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Kennedy Krieger program helps kids and teens overcome chronic pain without medications

Posted at 5:53 PM, Apr 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-10 17:57:10-04

For kids and teens living with chronic pain, life can be full of rescheduling plans, missing events and lots of medications. That was Kaitlyn Adams' life. 

"I was not able to go out with my friends and hang out at the mall. I had to cancel plans just because I was in a lot of pain," Adams said. "I would sleep for hours during the day, when I should be up as a teenager doing things."

For the last 8 years, Kaitlyn Adams has had to treat her chronic joint pain from sickle cell anemia with morphine and opiates. 

"It affected my mood, my attitude, my energy," Adams said. "While I was on the medication, I hated it. I knew that this was a problem."

It was the only option offered to her, until she heard about the pain rehabilitation program at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. 

"They really focused on me getting back my strength," Adams said. 

The program helps kids and teens conquer chronic pain without narcotics. 

"Kids should never be on opiates. That’s never normal. Opiates aren’t part of being a kid so our philosophy when kids come to the outpatient clinic is that we are going to teach them how to deal with pain and get back a regular kids," Dr. Suzanne Rybczynski, medical director of the Institute’s inpatient services, said. 

Patients go through physical and occupational therapy multiple times a day, and learn new coping skills, working with all kinds of specialists. 

"Kids and their parents will meet a huge team of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, psychologists and educators who really focus on how they can re-frame their lives," Rybczynski said. 

Dr. Rybczynski said chronic pain is fairly common in kids and teens and thinks this program could help a wide variety of pains.

"Other things that can be associated with chronic pain are anxiety and mood problems so we see it a lot. There’s a lot of stress out there and sometimes the body can turn stress into pain," Rybczynski said. 

After one month's stay at the institute, Kaitlyn was off of pain medication. 

"I have so much more energy. I’m pushing through every day. I’m not in bed anymore," Adams said. 

The 18-year-old is getting used to her new normal.

"I go to the mall with my friends, out to lunch. I do yoga. I’m with my family," Adams said. 

"It has just been a wonderful journey, just seeing Kaitlyn as a different person, seeing Kaitlyn happy," her mom Tijuana Adams said. 

Now Kaitlyn wants to turn her struggle into motivation for others in pain. 

"I can’t wait to see what the future holds with this new journey that I’m on," Adams said. 

Kennedy Krieger has both overnight ad day programs to help kids dealing with chronic pain.