As a respected local chiropractor, Cheryl Haugh spent decades helping Oak Park area clients on their path to relief and recovery. Retired for the past couple years, she is now helping many of their children on their path to school. As a crossing guard, she spends her mornings and afternoons shepherding students across busy Lake Street on their way to and from Beye School.
“I’ve been surprised how much I am enjoying this,” Haugh said. “Oak Parkers are so friendly in the morning. I love greeting the kids and setting the tone for their day. I’m the first outsider they see and I feel an obligation to be sunny for them. And then I see them at the end of the school day, like bookends.”
As she has become a fixture in their lives, Haugh has been privy to some interesting conversations with her young charges. Like the girl who proudly shared that she was wearing a special sparkly tutu, which was invisible to Haugh — until the girl advised that she had tucked it into her tights so it wouldn’t get dirty on the way to school.
Haugh’s interest in the chiropractic field stemmed from her own issues with back pain, starting with a trampoline accident in grade school and including a diagnosis of scoliosis as a young adult. But the road to the profession was long and not without several potholes along the way.
While, as a child, she had aspired to be a doctor, her lackluster grades in high school and the expense of medical school precluded that goal. Also interested in art, she decided to pursue medical art at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She juggled studies with a part-time job at the university’s Craniofacial Center, where she met Dr. Paul Tessier, a French maxillofacial surgeon considered to be the father of modern craniofacial surgery.
One of her professors suggested that she consider doing, as her final project, an anatomical illustration for one of Tessier’s surgeries addressing Treacher Collins Syndrome, a facial malformation that impacts the cheekbone, eye socket and chin. Her drawing received an honorable mention in a national contest and was published in U.S. News & World Report.
“It was amazing to watch the surgeons work, especially with children, sometimes for more than 12 hours at a time. The philosophy of the center was that faces are the windows to the world — both in and out. Dr. Tessier and his attending surgeons wanted to keep children with facial deformities from getting second looks,” Haugh said.
After graduating, Haugh got a job at Rush University Medical Center’s new biomedical communications department, working alongside other young, enthusiastic, creative illustrators. In July 1975, she landed a plum assignment, based on a good deal of chutzpah, working with Dr. Tessier in Paris. He agreed to cover her airfare and room and board for a month while she did preparatory anatomical illustrations for his surgeries.
“It was hard work with incredibly long hours. But I had the opportunity to be an integral part of Tessier’s educational process with other surgeons. And I got to work on a leather-bound desk in a large studio on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Paris in July –not a bad deal!”
Haugh worked at Rush for 10 years and then decided to pursue her dream of being a chiropractor. She attended Triton College for two years to take basic science classes before enrolling in the National University of Health Sciences in Lombard. She opened her chiropractic business in River Forest in 1987, using a multidisciplinary approach incorporating massage, spinal manipulations, counseling and spirituality.
“There were miracles in people who had gone through years of other therapies without relief. What I did, through soft tissue work and adjustments, made a real difference. I believe in chiropractic work — it works,” said Haugh.
However, after 33 years in an industry she loved, Haugh made the difficult decision to close her practice in 2019, much to the chagrin of her many appreciative clients. The effects of the 2008 economic downturn were still impacting her business, and the field was changing, with competition from the growing physical therapy field. In addition, her own health was becoming a challenge. She had major surgery for her scoliosis that same year.
“I was in pain for many years. Walking was becoming difficult and, once I saw the X-ray of my back, I knew I needed surgery. I truly believe that what I learned through my chiropractic practice kept me from having to have invasive treatment much sooner,” she said.
Another benefit of her practice was meeting her future wife, Elizabeth (Betsy) Ritzman, a client, as well as a counselor and minister. They decided to work together on a feminist book focusing on women’s health and spirituality and celebrating women’s transitions. The book never reached fruition — but the relationship did. Cheryl and Betsy were the first lesbians in Illinois to register as domestic partners. They were legally married in their backyard on Aug. 2, 2014.
Now recovered from her surgery, Haugh is enjoying retirement and plans to continue her long-held interest in art — as a fine artist rather than a medical illustrator.