My Son With Debilitating Functional Abdominal Pain Heads to College
For the first time in over 20 years, our home will become an empty nest, as the third of our three boys, Danny, heads to college. It’s hard to imagine what that will sound like – given today is such a whirlwind of activity.
Currently, we are in the second semester of Dan’s senior year of high school. There are college visits, award banquets, spring break, and the constant reminder from school administrators to their senior students to finish strong! Often at a meeting about graduation or some other school function, a teary-eyed parent will tell me how heartbroken they are that their son or daughter is headed away from home and how much they will be missed. Of course, we feel the same, but I still can’t help but smile.
Frankly, I never thought we would get here – and we realize how blessed we are that our youngest son is well enough to be heading off to college.
It started with a gastro infection
As a child, Dan caught a gastro infection while traveling and his recovery took several weeks before he seemed somewhat back to normal. Though after the illness, his stomach was truly never the same. For several years, he had episodes of intense abdominal pain and nausea that took him down. It started intermittently, and would last 2-3 days, a couple of times a month. We talked to our doctor, saw specialists in the greater Detroit area and went for testing. All with no luck.
As he grew older, the episodes became longer and longer, and would be triggered by any illness or infection. The pain and nausea that used to last a couple of days started lasting weeks. Over the years he went from a rambunctious little boy to a shell of the kid he once was. At some point, the nerves in his abdomen no longer knew how to turn off. He was in constant pain, and so nauseated that he couldn’t lift his head.
The pain completely sidelined him
At age 15, the pain completely sidelined him. Danny had given up hockey as he was too sick to play, a sport he loved and had played since the age of four. He had missed most of the ninth grade. Danny had always been a strong student and enjoyed learning – so he was beyond frustrated. School was important to him. He had goals to go to college and study medicine. And he was missing out on time with his friends.
The chronic pain and nausea took a toll, not only on Danny but on our whole family. Our lives revolved around trying to get him healthy. As a parent, to say I was beside myself, is putting it mildly. I was broken hearted, and I couldn’t fix it. I dragged him to every doctor and specialist I could. He was poked and prodded and scoped, and scoped again. We tried everything they recommended – medicines, tens units, special diets, fasting, more medicines, acupuncture, and physical therapy. You name it, we tried it.
Danny is referred to Cincinnati Children’s Neurogastroenterology and Motility Center
When he was 16, his doctor in Detroit referred him to Cincinnati Children’s Neurogastroenterology and Motility Center to meet with another specialist, Dr. Khalil El-Chammas. Finally, here, our story takes a turn. After studying Dan’s case and doing a thorough evaluation, Dr. El-Chammas asked, “Can you think outside the box?” He referred to a recent pediatric research study that showed the benefit of percutaneous (through the skin) electric nerve field stimulation via an ear device for treating functional abdominal pain and nausea. He didn’t have to ask twice. We were all in.
The neuro-stim ear device is a small, external device that is worn around the ear, with tiny needles that are placed on specific areas of the outer ear. The device then sends electrical impulses to certain cranial nerves that project to those parts of the brain involved in the processing of pain sensation. The treatment consists of wearing the device for four consecutive weeks, five days a week around the clock, while the impulses work to reset the nerve patterns.
After the first week, there was some improvement. After the second week, he felt significantly better. By the time the four weeks were over – he was back. Back to school, back with friends, back to life. If you ask him, he will tell you that the treatment changed his life. How do you thank someone who helps your child get his life back? It meant the world to our family and especially Danny.
Though we will miss him, we are thrilled that Dan is headed to college this fall, planning to study biology and health sciences, with the hope of solving someone else’s tough problem someday; testing science and pushing the envelope as Dr. El-Chammas did for him.