An Incredible Journey to North Brunswick County: Pam Betz and Chris Rizzo
They met in a cadaver lab. He’d grown up 30 minutes outside New York City and she hailed from a Midwestern town of some 160 people, but both were serious students at Palmer College, a preeminent chiropractic school in Davenport, Iowa. After the cadavers, they traveled together on a group mission to Salvador, Brazil, where they spent four days adjusting citizens for free, the sweat running down their bandana-covered heads. Two years later, they knew they wanted to start their own practice together in a place that was new to both of them.
“Chris loves the ocean,” says Pam Betz, who today makes up half of North Brunswick Chiropractic and Acupuncture. “He grew up near the coast his whole life.” They had considered New England, but laws concerning chiropractors who also perform acupuncture, like Pam, were impossibly strict. So they decided to look farther south.
“And we were both ready to skip out on winter anyway,” says Chris Rizzo, her significant other, with a laugh.
They were staying with Chris’s parents in New Jersey, and last spring, drove from there to Raleigh to check it out, both of them sure they would end up in a fairly large city.
“And we kind of liked it, but didn’t love it,” says Chris. They traveled around the central part of the state, assiduously checking out the surrounding areas for several days. And then they were tired. A visit to the coast seemed just the thing to reward themselves. It was, after all, March — cold and gray back home in Jersey. A walk on Wrightsville Beach, even on an afternoon of off-season desertion, changed their lives.
They enjoyed the beach so much that they decided to check out Wilmington, where the historic downtown area charmed them. They were intrigued: Here was the home they’d been looking for.
It was early in life when Chris Rizzo found his career. High school, to be exact, freshman year. Never one to think small, the 14-year-old boy was trying out for the varsity soccer team in a new town when he felt something in his thigh “pop and tear.” The trainer told him he’d torn his quad muscle, and the chances of him even finishing the tryouts seemed altogether shot.
“I was kind of upset,” he says, in characteristic, cheery understatement. That night, he spoke with his parents’ friend, a chiropractor who suggested an office visit. “I was kind of skeptical,” he admits. But with little to lose, he visited anyway. “And when I returned, with a brace on my leg, I didn’t miss a tryout.” He made the team. He’d also found his calling. He started shadowing the doctor; once, he even scrubbed up to observe him perform an emergency procedure in an ER. He was hooked.
Pam was a college student who knew what she wanted to do: She would go into medicine like her older cousin. Except, every time they got together for lunch, she heard the same thing from her cousin. “Here she was, in her thirties, and still in her residency.” Dedicating her life to health care was Pam’s ideal. Years upon years of school, training and the constant risk of burnout, was not. One night she was commuting home when she heard a radio ad: Palmer was hosting an informational dinner that very night, at the University of Iowa, where she was enrolled.
“And I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I should go to that.’ And then I thought, ‘Oh! It’s in an hour!’” She hurried. She went. And she was inspired. She started calling chiropractors to discuss their jobs, “and every single one of them just said, ‘I love what I do. I want to come to work. It’s fun.’” What she loves about her job now is that she leaves work every day knowing she’s helped people. “They come in and they leave happier.”
In the spring of 2008, Pam and Chris spent a lot of time in their car, visiting the Wilmington area and scoping out prospects. They had, in fact, just gotten out of the car after their third full-day drive back to New Jersey, when they got a call. It was the man with whom they’d left a voicemail the day before. He was a physician, moving out of an office space in the medical center in someplace called Waterford, in Leland.
Chris recounts it.
“And he was like, ‘Oh, just got your message. When do you want to see it?’”
He and Pam conferred. They looked out at their car, still cooling down from their nine-hour trip. They asked the man: How about tomorrow?
So the next day they drove back south yet again. For the first time, they visited Leland and were floored.
“Once we saw the office, saw the area, we saw that it was just — beautiful,” Pam says. They loved how bustling the town was; all the convenient places to shop, to eat and play. Both Pam and Chris golf, or as Chris jokes, “We both attempt golf.”
The main thing, though — what Chris and Pam get really animated about — is the close-knit community they found in Leland. It meant a lot to Pam, coming from her small-town Iowa childhood.
“We liked the fact that we could not only get our name out, but really know people when we saw them,” says Chris. In the time they’ve been here, they’ve found not just a patient-base, but neighbors, in their work day interactions at Waterford Medical Center. One of their patients, a woodworker,made the couple a platform bed.
“We showed him a picture, and it was done in four days,” Pam says. “He just whipped it up,” she laughs.
People stop by; they welcome Pam and Chris with food or just drop in to say hello.
“They’re just very, very — nice,” says Chris, with some measure of incredulity. “These things just don’t happen very often in Jersey.”
Many people are surprised when Pam tells them she runs a practice with her significant other. They assume it would be hard, that any couple would get sick of each other. But, she says, she and Chris make ideal counterpoints. “We have each other to talk stuff over and figure things out. It’s so much better than trying to do it by yourself,” she says.
Adds Chris, “I can always come to her when I have a question. I mean, she was class valedictorian, too, so that helps. We have the team advantage.”