By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
At a time when many pain patients have difficulty finding doctors willing to treat them, some of the sickest and most complicated pain patients in the U.S. have found a new physician. Or to be more precise, she found them.
Dr. Margaret Aranda is treating former patients of Dr. Forest Tennant, a prominent California pain physician who recently retired from clinical practice. Tennant was seeing about 150 patients with severe intractable pain at his West Covina pain clinic. Most suffer from arachnoiditis, a chronic and painful disease of the spinal cord, and traveled to California from out-of-state because they could not find effective treatment locally.
Tennant, who is 77, is a beloved figure in the pain community. He was forced into retirement after the DEA raided his clinic last year and alleged he was running a pill mill. No charges were ever filed, but Tennant reluctantly agreed to close his clinic on the advice of his lawyer and doctor. That’s when Aranda stepped in and offered to take on Tennant’s patients.
“I feel very happy to be here and to be doing this and to feel qualified to do it because of my experience, my background and my education. But I think the thing I love the most is the connection I have with patients who understand that I’ve been through a lot myself,” said Aranda, an anesthesiologist whose medical career was put on hold for several years while she recovered from a car accident that left her with traumatic brain injuries.
“They just seem be relieved that they can talk to somebody who knows what it feels like. I think Dr. Tennant did that for them too. He wasn’t sick like a lot us were sick, but he carried that empathy with him. I find this to be very spiritual. I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time in my life and everything I went through prepared me for this.”
Tennant had success treating patients with an unusual combination of high dose opioid prescriptions, hormones, anti-inflammatory drugs and other medications, which Aranda plans to continue.
“I’m working to decrease the opioids as much as possible. For some patients that’s totally impossible, for others it’s not,” she told PNN. “I really think what we’re doing is redefining palliative care. I tell people this isn’t a pain clinic. This is a ‘keep you out of a wheelchair’ clinic. Keep you in the family. Keep you getting out of your house here and there.”
“Dr. Aranda is very intelligent and picked up on the scientific precepts of this disease and other things very rapidly,” says Tennant. “I was tickled to death the way she’s caught on to all this and knows how to carry on everything I was doing. Plus, she’s improving a lot of things I was doing.”
Under a Microscope
Aranda admits being a little worried about being scrutinized by the DEA.
“Of course, that would be the natural inclination I think for anyone in my field. It’s a little bit scary to walk in the shoes of a man who is so well known and beloved by everyone and had issues with the DEA I think most people felt were unfounded,” Aranda said.
“I am of course very concerned that they could be looking at me with a microscope. Or a double and triple microscope. But I think they already know our patient population and they now understand that we do have some of the sickest patients in the country. That’s why they come to us from all over. And so, we’re just careful.”
While Tennant operated his clinic basically as a charity, Aranda is “cash only” and will not accept medical insurance. She is temporarily seeing patients at a clinic in Malibu but is looking for a permanent location.
Like Tennant, Aranda is willing to treat patients from out-of-state, including those who suffer from severe intractable pain. Patients interested in seeing Aranda can reach her at (800) 992-9280.
As for Tennant, he’s not quite ready to retire completely. He plans to continue researching arachnoiditis, a progressive and incurable disease that often begins when the spinal cord is damaged during surgery or punctured by a misplaced needle during an epidural steroid injection.
Inflammation sets in and can spiral out of control, forming scar tissue that cause spinal nerves to stick together. That leads to adhesive arachnoiditis and neurological problems, which can cause burning or stinging pain that can be felt from head to toe.
Arachnoiditis is poorly understood and often misdiagnosed as “failed back syndrome.” Tennant estimates as many as a million Americans may have it. Few doctors are trained to recognize the symptoms or know how to treat it.
“I’m going to be spending my time trying to research and educate on arachanoiditis. I think it’s the biggest, most severe pain problem we have,” says Tennant. “Before I hang up my spurs totally I want to make sure arachnoiditis is known to every family doctor and nurse practitioner in every community in the country.”