Gracie Bagosy's condition is so painful the suicide rate is 68%.
Yet after three years of failed narcotics, other drugs, and occupational therapy, her pain was finally controlled by a new non-invasive, painless, totally safe treatment. That treatment, currently under investigation at the Mayo Clinic and University of Wisconsin, has now reached Illinois.
"When I came to Illinois for this treatment, I thought it was a hoax," says Ms. Bagosy. "Yet I knew almost instantly it was working."
"This has the potential to be the first-line medical treatment for chronic pain conditions affecting millions of sufferers," says Mitchell Weisberg M.D. The internist and psychopharmacologist is Medical Director of Spero Pain Relief Therapy of Illinois in Riverwoods.
Ms. Bagosy's pain started in 2010 during a routine pre-surgical nerve block. Her anesthesiologist was inserting a needle in her right shoulder when "I suddenly felt a peculiar sensation. Imagine the cavity of your arm is on fire, but at the same time someone is putting dry ice on your skin. The slightest touch, even a breeze, made the pain worse."
The 39-year-old Iowan's symptoms were classic for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). CRPS is caused by an aberrant response to nerve injury that causes constant inflammation of the nerve. Ms. Bagosy lived with the pain for three years. An interventional pain procedure was ineffective. Narcotics were also useless and caused so many side effects one day she simply threw them in the garbage. She says, "For a long time I thought nothing could take away the pain of this disease. Nothing."
But Ms. Bagosy refused to face a lifetime of pain...and the risk of suicide "I've never backed away from a battle," she says. "I knew I had to find an answer."
Then last year Ms. Bagosy learned about a new treatment called Calmare on the web. Italian researchers discovered the treatment in the 1980s when they discovered a synchronized, microprocessor-controlled series of electric potentials delivered to tissue adjacent to pain could relieve the neuropathic pain caused by chemotherapy. "This is completely different from something like TENS," says Dr. Weisberg. "The conventional TENS treatment is just a simple uniform voltage put directly on a pain source. Researchers think Calmare works by tricking the brain over time into thinking it's now receiving a signal from a healthy, not an injured, nerve."
Gracie Bagosy had her first treatment last October. She says, "I only came to Illinois because my insurance would pay for it. But I knew almost immediately something was happening. I touched my arm then literally started hitting it because I couldn't believe there was no longer any pain in that arm!"
After a series of ten 45-minute treatments she says her average pain has gone from an 8 to a four. She says for the day or two after a booster treatment, she now has no pain at all.
Dr. Thomas Smith, now of Johns Hopkins Hospital, recently reported a 64% reduction in pain among palliative care patients. The Mayo Clinic is now testing the treatment for shingles pain. In addition, 13 military medical centers nationwide actively use the device. Spero Pain Relief Therapy has just introduced the treatment to Illinois but Norman J. Black, Founder and Clinic Manager, says "About 90% of pain patients exposed to a single treatment then choose to continue their regimens."
Spero's Dr. Weisberg says the Calmare treatment has also been shown to reduce chemotherapy-induced nerve pain, sciatic and lumbar pain, diabetic neuropathy, phantom limb syndrome, and other conditions. He believes the treatment is a safe alternative to risky interventions like Spinal Cord Stimulation, powerful medications, or narcotics.
As for Gracie Bagosy she says her pain just keeps lessening. And soon she hopes to go back to her career as an Electronic Engineering Technician.
"This treatment," she says, "has transformed my life."