Jeff Green | Dec 06, 2007
Feature Article - December 6, 2007 Back toHome Feature Article - December 6, 2007 Naomi Marchand Goes the Distance to Relieve Chronic Pain by Jeff Green
A benefit dance will be held on December 14 at the Maberly Hall for Naomi Marchand, who suffered a life- changing fall 18 months ago. She landed on a rock and her spinal cord was damaged. She is now confined to a wheelchair.
Naomi will not be in Maberly on the 14th however; she will be on the other side of the world, in Shanghai, China, in the care of Dr. Zhang, a pioneering surgeon in peripheral nerve rerouting. Although some of Doctor Zhang's patients have had bodily function restored, Namoi Marchand's hopes are more limited at this time. She is hoping the surgery will alleviate the debilitating pain she has developed over the past several months.
“Chronic pain has so many repercussions,” she said when interviewed from her home near Maberly two weeks ago, “it starts to manifest itself as a disease.”
This is Naomi's second trip to China. Last October she went to a clinic near Hong King for stem cell treatments in the hopes of restoring function to her lower body.
“I didn't receive much improvement from the stem cell therapy. I think it was too soon after my injury, while I was still in an acute stage. But I had dramatic pain reduction, and I was so strong after the stem cell treatments.”
Since returning from China a year ago, Naomi has been frustrated by what she sees as a lack of openness to different treatments for her condition from the medical establishment.
“When I came home, the medical community did not want to listen to what I had to say. Psychologically, I got a little bit sad.”
A couple of months after her return from China, the pain that had subsided returned, and in recent months it has become progressively worse.
Naomi has explored a variety of treatments for pain, including drug therapies, which she says are “absolutely horrible for your system,” and she is on the waiting list for a deep brain stimulation treatment.
Most of the neurologists Naomi has encountered are convinced that her pain is a so-called phantom pain, which is generated solely from her brain stem.
Dr. Zhang's treatments, however, are based on the idea that information does flow from her lower body, but the broken nerves at her injury garble that information, leaving her brain with nothing to do with the information but translate it into pain at the site.
Dr. Zhang's solution is to create a new pathway for information by creating a kind of nerve bypass, connecting peripheral nerves from above and below the injury to allow for communication to take place.
From his understanding of Naomi's case, Dr. Zhang thinks there is a 60% chance of pain reduction through surgery.
Dr. Zhang's work may not have been accepted by the mainstream of the North American neurologist community, but it has come to the attention of some researchers and practitioners.
Laurance Johnston is a U.S. based scientist and former director of the Paralysed Veterans of America's Spinal Cord Research and Education Foundations. He visited Dr. Zhang's clinic and has since written about peripheral nerve rerouting, describing it as an “exciting surgical procedure that has considerable potential for restoring significant function after spinal cord injury.”
Johnston also wrote that younger patients have a better chance of benefiting from rerouting, and that time lapse after the injury is another factor.
Originally, Naomi was planning to go to China in January, but Dr. Zhang will not be available then, leaving Naomi with a choice between December and February.
Even though a fundraising drive to raise the $25,000 needed for the flights, treatment, and a month in China, has reached only the $6,000 mark, Naomi and her family decided not to wait. She will be flying to Shanghai, accompanied by her father George, on December 8.
Naomi Marchand knows there is a real possibility that no therapy will be able to restore her lower body function, and she also knows that the peripheral nerve rerouting may not work to alleviate her pain. But she is convinced she must explore all options.
She is keen to move on with her life, and is thinking of pursuing a career as a nutritionist, but the chronic, intense pain is stopping her.
“I know there is value in what I can contribute, but if I am debilitated by pain, if I am constantly a patient, I can't move forward.”