City Life

Stacey Bean went from physician to healer

Indigo Trails aims to help through horse therapy

The phone calls made them laugh — the ones at home when someone asked for Dr. Bean.

Darren and Stacey Bean were husband and wife and emergency medicine physicians in Madison. They had a stock answer for those calls.

"Dr. He Bean or Dr. She Bean?"

Not everybody got it, which was OK. They did.

Love, laughter, medicine and two small children — it was an abundant life.

Then in the wee hours of a Sunday morning in May 2008, another phone call. Stacey answered. UW Health's Med Flight helicopter had crashed a few miles from the La Crosse airport, and Darren lost his life. It was Mother's Day.

Stacey Bean never went back into the emergency room. 

She did not, however, stop helping people heal. Today Bean operates Indigo Trails Holistic Health and Horse Centered Coaching in rural Verona. She's certified in the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method, or EGCM, and believes horses have a gift for helping people who've lost their way.

Gestalt therapy embraces the concept of wholeness. EGCM coaches maintain that their clients already have the answers they seek, but have yet to discover them. "The horses and I," Bean says, "help bring the answers into their awareness."

She counsels individual and group clients, with and without horses, and sees Indigo Trails — located on a farm Bean bought and refurbished in 2013 — as a holistic health center where people "can step on the property and exhale."

Bean's decision to walk away from Western medicine did not come easily. Her entry into it hadn't either.
Bean is a sixth-generation Californian who went to Reed College in Oregon. Approaching graduation, she thought about medical school, but set it aside after watching a friend apply and fail three years running.

Instead, Bean — who'd worked summers as a whitewater rafting guide — went to Zimbabwe and worked as a guide on the Zambezi River.

"I fell asleep to the roar of the waterfall," she says. "I'd get up in the morning to go for a run and there were lion paw prints in the sand road."

After a year she was back in the U.S., working toward a graduate degree in human kinesiology at the University of California–Berkeley; her grades were excellent. An instructor asked, "Why didn't you go to medical school?" Bean said she doubted she'd get in. "Apply," the instructor said. She was accepted at the University of Vermont.

While at Berkeley, Bean met Dr. Andrew Weil, a proponent of integrative and holistic medicine. Bean wasn't ready to embrace it, though she was intrigued. It was Weil's influence in Vermont that convinced her to go to medical school.

Darren Bean later told Stacey he'd spotted her walking on campus and told himself, "That is my wife." Darren, from Utah, was a med student at Vermont, too. Soon they were dating. Three years in, Darren, who was planning to be an orthopedic surgeon, told Stacey he wanted to switch to emergency medicine. "I knew you'd see the light," she recalls saying.

They came to Madison in 2002, Darren to work at UW Hospital, Stacey to become the first female emergency medicine doctor at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital. 

"We lived and breathed it," Bean says, referring to emergency medicine. "We would call each other at work. ‘Let me run this by you.' "

She took time off after Darren's death. The months eventually stretched to a year, at which point Bean told St. Mary's she wasn't coming back. "They were amazing," Bean says. "They gave me so much space and grace to make my decision."

If she was finally certain that emergency medicine without Darren was not what she wanted, what she did want was less certain.

"It took me four or five years to get my feet back under me," Bean says.

In the summer of 2012, she took her young son and daughter to Camp Manito-wish YMCA near Boulder Junction. The children wanted to do everything at the camp except ride horses, which were big and intimidating. Bean, who had ridden as a girl, finally heard the kids say yes to riding, too. And they loved it.

Bean thought about a quote she'd seen on the wall of a bookstore in Colorado, where she'd gone to visit her sister: "You have to be willing to give up the life you planned in order to have the life that's waiting for you."

Back in Madison, Bean bought a horse. She called him Cowboy and then made an immediate connection. Eventually Bean enrolled in Melisa Pearce's "Touched by a Horse" life coaching program and earned her certificate.

"She's one of the top five people in my life," Patricia Hermsen says of Bean. "So caring and kind." Hermsen is Bean's client at Indigo Trails. She says the horses react positively when she exhales and cleanses her mind. "They get me out of my head and into my heart."

"I loved every minute of what I did," Bean says of her time in emergency medicine. "I honor what I did there."

What she calls her "unexpected pilgrimage from physician to healer" allows her to serve in a different, perhaps more mindful way. "I don't want people to get to the end of their life and think they missed it."

Doug Moe is a Madison writer and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Read his weekly blog, "Doug Moe's Madison," on madisonmagazine.com.


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