After pain rehabilitation therapy, Mexico City pre-teen swaps wheelchair for skis

When Lucia Burillo Rojas arrived in Boston last fall, the 11-year-old from Mexico City could hardly stand up from her wheelchair. “It was very hard,” says her mother Sandra, who had traveled with her daughter, hoping that doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital could help relieve Lucia’s constant pain.


lucia_large_adj (2)Sandra was desperate. Lucia had been a very active child who played soccer and tennis, and loved to dance, ski and ice skate. Then she was hit with a common hand, foot and mouth virus in September. The virus resolved, but not without devastating complications. “She started with bad migraines, sensitivity to light, dizziness, vertigo and extreme neck and back pain that made it really hard for her to walk or move. Even touching her skin hurt,” recalls Sandra. Lucia wasn’t able to go to school, much less enjoy her regular active lifestyle.

The family took her to neurologists and infectious disease specialists in Mexico City. They tried painkillers and physical therapy, but nothing helped.

Sandra reached out to friends and family and a common theme emerged.

A close friend of the family had recently returned from Boston, where his son was treated at Boston Children’s for a virus. “He strongly recommended that we travel to Boston.”

It wasn’t Sandra’s first introduction to the hospital. Her parents had taken her brother to Boston Children’s 40 years ago for surgery when he was six months old.

Pain specialists at Boston Children’s recommended Mayo Family Pediatric Pain Rehabilitation Center in Waltham, an outpatient center affiliated with the hospital that provides day treatment services for children with chronic pain.

Sandra packed suitcases for herself and Lucia, and they boarded a plane for Boston.

For five weeks, Lucia underwent intense therapy. She worked with physical and occupational therapists to rebuild her muscles and learn to move through the pain. Psychologists Luciaprovided counseling and taught her relaxation techniques, and Lucia learned a home exercise program—specific exercises to help manage her pain. The family-centered program also engaged her parents in the pain management process, providing them tools to work with Lucia at home.

“The staff really makes a difference. We are very grateful that we had the opportunity to be there and see how Lucia slowly got well,” says Sandra.

Lucia’s turnaround was quite spectacular. The girl who arrived in Boston in a wheelchair departed just before Christmas. But the family had one stop before reaching Mexico City. They had planned a ski trip in Vail, Colorado, uncertain how Lucia would fare on the vacation.

“It was amazing what she accomplished,” says Sandra. “With her strong will and the pain management techniques she learned in Boston, she was able to ski for five hours and ice skate for two hours every day in Vail.”

When the family returned to Mexico City, Lucia went back to school and her everyday life. “She’s a normal, happy kid,” says Sandra.

What about Lucia’s future? “Lucia should be able to lead a normal, healthy life. She has all the strategies she needs if she has a pain flare-up in the future,” says Veronica Gaughan, RN, MS, clinical coordinator of the Pain Rehabilitation Center.

Lucia PRCC team
Lucia and the PRCC care team on her graduation day.

Learn more about how Boston Children’s cares for international patients.