which is the model that we provide. We’re bringing conventional providers and naturopathic providers together so that our community can get the best health care it possibly can.
Prescott LIVING: When did you first get the idea of being a mobile doctor?
Dr. Karissa Walton: I believe that the seed was planted when I was at home caring for my mom. I didn’t know it at the time. Eventually my mom couldn’t go in and get the care she needed. It would’ve made it more peaceful if she could have because once you’re on hospice, there’s not much that can be done. Even with home health care services, there’s not a whole lot they can do as far as treatment, especially when it comes to things like IV therapy. She didn’t have access to any of that anymore. So it just made sense to be able to bring that into the home. And it doesn’t have to be for something as severe as cancer. When I first started practice, I had patients who couldn’t make it into the clinic for all kinds of reasons, whether it was “being too sick to go to the doctor,” their kids or their profession.
Prescott LIVING: You launched The Mobile Health Doc practice just before the pandemic began. How did that affect the number of patients coming to you and the kind of treatments they were looking for, and did it increase the potential you saw in the business?
Dr. Karissa Walton: My original model was to give personalized health care in the home; I didn’t want an office. I love house calls so much, just like I love movement. I always enjoy being on the go and keeping my body moving. I just wanted to be active and working out in the community. But that meant I was only going to be able to treat a small number of patients because going house to house takes a long time. I was planning on, from a business standpoint, offsetting the small volume during the week with events on the weekends. Then all of those got canceled in 2020 right after I started the mobile clinic. The positive part was that we were getting a lot of calls from people who couldn’t get into their primary care doctor because they had a cough or a fever and nobody would see them. So, they were desperate for care because they couldn’t go into most doctor’s offices and were very reluctant to go to the hospital because of the level of virus transmission. I did gain more patients through that process, and we were able to keep everything contained in the home and not expose others to COVID. I think that alone made the care so much better, and that was amazing. After all the events were canceled, there was really no other choice than to start a brick-and-mortar location. Opening this clinic has helped significantly increase the business because people want a place to go. I have to admit, it’s so cool to see everyone from the community coming here now. We’re offering monthly health talks and education at no charge, and plan to host the first annual Prescott Health Expo this summer.
Prescott LIVING: So, how do you plan to expand and offer more health care options to our community?
Dr. Karissa Walton: We just brought on our first Nurse Practitioner, Carmen Dalton, and the plan is for people to be able to get their standard wellness visits covered by insurance. Medicare won’t cover Naturopathic Doctors for primary care but by bringing a Nurse Practitioner on, we are at least able to get coverage for patients’ wellness exams, labs, and basic screenings. That’s the biggest challenge, is being able to cover our expenses and still give the patient the option to use their insurance. A second Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Kristin Newell, joined our practice in October and is serving patients at the office and via the mobile clinic. We went to the same naturopathic medical school; her interests and specialties are also very similar to mine, so she will be able to help us serve more patients.
Prescott LIVING: How do you choose which treatments to offer?
Dr. Karissa Walton: The first thing was that I wanted to make sure we had everything available for primary care. The Mobile Health Doc was designed as a primary care mobile clinic, which didn’t really exist. In fact, I worked with a company that specializes in mobile medical vehicles and they were like, “What? You want to do what?” Usually, there’s a specific mobile unit for a specific medical service, like an X-ray unit, phlebotomy unit, etc. So, the company asked me, “You want to do a whole clinic on wheels?” And I said, “Yeah, we’re going to do everything.” They’re like, “OK… You want to put a hyperbaric chamber in there?” And I responded, “Yes—yes I do.” We have a mobile hyperbaric oxygen chamber, and the mobile clinic was designed around that because we had to build a special table that extends for it to be able to hold the chamber After I had primary care and hyperbaric oxygen covered, I just started adding on the things that I use the most. For example, IV therapy is very important to me because it bypasses the GI tract and allows much greater absorption in much higher quantities than we can deliver orally. Physical medicine, acupuncture, cupping, and regenerative injections are also very important. I love anything hands-on. We went through seven different versions of the mobile clinic to be able to fit everything. I also have a huge generator to be able to power all this stuff. Thankfully, we can offer almost everything in the mobile clinic that we offer in the office.
Prescott LIVING: Which treatments are most popular?
Dr. Karissa Walton: Primary care, wellness, and prevention are the majority of what I see. IV therapy is probably next because we have the “Wellness Lounge,” where we have a whole menu of nutrient IVs and injections. Our menu shows what the ingredients and benefits are so patients can actually go in and learn about each of the IV therapies available.
Prescott LIVING: I love that, where you have kind of the bar menu.
Dr. Karissa Walton: Exactly! The next most popular service is probably the regenerative injection therapy. This therapy is designed to help reduce inflammation and stimulate the regrowth of cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and soft tissue. I would say we have been doing a lot more lately which is great because that’s really my specialty area.
Prescott LIVING: You worked with the Northern Arizona Wranglers through last season. They just won the huge championship, which is awesome.
Dr. Karissa Walton: Yes, they won! Our Wranglers are the 2022 Indoor Football League champions. I got to go to the championship game, and it was amazing to see them play their hearts out and win the big trophy. I was in charge of all of their primary care for the whole season. If they were ill, hurt themselves, or needed any physicals or screenings done, I would help take care of that.
Prescott LIVING: Are you involved in any other community services or activities in town?
Dr. Karissa Walton: I’ve been involved in the Prescott Area Young Professionals Group. I’m a member of the Chamber of Commerce and go to those events occasionally. I’m mostly involved with our jiu-jitsu community. They’ve become like family to me, and we do a lot of events together. I am involved with the whole Founding Fathers Collective as much as I can be, but especially with Mountain Tribe Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Prescott LIVING: That’s awesome. So obviously we know that’s the passion of yours, jiu-jitsu, but what got you started into it?
Dr. Karissa Walton: I started in college, initially learning martial arts with Krav Maga, a self-defense training program used by the Israeli army. It was basically all martial and no art because it’s designed purely for self-defense or self-protection. I think that’s really what drew me in, just learning how to take responsibility for my own protection. Through Krav Maga, I learned about jiu-jitsu. I went through the whole Krav Maga program and was teaching and very involved in that community. Eventually, I just decided to focus more on jiu-jitsu. Dr. Karissa Walton: Believe it or not, I actually hated jiu-jitsu when I first learned it. I was like, “I don’t get the point.” And I think people probably think that when they watch it sometimes. They’re like, “What are you guys trying to do? It looks like you’re just rolling around in pajamas or something.” But one day it just clicked with me and felt very natural.
Prescott LIVING: How many competitions have you been in and do you plan — I know you’re going to be in the world championships here soon — but just roughly, how many competitions have you been in?
Dr. Karissa Walton: Over 10, for sure. Probably closer to, I don’t know, somewhere between 10 to 20, somewhere in there.
Prescott LIVING: You had an injury last year, right?
Dr. Karissa Walton: I had fractures in one of my eye sockets due to a training injury that happened in May of 2022. There are two world championships for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I planned to do the Adult World Championship in June but I wasn’t able to compete. The other was the Master World Championship in Las Vegas in September where I placed third in my division. Of course I wanted the gold, but pushing through my injury was quite taxing, and I’m thankful I did as well as I did.
Prescott LIVING: I know how busy you are with everything. Do you have any time for other hobbies? I’m like, “How does she do it all?”
Dr. Karissa Walton: Yeah, I’m just really big on setting time for each thing. I do my best to batch my time to compartmentalize things and just say, “OK, right now I’m just doing this. Right now.” That’s been a hard thing for me to learn because I used to try to do it all at one time and you simply can’t. For example, Tuesday mornings I’m going to jiu-jitsu, and I block that time off on my schedule. That way, I can still take care of myself and keep myself well because if I’m not well, I’m not going to be able to help anyone else get well.
Prescott LIVING: What are the most important healthy habits you recommend to your patients? And probably a lot of these you do yourself, I would assume.
Dr. Karissa Walton: No. 1 is, I think what I just said, making time for yourself and cherishing that time the best that you can. Don’t compromise on that time that you set for yourself. If you have to unplug and focus on yourself for that time or with your loved ones, just make sure that you value that time, because we don’t know how much we’re going to get. And then No. 2 is moving your body. Movement is medicine, movement is life. The less we move, the more we get stagnant and ultimately things go wrong. We live in a society where people are very sedentary, and I just believe in the power of movement. And you can move in so many different ways. The third one is taking responsibility for what you put into your body. It’s very easy to just look for convenient foods to eat, and it’s so important to value your body and everything that we put into our bodies, because that is going to be a direct reflection of our health. And you can work out and work out, but if your diet is not dialed in you’re never going to reach your full potential and your full health abilities. It’s just eating high quality, real food. Eliminate all the processed stuff, even though it’s so much more convenient.
Prescott LIVING: You’ve got to plan ahead.
Dr. Karissa Walton: Yeah, you do. I have to get meal prep or else I won’t eat regularly just because of the time aspect. So that’s one thing that I’ve done for my personal health, is that I order food prep every week so that it’s already done and I don’t have to think about it. And sleep is the final very important one. That’s one thing that I’m constantly working on—sleep. Prevention is the best cure. There’s so much more that can be done when we’re practicing preventative medicine and having those healthy habits built into our daily life versus trying to reverse years and years of damage. I’m not saying we can’t reverse some of those things. We can, it’s just going to be intense to try to reverse. When people come in and they’ve already been sick for over 10 years, it’s like, “OK, you’re going to have to give me some time to help you unwind all of this.” We need to build these daily healthy habits and start with preventative medicine and actual wellness. If we don’t just say, “Oh, it’s wellness” but put in the work to help ourselves get well, our health care is going to be so much better off in the long run.