When asked about the biggest challenge to his business, Isaac Hong has a quick answer: “People who don’t believe.”

Isaac Hong, owner of A Family Acupuncture in Ellicott City. (TBM / Jason Whong)

Hong, owner of A Family Acupuncture, which opened in February in Ellicott City, wholeheartedly believes in the effectiveness of acupuncture, an ancient practice believed to have originated in China and dates back anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 years. 

Acupuncturists are trained to identify points in your body that stimulate the central nervous system, releasing chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals may then advance a patient’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.

Whether it’s a form of healing art or science, Hong wholeheartedly believes in the results he’s gotten over a lifetime of practice. 

Sit across from his desk, and he’ll first offer you a cup of herbal tea made from natural ingredients he’s gathered himself. He’s got teas for everything from cold hands and feet, to high blood pressure, to dementia. 

As you sip, Hong shares story after story of people he’s successfully treated: a young man who was in a horrible car accident and could barely move but later walked, a women with Parkinson’s disease able to restore some movement, a man who had a stroke and learned to talk; many others suffering from cancer, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, high cholesterol, and other maladies. 

How does Hong make this work?

He begins by taking a patient’s pulse. 

In acupuncture, that’s different from simply counting the number of beats per minute. Hong, who also examines any health records a patient wishes to share, then offers his own theory as to what might be going on: heart blockages, pain, decreased kidney or liver function, or any number of combinations. 

“I take the pulse,” said Hong, “and I can tell whether a patient has good circulation, or sticky blood that needs to be cleaned; wonderful energy or a decreased function of the liver or cardiovascular disease.”

After diagnosing a patient’s ailments, he develops a treatment plan with a typical timespan of three months — a timespan in which Hong’s research shows definitive results for most of his patients.

“What acupuncture does, is create new cells,” he explained. “After three months, we compare the results.” This may involve blood tests with a primary care physician, MRIs, or other diagnostic tools. 

Where it began

Acupuncture has been practiced in China for more than 3,000 years — and it has a history in Howard County, too. One of the first acupuncture clinics in Maryland, the Centre for Traditional Acupuncture, opened in 1975 in Downtown Columbia. The Maryland University of Integrative Health, which was known as the Traditional Acupuncture Institute, began teaching classes in 1981. All of this happened before Maryland created its State Acupuncture Board, part of its Department of Health, in 1994.

Hong’s own introduction to acupuncture began when he was four years old — in 1956. As a boy growing up in rural South Korea, he contracted polio and could no longer walk. “My father called an elder, an acupuncturist, to the house,” he recalled. “After maybe one year, I could walk. That was very motivating for me.”

He went on to graduate from the Pacific College of Health and Science, the largest acupuncture school in the United States. (He also holds an honorary degree of doctor of philosophy from Washington Naioth Theological College and Seminary in Silver Spring.) As his career unfolded, he became globally known, treating celebrities, government officials, and renowned medical doctors and surgeons. 

In 2012, word about his talent had spread to the Dominican Republic. The director of the city hall in Santo Domingo invited Hong to travel to the city to treat people, and to train acupuncturists there. 

When he arrived, Hong found he was a celebrity. The city was adorned with large signs depicting his face. The first day, 2,000 people showed up. “I did the best to my ability,” he said. “I divided equally the men and women, and treated 500 people in one day.” 

He repeated that for days, and initially had to turn away patients who couldn’t pay. But, he said, “my heart was uncomfortable with that.” 

He returned to treat the patients who had no money. “I treated a whole lot of poor patients,” he said. “I lost money but I was very happy.”

Back in Ellicott City, for now, Hong isn’t planning to return to the Dominican Republic anytime soon. His current patients are largely local medical doctors — especially those from the Asian community. 

“You’d be surprised how well word-of-mouth works among my patients,” he said. “I want to bring acupuncture to the world.”