All signs in Dr. Kelley Helmendach’s life pointed her toward the pursuit of her “gift,” but none of her success happened by accident.
She was diligent and focused, and she worked hard to follow all the signs. Kelley took control of her destiny to become a chiropractor who now has nearly three decades of service at Helmendach Chiropractic, which is now Charlotte Spine & Pain Relief Center.
And the same qualities that led Kelley in this direction now guide her every move. Her honesty and intuition, co-worker Brandy Gonzalez says, are unmatched. She gives only the treatment she believes is necessary and has an extraordinary sense for the job.
“She lets patients know from the get-go whether she can help or not, and they absolutely love that,” Gonzalez said. “She won’t ever say, ‘Let’s keep adjusting you and see what happens.’ That’s something I appreciate about her. It’s like she knows what’s going on with you as soon as you walk into her office. It’s crazy.
“She’ll look at me like, ‘Oh, you look a little tense. Are you doing OK?’ She’ll check me and do my adjustments, and I didn’t even know I was out of whack.”
That type of intuition takes years of study and practice, but it also can’t be found in a textbook. Kelley’s ability to diagnose and heal is rare in the chiropractic community, said her husband Keith who worked next to her for 27 years.
“When I was in practice, I worked at it constantly, trying to reach excellence,” Keith said. “She’s just better, because she’s a naturally gifted healer. I have seen very few in our profession who have what she has, and it’s just an innate ability to see things, to read things and then to affect change with her hands.”
Kelley was in pursuit of that gift before she could even recognize it. She was the daughter of parents whose business was to make petri dishes for doctors offices and hospitals. She spent time in that environment and started to develop a love for medicine without a clear idea where to go with it.
Then perhaps fate intervened.
Kelley was drawn to Bridgewater College in Virginia for the small-school feel of its academics, but also because its location allowed her to take her horse along and keep him at a nearby horse farm. Kelley was later thrown from that same horse and suffered a back injury that was healed naturally by Dr. Arthur Fierro, a chiropractor in Harrisburg, Va.
The experience changed her life.
“He said, ‘What in the world did you do to your back?’” Kelley recalls. “He said I tore a ligament in my lower back, and it took about three months to get me back to where I was before.
“I said, ‘This is what I want to do!’ He helped me naturally get back to where I was, probably even better. That’s where it all started.”
In addition to her passion for horses and medicine, Kelley also guided herself into martial arts.
“I had a dangerous walk to school every day growing up in Maryland,” Kelley said.
She was drawn to a school that taught Tae Kwon Do, and she thrived in it and earned a third-degree black belt. By March 1983, Kelley was competing in New York’s Madison Square Garden and walked out of a national competition with a third-place trophy in sparring.
Kelley felt the need to be more outgoing and led herself into pageant competition. She eventually won the Miss Eastern Shore Pageant, then was second runner-up in the Miss Maryland Pageant.
After earning her undergraduate degree, Kelley applied to just one chiropractic school, the National College of Chiropractic in Lombard, Ill., and she was accepted.
Word of a campus beauty queen got around to Keith, who felt like he had no choice. He had to say hello.
“When there’s an attractive female on the campus, everything lights up,” Keith said. “Our head of admission starts pumping out the story that Miss Maryland has just started at the National College of Chiropractic. We’re all going, ‘Wow!’
“I walked down the hall and was like, ‘Yeah, that’s her.’ My friends said, ‘Keith, don’t even start. The guys about to become doctors will be all over her and you won’t have a chance.’ I said, ‘You watch me.’”
Keith did exactly as he said and got a first date with Kelley.
There, her depth and humility stood out right away. It wasn’t what he expected from a beauty queen, but he was surprised by how quickly the two made a connection. Not long after that, he called his parents to say he found “the one.” Keith and Kelley were married in August 1990, relocated to Charlotte, N.C., and started their practice in 1992.
Kelley explained to Keith on their first date the challenges she faced in her life and her relentlessness in overcoming them. That mental toughness helped Kelley and Keith build a very successful practice together and later defy the odds to build a family with four children — Heather (23), Connor (20), Kyle (18), and Cameron (16).
“When I was younger, I was told I’ll never have kids naturally because my pelvis was just too small,” Kelley said. “Really? That’s a challenge to me. My midwife said, ‘You were built to have kids.’
“You can’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I’ll do it.”
Kelley gave birth to all four children naturally, with no medication.
Family has since been at the heart of Charlotte Spine & Pain Relief Center, where Keith and Kelley created time to be active participants in their children’s growth. They created a family-friendly schedule for the office and they stuck to their priorities even when it was difficult.
And now the next challenge on Kelley’s plate is to push beyond her comfort zone in Keith’s retirement. She has embraced the challenge of expanding her communication skills and making practice decisions that she once deferred to Keith.
Like everything else in her life, she has wrapped her arms around the task at-hand, taking one step at a time until every problem is solved.
That’s just who Kelley is, and she’s not changing anytime soon.
“When I jump into something I believe in, I go all the way,” Kelley said. “I’m a very competitive person, so I try and do my best and teach our kids the same thing.”
Kelley and Keith have a successful marriage of over 28 years.
Their oldest child is at law school at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Their second is at West Point.
Their third is at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and their fourth is excelling in high school on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout.
Dr. Kelley and Dr. Keith have spent over two decades living what they teach to their kids.
Those results might be even more impressive than what they’ve accomplished as chiropractors.