Toronto hospital program helps kids leave chronic pain behind

A program for children and adolescents in Ontario who are suffering with chronic pain has had substanstial success during its first two years, say patients and administrators.

A highly specialized chronic pain management program for kids gets another year of funding

Staci Berman, 15, a student at Westmount Collegiate Institute in Thornhill, was hurt on the basketball court when she was 11. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC News)

A special program in Canada that helps teens find relief from chronic pain is celebrating a milestone along with continued funding from the province.

In two years, the Get Up and Go: Persistent Paediatric Pain rehabilitation program has helped 48 teenagers regain the life they had before chronic pain robbed them of the things they enjoy.

"I came in limping — when I left being able to run," said Staci Berman, 15, a student at Westmount Collegiate Institute in Thornhill.

When she was 11, Staci suffered an injury on the basketball court that left her with pain shooting from her hip down her right leg right down to her toes. It was so bad she ended up missing 23 days of school.

'They thought I was faking'

"My friends didn't understand it. They thought I was faking because they saw no crutches and I was walking. There was nothing visible," she said.

She was forced to give up the extracurricular activities she loved. Her friendships began to suffer and she became depressed.

"I was kind of trapped in my room," she said. "It was an unending cycle of doctors, tests and treatment."

A team of physicians at the Hospital for Sick Children diagnosed her with complex regional pain syndrome or chronic pain, and shortly after they referred her to the Get Up and Go Program at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

Staci, who was one of the first patients in the program, says within a week or two she noticed a difference.  

"My strength, my flexibility, my balance — was totally better," she said, adding she is now back to playing volleyball and basketball, as well as running cross-country. "I can go live a normal life. My pain is in the background."

Irene Simpson, operations manager for they Get Up and Go program, credits a three-pronged treatment approach combining psychological, pharmacological, and physical help. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC News)

Irene Simpson, the operations manager for the Get Up and Go program, says treatment is based on a three-pronged approach: psychological, pharmacological, and physical.

"That's what has been successful. It's all the different members of the team are actually working collaboratively together, but focussed on their unique skill set," Simpson said.

So far, four hospitals with their own pain programs are referring patients to Get Up and Go: The Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton, Children's Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre and Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.

Before children and adolescents with chronic pain were referred to institutions in the United States. Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care recently extended funding for the Get Up and Go program which means kids can find relief the seek closer to home.

Lauryn Seguin, 17, arrived at the Get Up and Go Program in a wheelchair but was able to walk out on her own. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC News)

Like many of the teens referred to the Get Up and Go Program, 17 year-old Lauryn Seguin arrived in a wheelchair, but was able to walk out on her own without crutches or other devices.

In March 2015, she was hurt playing football on the beach while on a family vacation in Florida.

"The whole time from my injury until I came to Bloorview I wasn't walking ... and I came out and I was walking again," she said.

"I'd stopped sports. I'd stopped everything. I was barely at school. And I came out of the program and I'm now on my rugby team at school. And I'm back to normal. I'm back at school and it's great."

The Grade 12 student at Stouffville District Secondary School credits the program's holistic approach, which takes place over a two-week inpatient stay, followed by two weeks of day patient care, for her recovery.

"Both psychological and physical exercise and just working every day, just constantly at it," she said. 

"That's probably what helped get me to where I am now."