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Podcast Episode #1: The History of Erchonia Lasers with Founders Steven Shanks and Kevin Tucek

laser light show

On our first episode of the Laser Light Show we sit down with the founders of Erchonia, Steven Shanks and Kevin Tucek. They share the incredible story behind Erchonia lasers and how they have become the leader in low level laser technology!



Dr. Chad Woolner: All right, welcome everybody to Episode 1 of the Laser Light Show. We are super excited to kick this podcast off on today’s episode. We are gonna be talking about the history of Erchonia lasers so let’s get right to it. 

Growing up in Portland, Oregon, I used to love going to laser light shows at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. They would put on these amazing light shows with incredible designs synced up to some of my favorite music. From the Beatles to Pink Floyd to Jimmy Hendrix and Metallica; they were awesome. Little did I know then that lasers would have such a profound effect on my life decades later. As a chiropractic physician, I have seen first-hand just how powerful laser therapy is in helping patients struggling with a wide range of health problems. As the leader in laser therapy, Erchonia has pioneered the field in obtaining 20 of the 23 total FDA clearances for therapeutic application of lasers. On this podcast, we’ll explore the science and technology and physiology behind what makes these tools so powerful. Join me as we explore low-level laser therapy. I’m Dr. Chad Woolner along with my good friend Dr. Andrew Wells and welcome to The Laser Light Show.

Dr. Chad Woolner: All right welcome to the show everybody we have on with us, Stephen Shanks and Kevin Tucek, the founders of Erchonia lasers along with Dr. Andrew Wells. How are you my friend?

Dr. Andrew Wells: I’m excited. I’m doing really well. Excited to get this podcast off the ground and really excited for our two guests this morning. 

Dr. Chad Woolner: Yeah, so before we hand it over to our guests, we wanted to just kind of really help Docs understand the kind of hopes that we have for this podcast. You know we met with the folks at Erchonia a few months back and have just been super impressed with them as a company, the lasers that they produce and we really wanted a different format to be able to really introduce to Docs the science and the application of low level laser therapy. 

We’re hearing and seeing firsthand. Just some incredible stories and we wanted to be able to provide Docs with a tremendous amount of runway to be able to dive as deep as we want, to go into a range of topics within the whole realm. As you can imagine, there’s only so much time on a webinar or on a video and so for us, very much like a Netflix binge, we can say with this podcast. We’re hoping that we can provide multiple episodes to really dive into a wide range of different topics and whatnot. So with this first one we thought it appropriate and very fitting to again introduce Erchonia and the history and the story behind it by having none other than the founders here with us. So with that being said, without further ado, Steven and Kevin. Thank you guys so much for being here on the show with us, welcome to the show. We’re excited to have you guys. 

Steven Shanks & Kevin Tucek: Our pleasure.

Dr. Chad Woolner: So I guess the first question that I would have is what got you guys into the world of lasers because originally your background was not in lasers correct. Not physicians. What’s the story behind that? 

Steven Shanks: My background is sales, Kevin can give his background, Kevin was an engineer. 

Kevin Tucek: Yes, I was an engineer and when Steve and I started a company in Colorado in ‘96, I worked for a company called COBE Laboratories. I was an R&D engineer developing products that kept you alive during heart open surgery and other types of aspects that’s surgery related and that’s what initiated Steven to get into this business. Steven’s father who was like my father, he raised me since I was a child. He was having some health issues and was going to a chiropractor in Colorado at the time who had this European plasma laser that he had brought in, that he illegally brought into the US. 

Whatever the process was, I don’t know but he wasn’t approved for treatment in the US. And so he had gotten better, being treated by this. And he told me that one of my sons had fallen out of a tree and bruised his liver. He was a kid at the time and he didn’t want to tell me he done it because he wasn’t allowed to be in the tree. 

So, we went to see the pediatrician and the pediatrician couldn’t figure out what’s wrong with him so Steve’s dad told me, he says, once you take Jeremy and take him to see this doctor and see if he can help. He diagnosed after doing some tests that he bruised his liver. He treated him with this large plasma laser and he got better. So I called the doctor, [and said] I’m an engineer if he has any problems or anything to just let me know. Yeah he says, yeah, I have one of those lasers, they’re a hundred thousand dollar laser and it’s broken and nobody in the US can fix it. Can you fix it? 

So, I fix it for him and I looked and saw how inefficient the technology was and that prompted us to develop the first handheld. It was more for our family than actually making money at the time.

Dr. Chad Woolner: Okay, Wow. So, you essentially took apart this laser yourself and kind of like looked at it and saw how it worked and how it operated?

Kevin Tucek: Yeah, well, I had to do that to fix the original one, but the technology is totally different. That technology is like when you saw James Bond use a plasma which is a gas, and you’ll put electricity through it and they bounced the light back and forth through a couple parabolic mirrors, then it would be pushed out the end of one of them with a little hole in the end. Very inefficient. Used too much power and it was the technology at the time. So we thought, we can do a better job of that, make it cheaper, smaller, more efficient, and that are the results you see today with your Erchonia laser. 

Dr. Chad Woolner: Wow! That’s amazing. 

Dr. Andrew Wells: I don’t hear those stories very often and how cool is that you know? When you said plasma laser? I’m thinking of like a plasma torch used to cut metal and things like that and I didn’t…it’s interesting the different applications of lasers in general. I didn’t realize that was the history. I knew the history of Erchonia started because someone in your family was dealing with pain and  back pain. That’s a really interesting story. Was there any idea back at the time that you guys were on to something, like wow, we’re gonna revolutionize the way that physicians and doctors and chiropractors are gonna be using light therapy?

Steve Shanks: Early on, when Kevin was making those lasers for him. He started some out of his office. We didn’t know at that time that it was illegal. So we got a letter from the FDA in 1998 which turned us into a research & development company. Back then there was hardly anything published on the level of laser therapy. You know since it turned us into a research development company, we started figuring out things as we went along. The more research that we do, the more things that we’re open to and the more indications that we can apply the laser to. So early on, we didn’t know what we know today. We got our first laser through in 2002 on chronic neck and shoulder pain and since then there’s just so many different applications. And for us, if you didn’t have the FDA we could get the stuff out faster but you know these clinical trials usually take one to five years.

Dr. Andrew Wells: I was in high school back in 98 when this was happening and I had no idea. I had no idea that chiropractors and doctors were even doing anything like this, was there anything else going on like this in the world? Are you aware of any other type of technologies other than these machines that were brought into the US via Europe? Was there any other kind of laser therapy that you’re aware of that was available at the time?

Steve Shanks: Most of the lasers at that time were out there for our competitors. At that point it would probably be like ultrasounds or 10 units which there’s not a real lot of really good science behind them and they’re not used that much anymore. 

Dr. Chad Wooler: Yeah, we find that with 10 units and even ultrasound you know they can be helpful for maybe some temporary mild symptom relief at best, but the things that we’re talking about are the claims that can be made based on science with Erchonia is pretty powerful. You know, what we’re hearing and what we’re seeing you know in terms of what’s actually happening there at a physiological level so it’s really pretty incredible to see that so. So, your dad. What was the story there? How did that play out? Well? I guess I should say both stories, how did your son do that, fall out of the tree and then, your dad? How did that all play out? 

Steve Shanks: My dad, well, he was a paratrooper so we had chronic pain issues. So, when Kevin developed the first laser he was smart enough to patent it. So as Kevin started developing these lasers you know we had a bunch of family members that were getting treated by this doctor, I’d say there were about 30 of us on a whole bunch of different medications. So we had a pretty good idea what the laser could do. You know, we just had to figure out, okay, how can we market this? And that’s always a whole different problem. 

Dr. Andrew Wells: Is it safe to say that you guys, and I’m naive here to this, is it safe to say that you guys created this category in the health space. 

Steve Shanks: Yes. One of the problems of low level lasers, which is actually a blessing for us, is that to get an indication as a category through the FDA you have to blind and control clinical trials like with ultrasound tens units. They were grandfathered in because they were around before 1976. 

So in 2002, we did a study on chronic neck and shoulder pain. Actually in 2000, the study was so good, the FDA said, we need you to do another one. So we did another study on chronic neck shoulder pain and we created a category and we got the first 510(K)  market clearance from the FDA in January 2002. 

Dr. Chad Woolner: That’s amazing. Absolutely incredible. So, and I don’t know if I’m going to dive too deep into a tangent here, but I was just thinking about this. You know with the doctors that we train we play this video that talks about the placebo effect and they dive into the science behind the placebo effect, but they talk about go a little bit broader and they talk about just this whole use of energy and how energy is such a more efficient vehicle for helping cellular healing because it’s more efficient in terms of cell to cell communication versus chemical communication. 

And they said that’s why a lot of various energetic tools and/or approaches to helping people get better results versus a lot of the pharmaceutical approaches because just simply from the standpoint. The pharmaceutical and the chemical approach of chemical signaling within cells versus energetic signaling is far less efficient. Can you guys see that kind of…Did you know that was kind of what was driving a lot of this or maybe speak to that in terms of what your observations in terms of what you started to see and maybe some of the original hypothesis behind what you guys saw and what you guys were thinking. 

Steve Shanks: Yeah, like when you talk about a chemical effect which people get familiar with drugs. Lasers, just invisible light, create photochemical effects. The nice thing about photochemical effects and there’s no side effects so it’s natural from the Sun. You can get vitamin D. Like when you talk about the placebo effect. In our market, we’ve been doing placebo controlled studies since 1999. We use LEDS as placebos, we keep about a small amount of pain. We’ll get maybe a 10 to 15% reduction in pain. Well with a laser, we’ll get a 60% reduction in pain. If we’re looking at fat indications, we’ll get maybe half to a three quarter of an inch where with a laser we’ll get three and a half to five inches. So that’s the photochemical effect. It’s laser dependent. You don’t get that photochemical effect with an infrared light and you don’t get much of a photochemical effect with an LED.

Dr. Andrew Wells: It’s important to know… I think because I’ve noticed now as consumers and also as companies are starting to catch on to the fact that you can get a biological change with energy, with light, with sound, with vibration. You’re starting to see now a lot of companies are jumping on this bandwagon and what I’ve noticed as a doctor in clinics across the country is, we’re seeing now a big influx of things that are really cheap, I would consider cheap stuff, it looks cheap, and it’s basically LED technology or versions of that. And that’s become really popular, and the interesting thing about this is I have a lot of docs to say you know we did get some results with this but we’ll dive into this a little bit more in further  episodes later about what actual clinical differences are between laser light and LED light, other forms of light. But, I think that’s important for doctors. To understand there’s a differentiation between what you guys are saying and Steve and Kevin. There’s a differentiation between light and laser light, is that what you’re saying?

Steve Shanks: That’s exactly what we’re seeing. Absolutely true. So, like what we’re trying to set up a placebo device in a clinical trial. You want the patient to think that they’re getting the actual device, most patients think they see a red, green, violet light which is the wavelengths we use, or are they still laser. They’re not gonna be able to tell the difference so we’re getting actually really good, hard data. 

Dr. Chad Woolner: That’s awesome. So from a mile up, simple view, how would you describe to the lay person or consumer the difference between an LED light versus a laser light?

Steve Shanks: There’s research out there that says cells speak in a laser coherent like fashion. LEDs are not coherent. They’re incoherent energy spread everywhere. From a regulatory perspective, there are no LEDs that are FDA cleared with blind and controlled clinical trials. Most of the stuff that are sold out there is a bunch of marketing garbage that’s being sold illegally. So we get audited by the FDA like when I got that first warning letter you know, all of us here at Erchonia, all my brothers, Kevin, we don’t want the FDA to come taking our stuff so we really watch what we say and we try to prove everything that we say.

Dr. Chad Woolner: So, would you say that that original kind of nasty gram from the FDA was like one of the biggest impetuses for you guys in terms of digging deep into research or do you think you guys naturally would have already just due to your kind of personalities in nature would have started digging into the research on your own?

Steve Shanks: I think that letter was a blessing and a curse. I mean when you get one of those letters, they’re terrible but we figured okay, we bleed in technology and at that point understand that we didn’t know anything about regulatory, so we had to start creating this process from the beginning. 

Dr. Andrew Wells: So when was it that you guys realize, okay, this is something that could change the lives of thousands, if not millions of people. When was that movement in this evolution of this technology?

Steve Shanks: I would say the driving force is probably our dad. 

Kevin Tucek: Yeah, this is Kevin. When we saw it did to our family and you know we’re nobody special, we’re the average Joe. And when we saw it helped from the children up to an old man and all these different indications. It worked on everybody and you know when you see it happening for you, you don’t have anybody left to impress. It’s just happening in the house. Did we see potential procedures? Should I say I saw potential. And he was the driving force to bring it to the next level. 

Dr. Andrew Wells: That’s amazing. How is this? How has this technology changed over the last, 30 some years?

Steve Shanks: Well, it’s been you know, the nice part about you know me and Kevin being the same age, we’ve known each other….I’ve known Kevin longer than my two younger brothers. If we wanted to develop something for a clinical trial, I can walk up to Kevin; “Hey Kevin What do you think?” 

I have no mechanical background at all so Kevin being like okay, let’s try this. And we would start out with handhelds and then there’s a lot of doctors out there that don’t want to wave a device back and forth. So, then you know we kind of figured, okay, let’s create a scanner. We started developing that in 2006-2007, yeah is that when we developed this runner?

Kevin Tucek: Well, actually, the interesting thing is the very first laser that I built was actually a scanner. It was a unique scanner that I’d never patented but it was to help Steve’s dad because he’s an older man and he didn’t want to stand around. But that led into…when he wanted to go on vacation. He needed something portable, the scanner was too big. So I built a smaller handheld version for him to take on vacation and that’s how we came at it. 

We started, Steve will tell you that it was the handhelds but the initial one was a scanner. Different one we scanned today. But it still scanned and then you know this test we had to hand out led to the advent of the scanners. 

Steve Shanks: A lot of that is, for instance, we’re doing liposuction research. We had to use a handheld because we’re in an operating room. We went in with some of our fat reduction protocols that were, you know, 40 minutes? You can’t do a handheld device for 40 minutes so that’s when Kevin started building scanners. 

Dr. Chad Woolner: And what was the, in terms of the scanning, not only the handheld but was there other rationale behind why you’re wanting to scan beyond that? Was there in terms of the pattern, in terms of the layout of it? What else went into that in terms of the kind of approach. 

Steve Shanks: Well, a lot of scanning devices are developed for some of our longer protocols. So, say if I want to treat my waist, hips, and thighs in one treatment. If I’m using a handheld device, I’d have to go one, to the other, to the other. Where if the scanning device Kevil built one where we could scan all of the areas at the same time. It’s just a more efficient manner. And now we combine wavelengths and some of our scanners, so as we go along, we develop devices based on what we’re trying to treat. We just don’t create a device and have it treat everything which is most of the stuff you can see out there. 

Dr. Chad Woolner: I would imagine with a scanner too, that also allows you to create a far higher degree of standardization in terms of your protocols rather than leaving up to our practitioner to scan according to their time frame and whatnot. You guys have set protocols which allow for better research and better outcomes. My guess. 

Kevin Tucek: Steve is the one who works with the clinicians to be able to get that. But the advantage to the scanners is uniform treatment. We have the same energy over the treatment area without any deviation. If you are imagining scanning by hand, your frequency is back and forth, it’s going to change. With scanners, it’s always exactly the same. So because of the uniform you have dosage. Steve was able to come up with protocol with his doctors. That way we could get all these different indications for your docs.

Steve Shanks: I love that point because you know what doctors by protocols or anybody, our competitors, they ask you. How long to treat? Where did the protocol come from? Because if you haven’t proven in a clinical trial, you’re guessing. With us, we’re not guessing, we’ve already proved an abundant control clinical trial. 

Dr. Chad Woolner: Yeah, and that helps you know doctors’ confidence which ultimately then helps the patient, you know. If the doctor is confident with what they’re doing, that’s gonna ultimately, the patient’s gonna benefit from that as well. 

Dr. Andrew Wells: I have a story about this when I was doing a board review class when I was in chiropractic school and I had this amazing doctor, John D’Onofrio, who unfortunately isn’t around with us anymore. But this guy I remember as a student. This guy bounced off the walls with the most amazing information I’d ever heard as a chiropractor and I was you know through four or five years of school learning textbook stuff. Learning how to help people, actually, I shouldn’t say even learning necessarily how to help people but learning how to get my chiropractic degree. 

And, here comes this guy, Dr. D’Onofrio, and the guy was just a wealth of information. And this is the first time I had ever heard of Erchonia and he was mentioning that he was scanning patient’s heads with Erchonia laser. I’m like well, what do you mean you scan people’s heads? He’s like yeah, we have protocols for all different types of things and I remember thinking as a student like, is that safe? Can you do that? Why would you do that? What are the different applications? 

Because I was thinking I’d heard of laser therapy and Erchonia. You know cold laser therapy and thinks like this and we had some of these some of technologies in our clinic, but I’d never had ever heard of Erchonia. And I didn’t realize that this technology could be used outside of just musculoskeletal applications and this was a huge breakthrough for me. When I first heard of this, I had no idea that laser therapy was used for things like fat loss. 

I had no idea that it could be used to help increase energy or help with aiding in digestion and I didn’t realize the scope of the different therapy and applications for low level laser therapy. It was actually Dr. D’Onofrio who first introduced this concept to me. And I really want Docs…one of the benefits of listening to this podcast is you’re gonna get some of this information and all these different applications that you can use to help more patients in more ways. When did you guys…question for you guys. When did you realize…it sounds like you started with musculoskeletal complaints, but when did you realize there were other applications outside of just that? 


Steve Shank: So our next application after chronic neck and shoulder pain, and we’ve been fairly fortunate. We’ve stumbled onto a lot of great doctors. We met a doctor with the plastic surgeon out of Cali Columbia named Rodrigo Neira. And there was some stuff published on low-level laser therapy, but Dr. Nira was a liposuction surgeon so I said look at laser patient pre and post and you know you’ll create the wound healing. When I met Doctor Rodrigo Neira, he didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak any Spanish so when I met him at the seminar I worked through his brother Matt. 

He got back to me three months later through Matt and he says look something’s going on with the laser when I stick my cannula inside the patient. The fat is, it’s like water, so he spent a lot of his own money proving this. He did…some of those pictures you see that everybody rips off ours showing, we could emulsify fat…2000s. We published that in 2000-2001. We showed a transitory pore in the cell and all Dr. Neira wanted to be accepted by his plastic surgeon colleagues. The first time it was presented, and he got laughed out of the building. I said, look Rodrigo, you know what we’re gonna do. We’ll do the blind and control clinical trial with Kevin and we said we’ll do like a clinical trial for liposuction so most people don’t know this but gotta give ticket liposuction in 2004. If we would have never done that clinical trial and looked at that fat, we would have never got some of our fat reducing technology. So, as we do more research, we find out a lot more things we can do. 

Dr. Andrew Wells: That’s amazing and that’s transforming healthcare because I know so many clinics. I know lots of clinics who have weight loss, weight loss therapy centers in their clinics. I know that’s big in the chiropractic field. It’s a great service center and a lot of people need to lose weight and I didn’t realize that that’s where it started. And I know most doctors are not using laser therapy, they’re using these little LED paddles and things that you get no doubt from China. 

Steve Shanks: Well, there’s a reason why they’re not using lasers because we’ve patented the process of fat reduction with red, green, or violet lasers. So, obviously we prosecute our patents so you won’t see a lot of lasers out there. And with that reduction, we use LEDs. They don’t work or they work good enough for us to prove to the FDA where the lasers…. Actually you know in our clinical trials, most people don’t know we have to have something that’s not only statistically significant which all drugs have to prove but we have to prove clinical meaningfulness so we treat somebody before we start a protocal. We have a target we have to hit, if they don’t hit the target, they’re considered a failure. 

Dr. Andrew Wells: You know, I hope doctors are understanding and hearing that when we’re talking about the history of Erchonia, we’re gonna talk about this in the next episode as well. Is that all of this was based on clinical trials and research. And speaking as a chiropractor sometimes when I’m talking to other healthcare professionals or even within our profession, we hear like, you know we hear the things we talk about are anecdotal or not research that don’t have any evidence behind them. 

No doubt if you’re a chiropractor who advertises on Facebook you get all kinds of trolls saying, what you’re doing is not research and its not evidence-based, but here we have a company who’s producing products who’s whole history is founded in the necessity in the need to research what they’re doing and backing up what they’re doing. Backing up their claims with actual studies, I think I find that very refreshing and it should give doctors some comfort knowing that what they’re doing is legitimate. It’s backed by research, it has lots of evidence to support and that’s no doubt why you guys are doing as well as you are as a company and not only here in the US but around the world. I think there’s obviously a huge need for that and so thank you guys for doing this. I know creating a company like this is not easy and I know that you had to jump through a lot of hoops and I can’t imagine what the government regulatory processes are like but well, I know that it’s hard so thank you for providing what you do and helping so many doctors and patients throughout the world with this therapy. 

Dr. Chad Woolner: Yeah, I have one kind of final question for you guys. I’m really, truly curious and interested to know, what do you guys see over the next 5,10,15,20 years in terms of the future of laser therapy and specifically Erchonia where do you guys see yourselves?

Steve Shanks: Most any time, We’ve got 7 to 8 clinical trials ongoing. So you know you’ll see a lot of brain disease, you’ll see like peripheral neuropathy, tinnitus pretty much. If you look at the mechanisms, there’s probably nothing that we can’t treat. Anything a drug can do a laser can do better with a better result. No side effects. So that just kind of shows you how broad the market is. 

Dr. Chad Woolner: Wow. 

Steve Shanks: If you want to see what we’re doing you could go to clinicaltrials.gov.

Dr. Chad Woolner: And do just a search Erchonia in there or? 

Steve Shanks: Yeah anybody that’s doing blind and controlled research legally has published on clinicaltrials.gov/erchonia and you can see some of recent research projects. 

Dr. Chad Woolner: Wow. That’s amazing. Are you guys getting much pushback at all from pharmaceutical companies in terms of you know the fact that you know that claim? I’m sure they can’t be too psyched about hearing that lasers, whatever drugs can do lasers can do better. 

Steve Shank: Well, I think we’re not even on their radar screen, we’re so small.

Dr. Chad Woolner: Yeah, when it comes to these companies. Yes, that’s true. So, do you have any final questions Dr. Wells, any other questions?

Dr. Andrew Wells: I don’t. You know, we’re kind of heading a little bit more towards research conversation. We’re gonna talk about research a lot more in depth on the next episode and I really am excited for this podcast because of what we just talked about. That light therapy and laser therapy has the potential to do what pharmaceuticals can do without the side effects. 

Like that’s what everybody in healthcare, at least the holistic healthcare practitioners, when you’re a chiropractor it’s music to my ears. This has the ability to impact so many lives in such an incredible way and no doubt that’s what you guys are doing so well as a company. But, that’s what we’re gonna be diving into in this podcast. Docs, if you’re listening to this podcast, this is what we’re about; helping reverse chronic disease and how people get healthy without the dangerous side effects of drugs and surgery. 

Really, what we’ve been doing here in the US and around the world Western health care for the last 70-80 years. We’re looking to change that and so we hope that this podcast becomes a vehicle for doctors to become more familiar with this technology and what it can do for your patients and what it can do for your practice. So we really want to give a big shout out to Steven Shanks and Kevin Tucek for being our guests on the first episode ever, The Laser Light Show. So, thank you guys very much. Chad, anything you want to end on?

Dr. Chad Woolner: Thank you guys, we appreciate you guys being here with us and appreciate you guys sharing your story. It’s incredible. What has become of these kind of serendipitous and in some instances not so pleasant moments that you guys took and kind of proverbially made lemonade out of lemons or made lasers out of pain. So, thank you guys so much! This is episode one of the Laser Light Show and we will be sharing more with you guys on the next episode. Thanks again guys. 

Thanks for listening to The Laser Light Show. Be sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you’re interested in learning more about Erchnoia lasers, just head on over to Erchonia.com. There you’ll find a ton of useful resources including research news and links to upcoming live events, as well as Erchonia’s e-community where you can access for free additional resources including advanced training and business tools. Again, thanks for listening and we will catch you on the next episode.