Disabled Workers and Chronic Pain Patients Need a Voice in Congress

By Amanda Siebe, Guest Columnist

I’ve always wanted to serve my community. Nine years ago, I thought the best way to do that would be as an EMT and firefighter. I wanted to be there for people in their hour of need to provide help and comfort. But in 2011, that goal came to an abrupt end.

While working as a restaurant manager, I fell and badly sprained my ankle. What should have been six weeks of recovery turned into full body Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Because my employer placed more value on profits than they did on my health and safety, I continued to work in the kitchen, repeatedly slipping and falling before abandoning my crutches.

That simple injury ended up taking my dignity, financial stability, and eventually it will take my life. All because my employer didn’t have another manager to run the restaurant while I recovered.

Because of my disability, I never thought much about running for political office. But as I watched the lack of representation the disabled community has and felt the impact policies and funding cuts have on my life, I began to wonder: How could I not run?

I may not have the body that I once did, but my mind and passion are still sharp, as is the case with many disabled individuals. My wheelchair has not made me any less of a person or any less deserving of a representative who looks like me and understands my plight.

So here I am, taking a stand to say that while we may be disabled, we’re still worthy of quality life and pursuit of happiness.

I’m running in the 2020 election as a Democrat in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District to fight for the care and benefits we deserve and were promised.

Federalize Workers Compensation

AMANDA SIEBE

AMANDA SIEBE

As a disabled worker, I was assured there was a safety net to catch us if we got hurt, but I quickly realized that’s not the case. We aren’t told that workers compensation is run by private insurers who have more loyalty to their shareholders than to injured workers. These companies increase profits by denying injured workers medical care, leaving them to suffer as they fight to justify every treatment, medication and benefit.

Currently, each state dictates the worker compensation laws these companies follow, resulting in injured workers getting better treatment in some states than in others. A worker in New York is no more valuable than a worker in Alabama. That’s wrong and must change.

We must end this system of profits over people. We need to federalize workers compensation and prevent lobbyists and private interest groups from ripping apart our safety net. Workers who give their time, bodies and lives to employers must receive the care and respect they deserve.

End Forced Tapering of Pain Patients

Patients with chronic and debilitating pain have been hit especially hard during the opioid crisis. Patients on stable doses of prescription opioids for years are being forcibly tapered and left to suffer. Less than 3% of chronic pain patients become addicted to opioid medication, but doctors are still taking many patients off of these drugs.

When patients are forcibly tapered without properly managing their pain, it forces some to turn to the bottle, the street or suicide for pain management. Thousands have already died as a result of losing their opioids. This must stop.

Increase Disability Payments

After my injury, I went from being the family breadwinner, earning about $50,000 a year, to trying to survive on $735 a month. Young disabled people are especially hard hit because we don’t have decades of high-earning work history to draw on, resulting in lower benefits. That’s if they can even get on SSDI. Those who become disabled before 45 often won’t get approved for disability or have to fight for years to get it.

We must stop using age as a determinate of disability. If disability doesn’t discriminate based on age, then neither should our government.

Currently, there are 554,000 homeless people in our country. Of those, 40% are disabled and 30% are elderly. The average Social Security Disability benefit is $880, while the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Portland, Oregon is $1,400.

It’s no wonder when our government pays starvation wages as a benefit that so many disabled and elderly become homeless. We can reduce our nation’s homeless rate by over half just by making SSI and SSDI comparable to a living wage. We must ensure our most vulnerable citizens have a basic quality of life, too.

IMAGE BY NATALIE BEHRING

IMAGE BY NATALIE BEHRING

The disabled community needs many other things that have gone ignored by Congress. While the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1994 was a huge step forward, it hasn’t been updated in 25 years. We need the ADA to match the knowledge and technology of today.

Many people provide care to disabled family members while still holding down a full-time job. It’s time we paid these family caregivers, who save insurers and healthcare providers hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Paying them would give needy families financial stability and independence.

Medicare For All

We’re an important voice in the healthcare debate and we need to be part of the conversation. If we are to have Medicare For All, then it needs to cover all conditions, all medications and all medically necessary treatment for all patients. Medicare as it currently stands is underfunded and not good enough. We need to fight for universal healthcare coverage so patients no longer have to fight for proper care.

Even though 1 in 5 adults are disabled, we are sorely under-represented in Congress. We need representatives who understand the unique situations and problems we face. We’ve been forced to sit on the sidelines as others decide our care, benefits and future. It’s time we had a say.

For too long, we’ve been victims of circumstance — told that we can’t run for office because our bodies prevent us from giving everything we have. That’s a lie.

Running for Congress isn’t what I thought I’d do be doing with the time I have left, but everyone deserves representation. We’re a part of this country and it’s time we were treated as such. It’s time for the disabled community to unite and be represented. We deserve better. 

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Amanda was diagnosed in 2012 with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Since her diagnosis, she has advocated for chronic pain and disability rights. In 2016, Amanda was the recipient of the WEGO Health Advocate Rookie of the Year Award.

Amanda has dedicated her life to improving her community and has fought to teach her 11-year-old son, Keagan, the same. Further information about Amanda’s congressional campaign can be found on her website.

The information in this column is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

An Open Letter to My Senator: CDC Has Killed Me

(Editor’s Note: Charles Malinowski is a 59-year old Paso Robles, California man who lives with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), degenerative disc disease, ankylosing spondylitis, spinal stenosis and other chronic pain conditions.  He recently wrote this open letter to U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA). We thought his letter worth sharing with PNN readers.)

Dear Senator Harris,

The CDC has killed me!

Let me repeat that: The CDC has killed me!

I have a severe neurological condition that causes me unspeakable and crippling pain. Pain medication is literally the only thing keeping me alive. But with the issuance of the CDC’s short sighted, so-called voluntary opioid prescribing guidelines -- which are being rammed down the throats of medical providers -- my pain management doctor has cut me off of opiates.

For the last 10 years, I have been subjected to nearly every type of physical therapy, medical treatment and medication applicable to my affliction. The one and only thing that has ever had any demonstrable benefit in even temporarily suppressing my pain to a tolerable level has, unfortunately, been opiates.

In early October, I was told that I would have to stop taking either the oral opiates or the intrathecal opiates, as it was now illegal for a person to receive two different types of opiates via two different delivery methods concurrently. This was a major problem, as even with both oral and intrathecal opiates, my pain was severely under-managed to the point where I was almost completely bedridden. I left the house only to go to doctor's appointments.

When I was told that my pain management regimen - specifically the opiates - was going to be cut in half, even though my pain was already grossly under-managed, I spoke out about this.

CHARLES MALINOWSKI

CHARLES MALINOWSKI

As a result, not only was I cut off from the oral opiates, I got kicked out of the pain management practice where I have been a patient for more than seven years. The doctor said he didn't want to risk his license - but was perfectly willing to risk my life - over the CDC opioid guidelines.  These guidelines are supposed to be voluntary and are not supposed to take desperately needed pain medication away from legitimate chronic pain sufferers such as myself.

I expect that within 60 days, I will be dead from either heart failure or a stroke due to my body's inability to cope with the stress of the unrelenting pain. My neuropsychologist, who has been treating me for nearly 10 years, has consistently rated my level of pain as moderate to extreme, even while being medicated with both oral and intrathecal opiates, which I am now denied.

I'm not dead yet, but within 60 days I expect that the CDC will have effectively killed me. I honestly don't see myself being able to tolerate the pain any longer than that.

Congress, in going along with this blindly, will be explicitly complicit in this negligent homicide - or homicide by depraved indifference, take your pick - of one Charles James Malinowski, that being myself.

I would like to thank you, Senator, and all the rest of your colleagues for murdering me.

To help ease your conscience, it is not just me that Congress is complicit in murdering, but thousands, possibly tens of thousands of people in like positions.

Sincerely,

Charles Malinowski

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Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to editor@painnewsnetwork.org

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

4 Infusions That Can Help Relieve Chronic Pain

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

I am so excited to finally be to my favorite letter – "I" -- in my series on alternative pain treatments. The “I” stands for infusions.

There are many different types of infusions, but the four I will cover are ketamine, immunoglobulins, lidocaine and stem cells. I have done 3 of the 4, and one of my good friends has done the fourth with great success. So I feel comfortable sharing what I know about infusions based on my personal health journey.

Ketamine

I was afraid of ketamine when I first heard about it. Ketamine was created in 1962, when it was first synthesized by scientist Calvin Stevens at the Parke Davis Laboratories. Ketamine is a potent anesthetic that blocks pain by acting as a N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist. It can also reset glia nerve cells in the spine and brain.

Ketamine is not appropriate for everyone. For me, I saw it as a chance to reverse the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) that I had been living with since 2002.  My excitement was great, along with my family’s. My regular treating doctors were not so optimistic about ketamine, but were not discouraging it either.

I began receiving ketamine infusions in 2009. They put me into remission and I continue with booster therapy as needed. I still have flares, but ketamine got me through the biggest challenges of living with RSD. Here is a video of me after my initial infusion treatments, which many find motivational.

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Before I started getting ketamine infusions, they wanted me off opioids completely so that my nervous system would reboot better. Research showed that ketamine patients on opioids were not getting the same good results as people who stopped taking them. Since then, I have also learned that opioids also set off glia cells, which is not a good thing for nerve pain patients.

Immunoglobulins

Intravenous Immunoglobulin – known as IVIg --  is used to treat various autoimmune, infectious and idiopathic diseases. One of my best friends, who has multifocal motor neuropathy, uses it to stay functional.

I have not had IVIg yet, but if ketamine didn’t work for me, I would give it a try, insurance permitting. The cost per treatment is between $5,000 and $10,000, so for many it is not an option.

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If you have the cash, the FDA has approved IVIg for graft disease and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). It is also used to treat patients with Kawasaki disease, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and polymyositis/dermatomyositis. I know a number of people who have used it for RSD.

One of the complaints I have heard from friends who use IVIg is that it takes time before your feel any benefits – sometimes days or weeks. If it is a viable treatment for you, there should be some changes in your symptoms and pain levels within 4 weeks.

However, some people do not respond to IVIg and it is very expensive to try just to see what happens. The cost is high because immunoglobulin products come from the pooled human plasma of a thousand or more blood donors, who have to go through an extraction process themselves before it can be processed and ready for use in infusions.

Stem Cells

Stem cell research could pave the way for an entirely new approach to chronic pain that reduces the current reliance on opioids and other analgesics.

I tried two rounds of stem cell infusions for gastroparesis, intestinal ischemia, heart valve dysfunction, cardiac ischemia, and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD).

The infusions reversed my gastrointestinal issues within 24 hours and my heart issues in 7 days, but it took longer for my TMJD to feel any relief. I did get some, just not as much as the other areas of my body. I also got improved function in my ovaries, with an increase in estrogen production I did not have before stem cell therapy.

The providers I worked with said it would take 6 to 8 rounds of stem cell infusions to help my nerve pain. I don’t have the money for that, so I stopped after two treatments.

Stem cell studies I have seen show great promise for multiple sclerosis patients, and I will be watching closely to see if it works for RSD and other neuro-autoimmune diseases. Stem cells could also be used as a tool to reverse opioid tolerance and opioid-induced hyperalgesia, two problematic side effects of opioid therapy.

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Lidocaine

Although my providers told me that lidocaine infusions are practically pain free, I can tell you they are not. The lidocaine infusions I was given were in conjunction with my stem cell therapy. I felt everything and came away feeling that lidocaine was not a good option for me.

My step sister did have good results from her 7-day infusions of lidocaine, so it goes to show that you have to check to see what works best for you.

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Lidocaine is an amide anesthetic and has a wide range of mechanisms of action. Research has shown that lidocaine, when given in a low dose intravenous infusion, has successfully provided pain relief for several chronic pain conditions that have failed other treatment modalities. A recent study in Pain Medicine found that lidocaine provided pain relief to 41 percent of patients, most of whom had neuropathic pain. 

According to providers at Stanford University, the success of lidocaine infusion is dependent on the specific cause of your pain. Some patients report immediate and long lasting pain relief, while others say relief came slowly and only lasted while the medication is being infused. Some patients also report unpleasant side effects.

The only adverse reaction I had – besides the fact it didn’t work for me – is that the infusion itself was extremely painful. Physicians have no way of knowing how you’ll react until you try it. By the time I was begging for help during the infusion, it was too late.

PNN columnist Crystal Lindell has been getting lidocaine infusions and they’ve helped Crystal reduce her use of painkillers. A recent study in Pain Medicine found that lidocaine provided long-lasting pain relief in 41 percent of patients, most of whom had neuropathic pain. 

I would be glad to share more of my experiences with infusions for anyone who has questions from the patient perspective. I would also love to hear your stories about infusions and whether they worked for you. 

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Why I Keep a Pain Journal

By Barby Ingle, Columnist  

In 2002, I was in what was thought to be a minor car accident. After months of getting worse, noticing new symptoms and doctors telling me it was all in my head, I set out to find answers that made sense for what was happening to me. 

Many of the medical tests that were performed did not show any problems. Even so, my symptoms were still bad and getting worse. I started physical therapy about a month after the accident, which was excruciating and seemed to make things worse.

Flash forward three years, and I found my way to a pain clinic here in Arizona. My doctor took the time to listen to my history and examine me.  The thought of being examined again by a new doctor was frightening. After an hour with me, the doctor said I might have Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a painful neurological condition. A test later confirmed I had RSD -- as all my signs and symptoms had pointed to for all that time. 

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After finding so little information out there about RSD and having so many doctors try to treat me who did not know about it, I realized that I was the one who had to teach my caretakers.

Many doctors who are not connected with a research hospital or university do not have the time to stay up-to-date with the latest information on RSD and other chronic illnesses. RSD does not always respond to treatments that relieve other types of chronic pain. Even among RSD patients, there are different responses to treatment.

The condition affects many aspects of the patient's life in varying degrees. For me, the simple things are the toughest. Activities of daily living, personal grooming, and my social and personal life have all been affected. I was not prepared for a catastrophic injury and lost my professional life during the bad days of RSD. I have had to adjust my daily routine because of the difficulty of performing simple tasks. 

I also learned to participate in very limited leisure activities, as I had to find my tolerance levels and work within them. I used to be very athletic, and loved hiking, biking and dancing. I constantly worked out and trained my body. Now I have a limited exercise regimen.

Because of my pain, falls and blackouts, as well as medication side effects, I am no longer able to drive. I need assistance with shopping, cooking, remembering things and traveling. I am in constant need of assistance, which makes traveling, social activities, personal care and holidays more complicated.

I have difficulty sleeping, lack energy and experience stress in my daily life. All of these help the cycle of pain continue.

Over time, I have found that pre-planning for daily events, activities and trips is not something I should do out of convenience; it is something I have to do to be able to function at even a basic capacity.

When I started a daily journal, I found that prayer, having a low-stress lifestyle, and staying hopeful keeps me in a positive place mentally. It also helps me keep my records organized, allowing for better healthcare. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff, to let go of troubles from the past, and look for ways to better my future. With a good team around you, the same is possible for you.

Like most chronic pain conditions, RSD is an invisible disability, which makes it harder for people to “see” your pain. People often have misconceptions about people with disabilities, so I disclose my condition to anyone who will listen, to let them know that RSD exists, and that early detection and proper treatment are important for RSD patients to have any chance of remission.

The more people I educate, the better the chances will be that someone else with RSD will have it easier. I know what I live, I journal it and I want to help others. Maybe a journal will help you.

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Living With an Invisible Monster

By Marcie Ann Dillard, Guest Columnist

I live with an invisible monster that consumes both body and mind. A monster that steals the ability of children, mothers, fathers and grandparents to sit, stand or walk. A monster that consumes finances, destroys friendships, marriages and families.

I say invisible monster because when I speak these three letters -- RSD --- which stand for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, I am faced with the blank stares of the ignorant.

What is such a thing I myself in 47 years of living had never heard of? How could I have not known of this monster that stalks me like a crouching lioness after a simple leg fracture?

She pounced suddenly and fiercely, feeling her teeth, her bite sink into my body, setting my flesh on fire in moments. Now in the grasp of a beast that respects no one, she sinks her claws deeper. Her death grip no one will ever escape.

Going from doctor to doctor, I can feel her but she goes unseen even after dozens of MRIs, CT scans and x-rays. The searing unseen pain forces me to look for freedom from what I now understand to be the most painful disease known to man.

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I begged for those sworn to help me to release me from her grasp, but ignorance -- mine and theirs -- gave her time to continue her devastation.

I marched through this life boldly; a mother, wife and business owner, never giving a thought to the day that would end. Then that day came. The only evidence often of her existence was the life stealing pain, and the integrity of my words lost among strangers.

The skeptical looks of the medical community as I once again describe the effect her grasp has on my body.

Through the tears of pain and hopelessness, the joy of living is veiled in agony. The blank stares of loved ones when I choose to be honest about what I daily experience. Self-confidence fades, the beat of the drum I confidently marched to become unclear, self-worth gone, as one by one the things that made me Marcie Ann become painfully impossible feats.

She never stops chewing my flesh, the nerve twitches and the muscle spasms a constant reminder that I remain helpless prey to a ruthless predator.

If I spoke these six letters -- CANCER -- I would be met with the sympathy of the community. Not to offend those who suffer from that monster or have suffered a loss to it, but perhaps someone would run a marathon in my honor or host a fundraiser to help me secure lifesaving treatment.

If I said it was a terminal illness there would be no misunderstanding of the impending outcome. But with chronic, progressive and incurable pain, the well of sympathy quickly dries.

Silent suffering.

In this lifetime, the lioness will never deliver her final blow and end my suffering .

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Marcie Ann Dillard lives in Washington state. She was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy in 2012, two years after her symptoms began.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us.  Send them to:  editor@PainNewsNetwork.org

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Learning How to Live with Chronic Pain

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

When I became so debilitated by chronic pain and doctors could not figure out what was going on, I could no longer hold my life together. It was a minor auto accident that triggered crazy symptoms that didn’t make sense to me or my doctors.

When the first symptoms of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) began, I thought I was being ridiculous. The pain was overwhelming. It took all of my attention and energy just to be able to focus. It felt a burning fire in my face, neck and shoulder, and my skin became discolored. I also started having balance issues and falling.

I remember at a practice I was working with a male cheerleader and we did a stunt. Everyone around us was yelling, “Coach, stand up straight. What are you doing?”

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I kept saying I was straight, but then I looked down. I didn’t even know how he was holding me up in the air. I was in the weirdest position; legs bent, leaning forward, arms not in the right place. Until I saw what my body was doing I had no idea what everyone was so upset about. 

I was coaching, heading to counseling appointments, chiropractors and neurologists, and sleeping in my office or wherever I could find a place to sleep. It wasn’t solid sleep. It was for 20 to 45 minutes at a time. I was overwhelmed physically and emotionally, not being able to coach like I wanted, but still trying not to let my team members down.

I wish I could go back and help them understand what I was going through. I wish I had let go of my job sooner so that they could have had a better year. I didn’t know that what I was dealing with was not going to be as easily overcome as endometriosis was. That was a struggle that made me believe everything was just a challenge that I could get past. Not this time. It was going to take years, financial strain, and learning new life skills. I just didn’t know it. 

I was no longer able to handle my dream job of coaching cheer and dance at a Division I-A university. My business started to crumble and eventually closed. My husband stopped supporting me emotionally and physically. I didn’t have the energy to take care of me and him any longer. One good thing that came from it was that after our separation he found God, and was baptized into the Catholic Church the next Easter.

The biggest reason our marriage fell apart was he had me feeling that it was all in my head, and tried to convince my family and our friends of the same. My psychologist and psychiatrist both told me he was wrong. What I had was situational depression and they assured me what I was going through was normal. They had faith in me and helped me get faith back in myself. 

We began marriage counseling before the accident because of our struggling relationship, but that was no longer an issue because the relationship was over. We were divorced within 3 months of filing for separation. Now I needed help getting my new life in order and to continue counseling, until I felt I had the life tools I needed to be the best me I could be.  

I rated the physical pain I had from the accident in the beginning as a level ten. I did not think I could take anything worse. But as each surgery or procedure was performed and the pain only worsened, I wanted sometimes to have that first pain back.

As our bodies get “used to the pain,” it sometimes gets easier to manage and deal with. With each additional trauma and spread of RSD, the pain I thought was unbearable becomes a livable level. But I wasn’t living.

“Reflex” is any process in your body that automatically goes haywire. “Sympathetic” is your sympathetic nervous system, which makes you feel like you are on fire and you can’t put it out. “Dystrophy” is the loss of muscle and bone, which left me in a wheelchair for many years.

As an athlete, it was difficult to understand how working out and pushing myself were making me worse, but it was. Pushing myself too far taught me that it can cause damage. I realized that doing this was creating further damage to my body and pain pathways. I learned that trying smarter is more important than trying harder.

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics. More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

FDA Designates CRPS Drug as ‘Breakthrough Therapy’

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has designated an experimental drug as a potential breakthrough therapy for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a chronic and disabling neurological disease for which there is no cure or treatment.

Neridronic acid was discovered by Abiogen Pharma, an Italian drug maker, and is jointly being developed with Grünenthal, a German pharmaceutical company.

The Breakthrough Therapy designation by the FDA came after the companies reported the results of a Phase II clinical trial showing a significant reduction in pain and symptoms of CRPS with neridronic acid treatment. The drug has already received fast track and orphan drug designations from the FDA.

The agency considers a new drug as a breakthrough therapy if it is intended to treat a serious condition and if preliminary clinical evidence demonstrates substantial improvement over current treatments. There are no current FDA approved treatments for CRPS, which is also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).

"It is very encouraging to see that the FDA recognizes the urgent need for new treatments for patients with CRPS and has granted neridronic acid the status of a Breakthrough Therapy. This supports our efforts to develop an efficacious treatment option to these patients,” said Klaus-Dieter Langner, MD, Chief Scientific Officer of Grünenthal. “We are committed to working closely with the FDA to bring neridronic acid to patients with CRPS as fast as possible.”

In the Phase II study, neridronic acid or a placebo was administered intravenously to 464 patients with CRPS type 1, when the disease is in its early stages. The study ended in November.  

A previous study of 82 CRPS patients in Italy found that those who were treated with infusions of neridronic acid experienced significant and persistent reductions in pain.

Neridronic acid is currently being evaluated in a Phase III clinical trial. If successful, the drug could be the first FDA-approved treatment for CRPS, which is characterized by severe, burning pain that usually begins in the arms or legs after an injury or surgery. The pain often spreads throughout the body.

"Grünenthal is highly dedicated to improving the lives of patients with pain as well as rare diseases with limited treatment options. This is an area of high unmet medical need,” Gabriel Baertschi, CEO of the Grünenthal.

The company recently purchased Thar Pharmaceuticals, which is developing an oral form of zoledronic acid for the treatment of CRPS. That drug is also undergoing a Phase III study.

Neridronic acid is an investigational aminobisphosphonate. According to the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (RSDSA), bisphosphonates have been used for years overseas to treat CRPS.

“We need options and if this can help patients and encourage other medications and treatment options to come onto the market for CRPS’ers, it’s a great thing,” said Barby Ingle, who suffers from CRPS/RSD and is President of the International Pain Foundation.

“We saw with fibromyalgia and Lyrica that once it (fibromyalgia) had a medication designated it gained more awareness and acceptance in society, leading to better access to care. The same could happen with a CRPS designation for a medication, leading to greater treatments and a cure in the future.”

The Importance of Participating in Pain Research

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

Over the years I have participated in many research studies and potential new treatments. One such study was just published in the Journal of Translational Medicine by Drs. Garabed G. Demerjian, Andre Barkhordarian and Francesco Chiappelli.

So many people over the years meet me and soon realize that I have a device called an oral orthotic in my mouth. This “OO” as I lovingly call it has helped me so much, and now there is published research behind what it is doing for me.

Back in 2002 when I developed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, I lost partial vision in my right eye. I saw many eye doctors and ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialists who were unable to pinpoint where the breakdown in the nerves were. They hypothesized that it was due to inflammation from the RSD cutting off a nerve pathway.

Within 30 seconds of putting in the OO, I had my vision back after 10 years of being told that I would never see properly again. My world is now brighter with the OO, literally.

I also had improvement in pain levels affecting my entire body. I have been able to get my infusion therapy minimized to only 1 or 2 boosters a year and get off all daily pain medication. I also have had improvement in my balance, coordination, dystonia, memory and mood. My migraines and headaches are less frequent, and although weather and pressure changes still affect me, it is not to the extent it was prior to my oral orthotic use.

The research doctors and my treating doctor, Garabed Demerjian, approached their study with an individualized approach that they made measurable for each patient who participated. I underwent multiple MRIs, cat-scans, X-rays, synovial fluid testing, psychological testing, and saliva testing.

These tests were done in an effort to quantify the outcome and show the effectiveness of the oral orthotic. I participated in the study in 2015, about three years after getting my OO. I already knew that the tests were going to show amazing results. That is great for the scientific community and for advancing new treatment options.

Traditional research in the health sciences usually involves control and experimental groups of patients, and descriptive and statistical measurements obtained from samples in each group. The research I was part of used a novel model known as translational medicine, which "translates" research into more effective healthcare -- a "bench-to-bedside" approach. This type of research is increasingly becoming more established in modern contemporary medicine.

I often say that each patient is different. Our biological makeup and life experiences mean disease often affects us in different ways – making a one-size-fits-all approach to medicine impractical. Science is seeing this too. It’s becoming more focused on translational research for the ultimate benefit of each individual patient. This is what we need.

I know and understand that being part of a research study is not for everyone. It doesn’t always go as great as it did for me. But stepping up and trying something that can benefit others is very rewarding.

I thank all of the research doctors and scientists who are making a difference in our lives. It can take years of research before they see actual results, and they are not always recognized for their efforts. I find it hard to express the full gratitude they deserve. Thank you to our researchers in the chronic pain community.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found on her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Waiting for Santa in the ER

By Emily Ullrich, Columnist

Some of you may have noticed I’ve been silent for a while. I’ve been shirking my duties to the pain community because I am so fed up that it all seems futile.

I’ve been struggling with feelings of defeat and guilt at my unusual inability to muster the courage to continue. I have been deeply introspective and, for once, I’ve had no words for the profound emotional disenchantment that one experiences when they realize that most doctors really don’t care.

My mother tells the following story about me when I was a little girl, and it struck me that this feeling I have today is the same one I had when I realized there was no Santa Claus.

She says that I essentially disassembled the entire house of cards that kids are brought up believing in. She says I was lying in bed when I asked her if Santa was real. She attempted an explanation that Santa was the spirit of Christmas and that he wasn’t an actual person, but that his essence was within all of us. According to her, I went on to ask if there was an Easter bunny, a tooth fairy, or even a God.

A few years later, I left the sheltered life of Montessori school, where creativity was valued, analytical thinking promoted, and social interactions remained innocent. I entered public school in the midst of puberty. Despite my many futile attempts at preppy mall fashion, and rehearsed and repetitive social coolness, I could not blend in.

To my dismay, my quirky, outside-of-the-box thinking betrayed me daily. I became the weird, socially awkward, politically and culturally over-saturated smart girl, wearing the body of a 6-foot tall woman.  As a writer, these experiences have given me a unique lens through which to view life and are now the things I pride myself in.

As a chronically ill patient, I have been thrown right back into the post-traumatic stress of that time, my intellect and strong personality are not seen as behaviors of a good patient. I feel l have to be a fake to get the care that I need. I feel this sensation washing over me every time I have a doctor’s appointment, surgery, procedure or hospital stay.

I’ve written before about the inhumanity and cold, cruel treatment I have received more times than I care to remember. I am aware that there are doctors and nurses who do care and actually want to help, and I have been blessed more than a few times with having these amazing people as my caregivers.

But if I am truly honest, more often than not, these gems of humanity are not the ones we patients get.

I understand that they’re at work, doing a job, and they have to do more for us than the usual patient. Some are also jaded, uninformed, insensitive and, frankly, shouldn’t be in this line of work.

When a patient’s life, health, and attitude are psychologically and sometimes physically neglected, disrespected, and infused with negativity, it’s scarring. It plays over and over in your head. Although it’s really hard to control my temper and emotions in this situation, I do my best. It’s not natural for me. I am opinionated and strong-willed.

I’ve learned the hard way that when I act how I feel like acting, my care gets even worse. I always wonder what I could have or should have done differently to make the situation better.

I know that I am probably coming across as very negative, but there is one thing that I know about myself -- when I am at my worst, I am often at my best. What I mean is, I want to make others around me comfortable, and the more serious a situation is, the more I try to bring levity and positivity. I try to make people feel at ease, to laugh, and to know that I am grateful for their help. I make a point of being very polite to my caregivers, even when I’m frustrated with them, and I make a point to ask how their day is, even if they haven’t asked about mine. This leads me to my most recent hospital stay.

My Latest Trip to the ER

I went to the emergency room because my home healthcare nurse demanded it after noticing that my arm with a PICC catheter line was very red and inflamed. As usual, the ER doctor treated me like I was there for fun. Because waiting for 6 hours in a room full of sick people and being treated like crap is everybody's idea of a good time!

It turned out that I had pulmonary embolisms -- blood clots in my lungs -- a life-threatening condition which frequently causes stroke or heart attack. The doctor scolded me that I should "take this seriously," as though I got the clots from doing some sort of illicit behavior and was obviously careless about my health. I wonder if it ever occurred to him that maybe I was taking it seriously -- by going to the damned ER!

He then launched into a lecture about the evils of pain medications, and even alluded to the doctor’s oath to "first do no harm," insinuating that the doctor who prescribed my pain medicines (who happens to be the kindest, most compassionate and knowledgeable doctor I’ve ever had) was not helping me, but harming me.

He assessed all of this in two minutes of talking at me, not to me, and without any idea of the myriad health conditions I live with. Sick, and even sicker of dealing with this re-run of the C+ med student-come-doctor with a God complex, I mustered the energy to stand up for myself. I argued that this was probably not the best time for a discussion about changing or completely discontinuing my medications, seeing as I had pulmonary embolisms to worry about, and a pain doctor whose specialty it is to deal with that was not present.

God forbid, I had challenged his almighty ER doctor knowledge and here's where it got good.

He decided to un-diagnose my Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) -- an extremely painful and complicated condition I was finally diagnosed with after two years of surgery, doctors’ visits, and being told there was nothing wrong with me that a knee joint replacement and antidepressants wouldn’t fix.  

Then I spent three days in a hospital being run through a battery of tests and a whole team of doctors had agreed on my diagnosis of RSD.  It’s an illness that I take medications for, have physical therapy for, use a cane for, and which you can tell I have just by looking at my knee -- which he never did.

"You don't have RSD," he said. Based on what? Maybe the fact that I wasn't screaming and writhing in pain, as he thought I should be?  

"Did a neurologist diagnose you?" he asked. I explained that I spent days in the hospital having a battery of tests and a number of different specialists all agreed that I have RSD. Again, he asserted his disbelief, without ever looking at my knee!

Begrudgingly, he admitted me to the hospital, as though I intentionally manifested blood clots in my lungs just so I could hang out with his charming self. He also lectured me further about the gravity with which I should treat this situation.

I wonder since if he has ever thought about this interaction with me, and in any small way realized the hypocritical irony that his entire discussion was loaded with.  

I can't stop thinking about what happened. Or where Santa went to.

Emily Ullrich suffers from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, endometriosis,  Interstitial Cystitis, migraines, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, anxiety, insomnia, bursitis, depression, multiple chemical sensitivity, and chronic pancreatitis

Emily is a writer, artist, filmmaker, and has even been an occasional stand-up comedian. She now focuses on patient advocacy for the International Pain Foundation, as she is able.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Make the Life that You Want

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

Lately I have been living my dreams, but at the same time realizing how much I have gone through over the years, especially the last two.

Before I got sick I was active, a go-getter, never quit and efficient. Nowadays, I am still as active as I can be, still setting goals and working towards accomplishing them, and trying to keep a positive attitude. But I am not efficient anymore. It’s a large change.

I find that many people who develop an autoimmune condition were overachievers prior to their illness. Did we run ourselves down? Did something in our past prevent us from healing? Or did we just draw the short straw of life?

At this point it doesn’t really matter to me. A life with chronic pain management is my reality. I didn’t do it so well in the beginning and looked for others to fix me. I didn’t take responsibility for creating my own oasis. It was too much just trying to get to the doctor’s office for appointments when not being able to drive.

It took a lot of years, but I got reorganized and also gave myself permission to not be perfect. I came to understand that I will be managing my chronic diseases until I pass away. I can still accomplish many things; it is just going to take me longer.

I was living my dream and it turned into a nightmare. Sound familiar? I began a battle of life and death literally and mentally. 

For those reading that are not familiar with my story, I have been battling chronic pain since 1997, first with endometriosis -- which resulted in a full hysterectomy and left oophorectomy.

Then in 2002, I developed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a progressive neuro-autoimmune condition that affects multiple systems in the body. Then came temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, arthritis, gastroparesis and ischemia -- not to forget a loss of balance and coordination that seems to lead to falls and bone breaks. Because my immune system is weakened, if anyone around me is sick, I will soon be as well.  

I lost my physical abilities and was bed bound for years. I spent many years using a wheelchair just to get out of bed and leave the house. It took 3 years to get a proper diagnosis and another 4 years to get the proper treatment. I know firsthand how hard it is to continue looking for relief and answers; and then coming up against healthcare professionals who blow you off or do not believe what you are telling them.

I have learned the hard way that the healthcare system is not always what we are led to believe. I think that from childhood, we should be taught prevention, health responsibilities and health rights. With 1 in 3 Americans living with at least one disease that causes chronic pain, these are important life lessons. 

People look up to their doctors and put total faith in them. But it is important to remember that doctors study a particular practice of medicine. Just because they are a neurologist doesn’t mean they can treat diabetic neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, or RSD. Each doctor gets a small variety of a medical field and finds a specialty that they love and work on with research and education.

Knowing this will help you get better healthcare. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your doctor’s education and background. What is their specialty?

I know that there are far too many pain patients who experience something similar to my story. Although each of us is unique and living with our own variations of a chronic disease, having a shared knowledge of overcoming the challenges that we face can be helpful and encouraging.

I had to learn the hard way -- and now share my story to give hope and answers to patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals. I hope by speaking out about my journey it prevents it from happening to others. I enjoy hearing other patient’s stories as well, because it helps me see that I am not alone.

I have had many twists and turns through the medical system, and now encourage the importance of  positive thinking, standing up for ourselves, and improving our knowledge even in the worst of times. Let’s get back to dreaming about big, positive and happy lives.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found on her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.