Women In Wellness / Social Impact Hero
Interview with Alex Williams
Alex Williams is the founder and CEO of Holistic Hyperbarics. Having spent her professional life focused on health and wellness, Alex brings a unique combination of medical skills and exceptional customer service to Holistic Hyperbarics. A Bay Area native, her career began when she launched her first business as a certified at-home healthcare aid, using her specialized training in surgical recovery and Kinesio taping to serve and support a diverse range of clients. Inspired to heighten her expertise and abilities to provide effective patient outcomes, Alex pursued concurrent work as an EMT. Treating under-served patients ignited Alex’s passion and commitment to providing exemplary care in an industry that lacks personalized attention to a patient’s well-being.
- What is your ‘backstory’? What brought you to this career path?
I have worked many jobs. I worked as an EMT for 10 years and I also briefly worked in law enforcement and in-home healthcare. While that might seem like a lot of different avenues, the common thread in my life work has been taking care of people. It was a natural evolution to move from the work that I was doing in those other jobs, into something that was going to bring abundance to my community. What better way to bring abundance into my community than to take a therapy that was not attainable and bring it into the public sphere? More acutely, I got into hyperbaric oxygen therapy because I was using it as an athlete. I understood its healing properties and wanted nothing more than to expand access to HBOT.
- Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Not everybody knows about this therapy and, as a community, we generally trust our doctors. What we don’t always realize is that there are other ways that are less invasive to heal many ailments. Using hyperbaric oxygen therapy in conjunction with things you’re already doing, you amplify your healing ability.
I wanted to make sure that HBOT was something that everyone had access to.
More importantly, when you look at the outcome of a person of color in a neighborhood that doesn’t have the same resources as a white neighborhood, you recognize that can mean decades of life differences simply because of a disparity of resources. As leaders, we have to act to even outcomes for everyone. I feel very strongly that as a health practitioner, I have to do whatever I can to give my therapy to people so that it helps give them better outcomes in their lives. It is my responsibility to help even out the playing field by creating an inclusive community.
I know that I can’t give away my service, but I work to make it as affordable as possible. At Holistic Hyperbarics, we subsidize treatment for people who cannot afford it. When patients pay full price, it pays it forward for the next person.
Giving back is incredibly important to me as a Black woman with a certain amount of privilege. I grew up with two parents that had college degrees. We were comfortable and we ate well. I understand that was a platform of privilege that I need to make sure I put to work.
I do everything I can to highlight Black and Brown bodies at rest; you’ll notice our social media and advertising is full of beautiful people of color at rest. I want to highlight that every day because we don’t see enough of that in modern media. I am committed to creating a safe space for the healing of all people, no matter the color of their skin or their socioeconomic background.
- Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
We don’t put enough emphasis on leveling up people who never had a chance to have certain opportunities in the first place, such as hyperbaric treatment. I would love to have a fund that would enable me to expand the subsidization of this treatment for people that don’t have the resources to afford it themselves. It would be amazing if I could have a grant solely for people that are low-income. It would be great if politicians actually looked after people that way.
We could also do so much good by being assigned one condition to help treat, and maybe even irradicate, on a large scale. When conditions, such as diabetes, for example, go uncontrolled, it takes the toughest toll on Black people in a multilayered fashion. That is why more Black and Brown people suffer from diabetes; because of food deserts, a lack of education in how to take care of yourself, feed yourself, and exercise, not having playgrounds and places for people to be active safely in their neighborhood, and so much more. It’s all related. If we could be assigned one condition to tackle, we would do so from the ground up in the most encompassing and informed way possible. I think we would see incredible results.
The root of the issue is that populations grow, but politicians don’t provide them with enough resources to get out of the challenging and impoverished situations that they’re in.
- If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would make all healthcare in all forms free. Massage, acupuncture, general health practice, surgeries, hyperbarics – all of it should be completely free. It baffles me that we do not have universal healthcare in this country.
Secondly, basic healthcare should also include holistic measures. I think it all needs to be free because of the costs associated: if people can’t afford treatment, they die. If they can’t afford it and pay for it anyway, it is a massive financial burden on their futures and gravely affects their upward mobility. People deserve to be able to pursue less invasive options for healing, treatment, and as a preventative measure.
- Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
These tweaks are small but have improved my everyday wellbeing in big ways:
1. I wear blue-light-blocking glasses and it has transformed my ability to go to sleep much easier. I’ve been wearing them every night for the last nine months.
2. I drink half my weight in ounces of water each day.
3. I don’t eat anything three to four hours before bed.
- Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I helped a woman have a baby! I don’t know if there’s a higher calling than that. I had a woman come into the clinic after two failed IVF attempts. She was 41 years old and didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Having a baby was a divine calling for her, and it brought her to us. To recognize that something as simple as oxygen and pressure managed to bring a child into the world was remarkable. It was such a joy to be a part of this child’s birth story.
Secondly, a gentleman once came in with zero hearing in his right ear. After ten sessions, we brought his hearing back completely. Ten sessions were all that was necessary to completely change the way he existed in this world. It’s truly incredible what just oxygen and pressure can do.
- Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
It was a huge, incredible realization when I was confronted with our impact.
We have people that come to our center with radiation cystitis, which occurs after a patient receives radiation for cancer. They come to see us once per week on a regular basis because, without us, they can become septic. If they become septic, they must go to the hospital. If they go to the hospital, they could die.
This is the only treatment that actually keeps these people out of the hospital. There is nothing else: no pills, no surgery. This is fully what keeps them alive. Thus, we cannot close our doors or those people could die.
We see two sides of the coin with hyperbaric treatment: we are involved in such a way that brings life into the world and keeps it here.
- Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I thought that, because I was such a jock, that this company would be built on athletes. I thought I was going to have nothing but triathletes, professional athletes, amateur athletes, and child athletes coming through our doors; it was going to be an athlete haven.
I was actively reaching out to athletes and I even had a logo that encompassed my desired audience. The logo was a silhouette of a man in a running position. In retrospect, it was absolutely terrible.
My two investors who were these beautiful, patient, amazing women in my life who have been in the industry for a very long time simply said, no – absolutely not. If we did a weird logo with this random running male figure, even though this is a Black woman’s business, it would alienate people and not give them the open and inclusive feelings we so deeply sought after.
We sat down and thought about what colors made us feel held and what words made us feel how we wanted to make our clients feel. We ended up with the coolest logo ever after it. It perfectly captures what we are about.
- When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
By highlighting Black and Brown bodies at rest, we are celebrating them. It’s as simple as that. Celebrating Black and Brown bodies at rest is poignant on all Holistic Hyperbarics platforms and always will be.
- None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My grandparents who were entrepreneurs came here to California during the Great Black Migration. When they came here, they didn’t have any money. They worked on VTA buses and saved all of their funds to buy a barbershop. Their barbershop did extremeley well and so they bought another one, and then another one. They had five altogether when they sold them to move onto their next venture. They then bought a liquor store in the early seventies in Berkeley, California, which became a huge part of my upbringing. When I was only about five years old, they started bringing me to the liquor store every weekend to work. They paid me in candy for cleaning windows and mopping the floors.
When I got older, I used the cash register, but I was still very small to the point that I couldn’t reach the register properly. That never stopped my grandparents. I was never incapable. I was always enough. When I could not reach the counter, they simply gave me a stool so I could talk to the customers at eye-level. They wanted to give me a chance to have the same job as anyone else. I still have that stool on display to this day.
Through my life’s work, I want to help other people “reach the counter,” so to speak.
Other than my grandparents, I am especially grateful for the two women that invested in my company. They had no idea what hyperbaric oxygen therapy was, but they knew that I had the capacity to do something great and all I needed was resources. They were the singular resource that I needed to get to a place to be able to do what I’m doing to this day. Their small yet essential investment has led us to heal countless people.
And just generally, my mother is pretty awesome, too.
- If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would spark a movement that encourages us to think about healthcare more dynamically. We are encumbered by profit and classifications. In reality, our needs and our bodies are dynamic.
Think beyond what your doctor tells you. You know yourself. You know what is best for yourself.
- What are your ‘5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started’ and why?
1. You will fail. You will fail and you will fail. You will fail in talking to people. You will fail in getting the deal you wanted. You will fail in a way that will take money out of your pocket and food out of your mouth. You will fail and you will be hungry, tired, and despondent. That does not mean that what you are doing is stupid. It just means that you failed.
2. Not everyone cares what you have to say.
3. Even if you do everything perfectly, some people will still complain and will not accept your service.
4. Follow your intuition. What you believe makes sense for your business is what should be the guiding compass for what you do. Don’t be guided by easy money. Don’t be guided by catering to populations that don’t make sense for your heart. Be guided by your intuition.
5. Everything is more expensive than you think it is.
- How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leaders are those who work toward evening out outcomes for all people.
Not everyone is built to be a leader, and in fact, only a small fraction of us have the superhero power to be good leaders. As leaders, it is our duty to always use our powers to equalize privilege for all people and give everyone an even playing field. Being a leader is identifying gaps in communities and bridging them.
- Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be?
Tracee Ellis Ross. She is unencumbered by judgment and the need to prove herself. She cares about herself above anything else; I believe that is the definition of wellness. She is unabashedly selfish and makes it a point to laugh and sing every morning.
- Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
That is the main focus of my practice: how do we build sustainability within ourselves? We live these crazy lives and then they’re done. If you are a person that has been born into the world without a certain amount of privilege, your life is built on surviving and nothing more. When you are so focused on living to see another day, it is rare to feel nurtured, at peace, and joyful. Through my work, I aim to help others preserve themselves in the form of celebrating their rest, their comfort, and their laughter. I want to make their lives not just sustainable, but encourage them to thrive.
As far as the environment goes, one cannot live in a civilized world without being exposed to toxins on a daily basis. Part of being a human in this day and age is consensually and nonconsensually taking in toxins. We are regularly exposed to x-rays, EMFs, and harmful plastics that can create cancers, blue light rays that can inhibit us from sleep, damaging preservatives in the food we eat, and so much more. The more we work to reduce those invaders in our environment, the better. We need to work as a community toward living free of these virulent properties. Being constantly bombarded by these poisons is not a sustainable way of living.
- Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Whenever I was taking on a challenge and was contemplating how much effort to put into that entity, my father would say to me, “If you make your bed hard, you’re going to have to lay in it.” In saying this, he explained to me as people of color, we don’t have the opportunity to not put all of ourselves into everything we do. If you don’t do this the right way on the first try, you will have to live with the circumstances you’ve created for yourself.
As a result, I come prepared for everything. You will rarely find me caught off-guard or embarrassed. I work hard and I produce. I refuse to be flat-footed. I refuse to lay in a hard bed. Ask any Black woman – we don’t get second chances. We have to do it right the first time.