Life Changing Moments: Uncovering Your Unique Path, with Dr. Siatta Dunbar

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For Dr. Siatta Dunbar, the journey to professional fulfillment did not take the straightest of paths. She moved from construction project management, to physician, and now lifestyle medicine. But what was helpful to help her find her way was the trusted confidants who she leaned on while making these changes. 

And, if you find yourself looking for trusted confidants to help you find YOUR unique path, MD coaches might be able to help. Find them at

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Today’s Episode is brought to you by Doc2Doc Lending. Doc2Doc provides Match Day loans of up to $25,000 to fourth-year medical students and current residents. These loans are designed to help students cover personal expenses, such as moving costs, housing down payments, and living expenses before and during residency. With fixed interest rates, flexible repayment terms, and no prepayment penalties, Doc2Doc Match Day loans provide financial flexibility and allow students to focus on their exciting journey towards becoming a physician.

Doc2Doc was founded for doctors, by doctors. They understand the challenges and hard work involved in becoming a doctor, and they support doctors throughout their careers. Using their in-house lending platform, Doc2Doc considers the unique financial considerations of doctors that are not typically considered by traditional financial institutions. So, Don’t let financial stress hold you back from achieving your goals – Doc2Doc lending has you covered. Visit to Learn more.

Dr. Siatta Dunbar is double boarded in Family Medicine and Lifestyle Medicine with fellowship training in Sports Medicine. She entered medicine as a second career after spending 10 years as a Project Manager in commercial and retail construction.

Her commitment to developing meaningful relationships that are focused on creating health and increasing quality of life, led her to start her own lifestyle medicine and health coaching business, Saravit Wellness. It is built on the premise that healthcare should be 1) collaborative, not prescriptive 2) should educate individuals that they have control of their health, and 3) that restorative sleep, regular exercise, clean nutrition and wholehearted connections are foundational to achieving and maintaining health and vitality.

Note: Links on this page may be linked to affiliate programs. These links help to ensure we can continue to deliver this content to you. If you are interested in purchasing any products listed on this page, your support helps us out greatly. Thank you.

Access the Show Transcript Here


[0:00] It’s really hard to unsee the power of lifestyle medicine. When you experience it, when you see what someone is capable of, it’s really hard to forget that.
You can’t unsee it.
There are times in our lives that change the way we see the world.
Navigating these challenges can take insight, trusted confidants, or even a coach.
Let’s explore those moments.
In this companion podcast to Rx for Success, we will discover ways to learn and write our own success stories together.
I’m Dr. Dale Waxman, a physician coach with MD Coaches, and this is Life-Changing Moments.

[0:44] Can you recall a time when you felt pulled to go in a different direction in your life?
What did you do with that energy?
Did you bury it, put it on the back burner, explore it, embrace it?

[0:57] When the tug to do something different emerged several times, today’s guest allowed herself to consider this question.
What if this is where I’m supposed to be right now? We’ll learn how holding this question served her and what lessons she has for us for the times in which we wonder if we are honoring our unique path.
Today’s guest is Dr. Syeda Dunbar. She is double-boarded in family medicine and lifestyle medicine and has fellowship training in sports medicine as well.
She entered medicine as a second career after spending 10 years as a project manager in commercial and retail instruction as an architect.
The inspiring story of her path into medicine is chronicled in the RX for Success podcast number 128, which you can access on the MD Coaches website or in your podcast app.
Syeda, welcome to Life-Changing Moments. Thank you very much for having me, Dale.
I’m super excited to be here.
Yeah, thank you again. And just, I know that when you were doing RX for Success, Randy knew that you were somewhere on the West Coast. I just want to make sure I got it right, that you’re in Oregon.
I am indeed, yes. Good.
And you’ve been there for how long now? Coming up on two years now.

[2:14] Great. And we’re gonna get into a little bit more about what you’re doing, especially with the lifestyle medicine piece.
I wanted to get right into the theme of the day, which is following our unique path. What do we do when we get these messages one way or the other about tugs and pulls in one direction or another?
I’d like to start with your mind in your own business, being an architect and project manager, and then you noticed some nudges that directed you toward medicine. Is that right?
For sure. Yes. Can you say a little bit more about that?
Yeah so just a little bit of maybe a little bit more backstory and i don’t remember if randy and i went through this a little bit so my family sort of immigrated to the states and when we settled in virginia it was sort of this little nucleus of librarians that were there and i had an interest i would say in medicine um it sort of intrigued me but i certainly didn’t have the, confidence or you know mentorship you know someone to say gosh who’s walked that path So I just sort of, you know, volunteered and, you know, did what I could with that sort of interest.
And as a result of, you know, and I mentioned it to Randy, two pretty significant losses in my life. The first being my sister who died of metastatic breast cancer was really when I started to start to listen to that interest a little bit more and really start to say, gosh.

[3:41] Should I, should I explore this more? Should I be a little bit more brave with, with what’s sort of rumbling in me. And as a result of that, I started getting a little bit deeper into volunteerism started to, you know, I did the rescue squad and started to take some courses around, you know, BLS training and more medically oriented things, because up until that point, my education had been in, you know, architecture and some engineering and those sorts of things. And I had no concept of what it meant to go to medical school, nor did I think I.

[4:13] I could ever do something like that.
It just seemed like an impossible thing that only the top 5% or something do.
So it was really just, how do I find some way to participate and honor this interest that was sort of brewing in me, but I didn’t know quite what to do with it or how to explore it sufficiently.
And that was the first. And then when my mother passed, that was really like, that just really, I had to just, it was at the point where I was like, gosh, I really gotta, I gotta pay attention a little bit more I really started to dig a little bit deeper at that point.
Yeah. So just to kind of reflect, it sounds like there’s this little kernel of interest from an early part of your life, but there really wasn’t much in the way of your environment or community to explore that.
Nobody was sort of mentoring or modeling in your community about what that might look like to do that, but it was there.
It’s sort of like we all have other interests, but it was there.
Kind of got reawakened with the exposure to medicine through some personal experiences with your sister and your mother as well.
Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Yeah. Which is why I think mentorship is so huge, right?
I think allowing those conversations to happen, for people to approach you and say, gosh, what have you done? How did you do it? Mentorship is huge.
You know, whether or not, you know, sometimes I think, gosh, what if?
But then when I sit back, I really do believe that my path has bared out the way it was intended.

[5:41] Like I think if I had had this supposed, you know, woo-hoo member, you know, mentor way back when, I don’t know that I would have come to this point today. So I really, as long and as windy as it has been, I think that’s exactly what I was supposed to do in order to get me to this point where.

[5:59] I just feel so blessed to do what I do right now. And I don’t know that I would have that passion and that love of it if I hadn’t taken sort of this very circuitous route to this point.
Yeah. So there’s some, I hear some gratitude for the steps along the way here. I do want, you know, for our listeners benefit, because all of us consider something different, you know, either in small ways or large ways. So in those, you know, in Brandy’s podcast, you talked about nudges that had you explore more of this possibility of medicine. And I know this was not a short amount of time, you know, between your job as an architect to entering to medical school.
But I am curious, what the inner conversation was like? What were the pushes and what were the pulls?
So what are the pushes into it and pushes away from it?
And similarly, what’s pulling you towards this, but what might be pulling you back to just stay in just the way that you were?
What can you kind of recount what that was like for you at that time?
I think early on, and I’ll say sort of early on being in and around the time Nina, my sister’s name is Nina. Her name is Sabrina, but we call her Nina. So in and around the time that she got.

[7:14] Breast cancer and metastatic and caring for her, the reason I didn’t move was more internal.
It truly was lack of confidence, didn’t think I was good enough, didn’t think I was capable.

[7:30] At that point, I really just sort of looked at myself as this somewhat of an immigrant, right?
You come to the States and you just kind of, you exist and you try your best to have what you can have and you don’t really look to anything beyond that. And that was me, right? No one was telling me these things. No one was saying, Seattle, you’re not capable. It was purely internal, not thinking I had the ability or the confidence. As when we say what was pushing me towards, that happened to be external, right? I think my brother played a really big role because at the at the point that my mother passed away, it was really just the two of us.
My father was not really involved. He wasn’t involved in our life for quite a few years before then.
And after my mom passed away, other than being around for the service, he pretty much was gone.
So it really was my brother and my extended family, my uncles and those sorts of things.
But it was really my brother who really fueled or really sort of nudged me and said, Seata, you can do this, right? Don’t sell yourself short, you are capable.
You have the ability to do it so it was really an external you know this external validation this external support that allow me to take find that leap of faith where i left construction management and left my job to move up to jersey and apply to post back and start down that road of you know what does this medical education thing look like and I don’t know that I would have done it without his nudging and his support.

[8:58] That was really at that point when it really just felt like the two of us.
Him believing in me really was profound. It was profound.
We often don’t do this in isolation, right? So there are those that we love and care about us, that we run these things by as well. So was there any other pieces to this?
This, if you went to do post-bac, did you stop working?

[9:25] Yeah. Yeah. How was that a consideration for you? You said, I got to just quit getting income to go back to school.
Exactly. It was interesting because at that point, for all intents and purposes, I have to think how old was I?
I mean, this was later in my years too, right? Because I’d gone to UVA and done architecture, wasn’t practicing as an architect, I was doing construction management, but this was 10 years.
So I had been working for a long time, had gotten very comfortable making a pretty decent living.
But I also think that I was living a somewhat destructive life at that point.
So although on the one hand, it was like, okay, there’s financial freedom for my age at that time, making a decent amount of money where I could travel and do these things and spend time with my brother and his kids and his wife, which is again, kind of what I had.
But then on the other hand, I was in a really bad place emotionally after my mother passed away and making really poor choices with my life.
I am so grateful that I honored one, took his sort of nudging and walked away, although yes, there was a financial hit, but I was headed down a road that would not have been.

[10:38] It would not have ended well.
I was just making some really poor choices with how I took care of myself, my interactions, the things now with lifestyle medicine that I talked to people about, right? My stress was through the roof. I wasn’t sleeping. It was a really, really tough time. So it was hard to leave the money and the freedom and the flexibility that that brought, but it was out of necessity I needed to save myself because if I didn’t, I think I would have ended in a really bad place.
So, there was some…

[11:10] Insight about this is not a good direction for me to be going for sure.
Yeah, and the sounds like the conclusion you made was I need to move into something different.
I need to do something different.
This is not a good path to go down.
Not necessarily professionally. It sounds like you’re pretty happy with that, but emotionally other parts of your life for sure.
Yeah, when I and when I went up to Jersey, it was still a matter of, you know, I think initially it was okay.
I just have to get out of this situation, right?
I just need, I need out. So that initial move to Jersey where my brother was, was really just a physical, like put myself someplace else to see if I could sort of reset and figure out why I was doing what I was doing and where I was heading and those sorts of things. And then those conversations continued with my brother. And from there, then I said, okay, I’m going to do this leap. I’m going to take a chance. And I don’t know, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
It’s a leap into the chasm, isn’t it? Oh man, to come to medicine at, I think at any age it’s hard, but man, I was so far removed from learning, you know, at the volume that you have to learn.
It was challenging.

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[13:42] Music.

[13:49] I’m Rhonda Crowe, founder and CEO for MD Coaches. Here on Rx for Success, we interview a lot of, great medical professionals on how they grew their careers, how they overcame challenges, and how they handle day-to-day work. I really hope you’re getting a lot of great information, but if you’re looking for an answer to a specific problem, management or administration challenge, or if you’re feeling just a bit burnt out, like maybe you chose the wrong career, Well, then there’s a faster way to get the help you need. No, it’s not counseling. It’s coaching.
Rx for Success is produced by MD Coaches, a team of physicians who have been where you are.
I know you’re used to going it alone, but you don’t have to. Get the support you need today.
Visit us at to schedule your complimentary consultation. Again, And that’s, because you’re not in this alone.

[14:51] We’ll get back to our interview in just a moment, but right now I wanna tell you a little bit about Physician Outlook.
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And now let’s get back to today’s interview.

[16:01] So some listeners are probably going to wonder, how did you do this pragmatically? You know, did you have funding to support yourself?
So thankfully, again, I had some finances to kind of bridge me for a little while.
It was not the whole time. And then I got a job, right? So I ended up, working as a scribe in the emergency room, you know, so that I could start to, again, and get some experience because this was, other than doing some volunteerism in the hospital or like running rescue, which my mother hated by the way, oh my gosh, she was just so against that.
So yeah, so I took a job and I would work in the ER, which was both experience as well as a little bit of income.

[16:41] And then you take out loans and you do whatever you gotta do.
When you sort of set your mind to that this is kind of where you wanna go, you use your resources.
It was mostly whatever money I had, jobs while I was going to Postbac, and then loans.

[16:58] Preston Pysh, MPH Yeah, great. While you’re on that path, I’m just curious, were there times when there was something more than small doubts about whether this is the right place for you to be going, the right path for you?
Interesting question. Other than organic making me question everything, but I think that’s normal.
I think now in hindsight, you’re like, yeah, that was awful, but everyone goes through that.
I don’t recall having a moment where I said, I’m not going to do this.
I really don’t. And that’s not to say it was easy and that’s not to say that I didn’t, like you said, we all have some doubt and I think we almost have to because this is kind of a crazy thing to do, but not enough to make me either stop.
Or change, or pull back, or anything like that. Yeah. So even more validation that you’re on the right path, it seems like.
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Well, that’s fascinating. And what I want to do is kind of fast forward us now to people that did not hear the RX for Success podcast. I’m going to fast forward a little bit through your life.
So professionally, you went to medical school, you did family medicine residency, did a sports medicine fellowship, you were doing some practice in the cold north.

[18:18] You relocated to Oregon, you did some urgent care and somewhere along the way, you got interested in or you actually trained in lifestyle medicine.
As you and I were talking before we started recording, we were thinking lifestyle medicine and we’ll let you describe that in just a minute. It was probably something that was always there for you and just sort of now able to express being able to practice in that.
So that’s something that you’re doing now and can you say something about that transition from what you were doing professionally to what you’re now doing?
And in that, let us know what lifestyle medicine is as well. Got it, you got it.
And that when I was in Minnesota, so after fellowship, you know, five years or so we were in Minnesota and I was doing 100% sports medicine, musculoskeletal medicine.
And it was, you know, over that time period that I really started to get interested in how else can I support patients?
And like you said, when I went into medicine, it was really about honoring my mom and my sister, right?
Nina and my mother about the loss and their death. How do I, how do I honor that?
How do I make that meaningful or purposeful? And that was part of why I was really going into medicine.
And as I started to practice and function in sort of the traditional way that healthcare is done, it didn’t feel like it was fitting that, right? I wasn’t really making that sort of impact in somebody’s quality of life was really what I wanted to do.

[19:44] Where people are better and not just in like pain or something which i could do in sports but really about how are they participating in their life how are they interacting with their family do they have the the level of fitness and vitality to truly live in a bunded life and i didn’t feel like i was doing that within the context of the way I was practicing when I was in Minnesota. So I really started looking and I had stumbled on the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. And it was like, Oh, my gosh, these are my people, like this, this is it. They they’ve been saying what I’ve been saying, but I did not have the right words or the tools or the resources, right? I was doing it, what I knew in the 15 minutes that we get with patients that was not really moving the needle. So once I discovered the ACLM, I just put everything I had into it and read and studied and then started down the road of getting board certified.
And when we moved to Oregon, the reason I, because I could have just stayed with sports, but my goal when I moved here was to really start to build out this lifestyle medicine and do coaching and really pour myself into that.
And I thought Urgent Care would give me the bandwidth to do that, where I could work for a few days and then really put my heart into lifestyle medicine and coaching.

[21:02] And that, given the context of COVID and everything else, it just, it became really challenging to do both.
And I was met with another sort of nudge, right? It’s like, okay, Seattle, here you are, you’re board certified in lifestyle medicine.
You know, in your core, 100% that this, this is it, right? This honors Nina and this honors your mom.
You, this is it, right?
Do I stay in traditional healthcare?
Do I go to work every day?

[21:34] And deliver the care that does not honor them but it pays the bills and it’s comfortable or do i take another leap of faith and pour myself into what i know i am one hundred percent passionate about.

[21:52] And i chose me i chose my my burn in my belly so in october of this year i left i.
I did not quit medicine, but I left the way it’s currently practiced for something better, in my opinion, where I can help people sort of build their confidence, right, that they have control over their health.
They don’t need me just writing a prescription. If I can help you and teach you and support you and coach you, you have the ability to truly define the quality of your life. So that’s what I do.
And I love it. I love it.
That’s awesome. And I wonder if I can rewind just a bit, I love what you said, I chose me.
Can you talk a little bit about what it took to choose me, choose you?
This one was harder, right?
Because there’s a lot of, and again, maybe this is all internal, but there’s, I think for me, getting to being a physician, right? Remember in the beginning I said, I didn’t really think I was capable of that.
I’m just this immigrant moved to the States.
The fact that I’ve made it to a physician was more than I ever dreamed I could ever accomplish.

[23:11] And to think that I was gonna leave at least the way it’s practiced, right?
At least the way that for most, that’s what it means to be a physician and step more into sort of this coaching.
I mean, I still do some medicine, but it’s a lot more coaching.
Was really hard, was really hard, because am I foregoing?

[23:34] You know whether it’s a I don’t want to say it’s a status thing but it’s sort of you’ve you seemingly have gotten to this point right wow you’re a physician and you don’t do that now what are you what’s wrong with you why are you doing this so you left a salary.
And you’re just doing this really so it was a lot of that and it was hard right it was really it was hard to sort of navigate.
That internal dialogue of, yes, I can still bring value. Yes, I can still use all of my knowledge to help, but it just looks a little different.
And that’s okay. And that can sometimes be more powerful than the way it’s currently structured.
You know, those models of how it’s currently structured are obviously very powerful because it was, you were comparing, here’s something, which is kind of still pioneering, right?
You know, lifestyle medicine is pioneering. And so you’re sort of creating this while there’s this sort of standard of, here’s what a physician looks like in our system.
So I’m curious, in addition to that internal dialogue, did you seek anybody else?
Earlier it was your brother.
Were there other people that were helpful to you in processing that?

[24:52] Yeah, at this point, it’s probably more my wife than anybody for other reasons, and not to make this about my emotional turmoil in my life, but for whatever reason, my brother and I are a little bit estranged right now.

[25:04] So he’s not as much of a counsel to me as he was when we were younger.
And I think that’s also part of been my maturation, right?
My coming to my own is sort of honoring who I am and not necessarily through him, although he was very instrumental in starting me on this path.
But I think my tighter nucleus, my wife, my close friends who see the joy that this brings me, they were the ones who were like, you can’t not do it, right?
And it’s really hard to unsee the power of lifestyle medicine.
When you experience it, when you see what someone is capable of, it’s really hard to forget that. You can’t unsee it.
I have to honor that because I’ve been given this gift of knowing that this is available, that I just, I feel this need and this want and this passion to have as many people as possible experience what I’ve experienced, yeah.
And it sounds like your wife and others’ friends saw that in you and said how, you know, I don’t know what they said, but I’m imagining they’re like, well, how can you not allow yourself to do that? Is that kind of how it played out? Yeah, for sure. And again, it’s challenging, right? We go from being a two-physician income home and now we’re like one and some, right?
And it’s like- But you’re just starting.

[26:27] As you’re building, right? Which is fine. It’s different and you have to adapt to that. Yeah.
Yeah, it’s different, right? So it’s been, but I, my family, right, they see how much I love it and they really do, they push me to continue.
I want to just diverge just a little bit away from you and a little bit more towards a parallel issue. You know, so lifestyle medicine, people are just becoming familiar with it in our country.
So I’m talking about patients now as well as the medical community.
Your patients also, in a parallel way to you, are making a shift as well.
They’re saying, I want to do something different than the traditional medical model.
And so, I wonder if you have an example or just a conglomeration of examples of what’s that point like for them that makes them say, I want to do something different.
Do you have some thoughts about that? I think they can vary, but I think there’s sort of a unifying theme, which is most of the people that come to Lifestyle Meds, at least in my context, they are somewhat dissatisfied with how they’re getting care currently.
I am finding there are more people that are looking for.

[27:48] Other ways to manage their health and when they come to lifestyle medicine i don’t think they fully understand that they can actually reverse some of the diseases they’re living with they come because they don’t want to just keep going to the doctor and keep getting prescriptions and i’m not at all saying that meds are bad measure absolutely appropriate in the right context But if we’re talking about lifestyle-related diseases, those that are preventable, and in most cases reversible, they want more.
One, they want more interaction with their providers or their physicians.
So being able to have a conversation, I mean, with the app that I use, they can send me messages.
And it’s not send a message, it goes through the nurse and the triage, and then three days later, the physician gets back to you.

[28:34] It is in my phone, and I can talk to them. It’s that level of access and care that they want, they desire. It’s really understanding how much is within their control.
They don’t realize how much it is, but they wonder, is it really?
And they come to lifestyle medicine. They come to someone like me to understand that.
And then they come for the support. Once I can show them that, yes, you have the control, then it’s, they appreciate the longitudinal support to get them to their goal.
So I think it’s just a, it’s more of a high touch care, which I think people want, right?
They really long for being more participatory in their care rather than just being told what to do and then getting a higher level of touch to get them to their goal.
So I think that’s why people come. And then, you know, I get to reduce risk and save somebody from losing their mom and their sister way, way too early.
So it’s selfish, to be honest, it’s a little bit selfish too, but they see that they’re powerful. They are powerful with their health.

[29:41] Well, you’re just giving a great example of how selfish we tend to have a negative connotation about that word and look at the positive that is bringing to the world for all those that you’re serving.
So what I wanna do just in kind of one way to wrap it up is we think about the people who may be listening to this podcast and you look back on those periods of discovery and change and being nudged in one direction or another, are there any other learnings that you’d like to impart to our listeners about those times in your life?
I would say, don’t run away from it i think that we can get caught up in our day to day and not just sit just sit with your thoughts we tend to run away from the hard things we tend to run away from the challenges we tend to run away from when things get difficult and i think we were sort of presented with other opportunities the tendency is to not give that enough thought.
So I would encourage people to just sit with it. If journaling is your thing, journal with it, right?
Just really marinate with these things that come to you because there’s generally a reason, and it may not be right now, right?
I mean, I honestly think my life is just stacked and it has unfolded in a way that I never thought.

[31:05] When I made the decision to volunteer for the Rescue Squad, I don’t know how many years ago, right?
So just be still with it, just sit and just allow yourself the opportunity to explore what can be on the other side.
And then mentorship, like I said, right? If you can find somebody, reach out to somebody that you trust and just have a conversation and just see what comes out of it.
They don’t even necessarily have to be in that field that you think you wanna go in.
It’s just about getting all of that out, right?
Just talking is a powerful thing. So find someone you can sort of bounce those things off of.
I think those two things would be my two comments.
Thank you, Dr. C. Out of Dunbar, just along those last comments, having that person to connect with that can reflect back what you’re saying, that’s what we do in coaching.
That’s what you’re doing with your patients is what we do over here in MD coaches as well.
That can be very, very powerful for people to hold up the mirror and honor who that person is, that’s in front of them as well.
And so thank you so much for coming back and being on Life-Changing Moments.
And we look forward to, you know, what else gets stacked on top of where you are right now as we go forward.

[32:19] I’m excited. Yeah, thank you so much, Dale. This has been a blast and I appreciate you and Randy giving me the opportunity, so thank you.
Here is my recap of this delightful conversation conversation with Syeda. As I reflect on her story, it strikes me that deep down.

[32:38] In our core there is a felt sense of the unique way that we each want to make a contribution to the world. Through taking the time to listen to that burn in the belly, as she described it, we can arrive at a meaningful professional life. The, steps to uncover your unique path were well summarized by Dr. Dunbar at the end of the conversation. They’re so important, though, that they stand repeating.
So here they are with my paraphrasing. 1. Don’t ignore the nudges and pushes and pulls in life.
We talked about the professional ones here, but this is true for personal tugs also.
2. Instead of ignoring those nudges, actually embrace them. It can be hard and challenging, and a lot of times our habits of mind want us to avoid those difficult things.
The invitation, though, is to sit with your thoughts, be still with them, and explore what’s possible on the other side of that unsettledness.
3. Seek mentorship. Someone to listen well and to bounce things off of.
To this last point, a good coach can effectively fill this role, and we at MD Coaches are ready to help you explore your nudges and tugs about what’s possible for you on the other side.

[34:02] Please see us at for more information. Thank you for listening and be well.

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