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Chronic pain management without a pill

After decades of suffering, Joan Brefczynski finds new life through the HFM Pain Clinic

For almost thirty years, Joan Brefczynski’s quality of life has been eroded away by chronic conditions. It began when she was only 27 years old, newly married and starting out her career in education. While others her age were enjoying active social lives, Joan was plagued by fatigue that kept her in bed 12 to 13 hours each night. The diagnosis: lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs.

Then came the pain—chronic, achy joint pain that made every day events unbearable. Kneeling to tend her garden or to pray in church were no longer options. Even kind gestures, such as a hug, brought too much pain from the pressure of the touch. While joint pain can be a symptom of lupus, Joan knew something else was going on but found little relief from medical providers. Her symptoms were excused away, leaving Joan frustrated and confused.

“It’s really hard to be told you have a disease that doesn’t exist when you feel pain all the time,” Joan explained. In the 1990s, Joan was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that was just gaining recognition in modern medicine. Today it affects over 10 million Americans, causing widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue that can then lead to depression and social isolation.

While Joan finally had a diagnosis, relief from the pain would take longer to find. She saw only two options for living with two complicated chronic conditions: fear or faith. Adamant about avoiding opioids, Joan relied on her faith as she utilized medication and physical therapy to manage the pain. Over the next few years, Joan accepted the chronic pain and adjusted her life accordingly. It wasn’t until a family trip put her conditions, and resulting limitations, in the spotlight.

A turning point

On a trip to Oregon to see her grandsons, Joan was quickly reminded of the far-reaching effects of the constant pain. When her grandchildren excitedly greeted her at the airport, Joan couldn’t bear the pain of their hugs. “I dreaded being hugged, it felt so good in my heart but so painful on my body.”

The boys had big plans for their grandma—racing cars on the carpet, kicking the soccer ball around the yard, and exploring the trails around their home. But her chronic pain had other plans. Rather than truly participating in her vacation, Joan was a bystander—watching as her family created memories without her.

It was a familiar feeling, one that came up often as she raised her own children. Many years before, Joan attended a mother-daughter basketball game with her own daughter. While the other mothers teamed up with their daughters to take on the game, Joan was sidelined by her chronic conditions. “I felt so bad siting on the sidelines watching the other moms play.” And now it was happening again with the next generation of her family. It was time for Joan to search out other options to get her back to her life.

I dreaded being hugged, it felt so good in my heart but so painful on my body.

It was a familiar feeling, one that came up often as she raised her own children. Many years before, Joan attended a mother-daughter basketball game with her own daughter. While the other mothers teamed up with their daughters to take on the game, Joan was sidelined by her chronic conditions. “I felt so bad siting on the sidelines watching the other moms play.” And now it was happening again with the next generation of her family. It was time for Joan to search out other options to get her back to her life.

Finding a new path

When she returned from her trip, Joan resumed her schedule of frequent medical appointments. At her physical therapy appointment, her therapist recommended Joan visit Dr. Mariam El-Baghdadi, also known as Dr. E, at the HFM Pain Clinic. Dr. E had recently joined the HFM network and brought new treatment options that many chronic pain patients were seeing good results from. Joan immediately made an appointment, anxious to learn how Dr. E could help.

At Joan’s first appointment she explained her condition then couldn’t help but ask, “Do you think it’s real? I’ve been told before it’s just in my head.” Dr. E was quick to confirm that fibromyalgia was not only real but there were treatment options that could provide pain relief. Joan finally felt like she had found someone who really understood her pain and was a partner in the quest for true pain relief.

Joan and Dr. E jumped right in with injection therapy, an outpatient procedure that involves injecting small needles into trigger points on the body. The injection releases nerve tension, alleviating the pain around the injection point and even in other parts of the body. The injections worked like magic on Joan’s neck, back and even one knee. For the first time in many years, she could move without pain.

Now that I have Dr. E, this is the best time of my life.

The next area of concern was Joan’s troublesome right knee. After two knee replacements and a bout of arthritis, Joan thought it was a pain point she’d have to live with. But Dr. E would not give up, she suggested knee radiofrequency ablation. Another outpatient procedure, knee ablation is a two-step process. First, the knee is injected with nerve blockers that temporary prevent pain signals from being sent to the brain. Then a second specialized needle is inserted to apply heat directly to the nerves in the knee. This second step blocks the pain signals for 6 months or longer.

With Dr. E’s assistance, Joan has found a new lease on life. “I may be stuck with lupus, fibromyalgia and arthritis, but I do not have to allow them to destroy my plans,” Joan explained. In fact, on her last trip to visit her grandchildren she went from a bystander to a participant in all the family activities. “Now that I have Dr. E, this is the best time of my life.”

Finally finding relief after three decades of pain has motivated Joan to help others. Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain—many right here in our community. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer through it, Joan recommends others check out all the options, including the HFM Pain Clinic.

“Dr E is not going to let go of you, she’s going to work with you until she finds something that gives you relief.”

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