Getting back to ‘normal’ with chronic pain

chronic pain

It wasn’t the Christmas Eve that the Walfield family had hoped for: Their daughter Lilly, then 12, fell down the stairs and sprained her ankle, necessitating a boot and crutches. But the accident was just the beginning of a long journey to find relief: Over time, the pain that Lilly felt seemed to get worse.

In fact, despite a year of weekly physical therapy appointments, she was experiencing only slight improvement. “She couldn’t put her full weight on her left foot and was walking on her tiptoes,” says her mother, Mary. “We were worried that this would begin to affect her knee and hip.”

recovery from pain

Feeling stuck

For Lilly, the more immediate concerns were those of any kid: Although she could still swim — one of her favorite activities — she couldn’t kick. “I wanted to be able ride my bike again and to go on amusement park rides, which I couldn’t do on crutches,” she says. It was a frustrating time for the whole family. “All her clinicians were very encouraging, but she just wasn’t getting enough care to propel her forward,” explains her father, Steve. “We felt stuck.”

After visiting the Chronic Pain Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital, the Walfields — who live north of Boston — learned that Lilly might be a candidate for the hospital’s Pediatric Pain Rehabilitation Center (PPRC). In this program, kids participate in physical, occupational, recreational and psychological therapy from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day for weeks.

Rigorous but fun

Although the PPRC might seem too rigorous for even the most dedicated adult, it was just what Lilly needed to jumpstart healing. “We were excited but a little hesitant,” admits Mary. “We knew Lilly would have to miss school but everyone at the PPRC was so supportive and welcoming that we were comfortable with it from the start.” The family also found the admission process to be seamless. “Due to the professionalism and positivity of the staff, as well as the support from peers and their parents, Lilly had validation that her situation and pain were real, allowing her to hit the ground running with the program from day one,” says her mother.

Although PPRC was intensive, it was also fun, says Lilly, who made some lasting friendships with other kids in the program. “We played a lot of games and were always trying to break each other’s records with different activities,” she says. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever done.” She credits those friends, along with physical therapist Anne Kenney, occupational therapist Gabrielle Bryant and other clinicians, with helping her stay motivated.

pediatric pain

‘Such a gift’

Today, several weeks out from her PPRC ‘graduation,’ Lilly is starting to see results. Although she hasn’t noticed a different in her pain levels yet, she’s already functioning better. “Seeing her progress is such a gift,” says Mary. “It’s exciting to think about what the future holds.” Lilly is optimistic, too. “I’m back to riding my bike again, and I haven’t been able to do that in over a year,” she says. “I finally feel like I’m getting back to normal.”

Learn about the Pediatric Pain Rehabilitation Center.