CINCINNATI, May 4, 2021 / PRNewswire / – It was one step at a time for Farah Willenbrock, 17, of Champagne, Illinois. Last summer, the once enthusiastic ballet dancer could hardly walk. A debilitating illness caused constant stomach pain and nausea.
“It was a bit scary,” said Farah. “I didn’t really know what was wrong with me.”
Scott WillenbrockFarah’s father said that sometimes the pain went from bad to unbearable. “There were times when she just lay in bed and cried for hours in pain,” he said. “It’s very difficult to see.”
Farah stopped eating and drinking because of the pain and needed a feeding tube. She visited a number of doctors and specialists in Illinois and the environment. Her father spent countless hours examining her symptoms and looking for experts who could help him.
“I started to ask, ‘Is this pain just in my head and am I going to make it up to you?’ “Said Farah. “It was a really scary time for me because I doubted it so often.”
A nurse from another hospital referred Farah’s father to Cincinnati Children’s, where the family met Neha Santucci, MD, a neurogastroenterologist. She diagnosed Farah with two conditions: 1) functional dyspepsia, a chronic disorder in which the upper digestive tract shows symptoms of pain and nausea for months, and 2) irritable bowel syndrome, which affects the intestines.
“We believe it is chemical imbalances in the nerves of the GI tract that cause this type of pain,” Santucci said. “It’s very much like having a migraine where you do CTs and MRIs and everything goes back to normal. But we all know how severe migraine pain is, and the GI tract has the same neurotransmitters as the brain.”
Santucci recommended the IB-Stim device for treatment. IB-Stim delivers neuromodulation therapy, which studies show that it reduces the pain signals transmitted from the nerves of the gastrointestinal tract to the brain. The IB-Stim device is taped behind the ear. It has four wires, each attached to electrodes with a thin needle. Santucci inserted the electrodes into four marked locations near nerve bundles on the outer surface of the ear, and the device delivered electrical impulses.
Farah wore the disposable device five consecutive days a week for four weeks, and her father noticed a difference.
“The IB stim was subtle” Scott Willenbrock said. “You know it’s up to her ear, you don’t see what it’s doing, you don’t know what it’s doing, but what happened is that she started eating better.”
For the next step in her treatment, Santucci introduced Farah Sara Williams, PhD, a child psychologist with the FIRST program, which stands for restoring functional independence. It is one of the only comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation programs in the country for children whose severe chronic pain prevents them from enjoying a good quality of life.
The program is part of the Cincinnati Children’s Pain Management Center, recognized nationwide for its expertise in the diagnosis, treatment, and research of complex pediatric pain conditions.
“Our model in the FIRST program puts function first, which means that every day, no matter how you feel, if you have a day of severe pain, if you have a day of moderate pain, go for that Doing things on your schedule, “said Sara Williams, PhD, psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s. “Because doing that – and getting your body into the practice of doing all of these things – will help undo the pain signal that kept you so far out of your life.”
Each day, Farah attended eight hours of scheduled, structured treatment – including physical and occupational therapy and meetings with a pediatric pain psychologist. On her last day of treatment, Farah was able to dance for the first time in months.
“I learned a lot of deep-breathing relaxation techniques,” said Farah. “I’ve learned a lot about reframing which has been very helpful to me. I think about all the progress I’ve made and what I’m looking forward to coming back to.”
Farah is back home now Illinois, dance with a ballet company.
For more information on the FIRST program, visit https://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/service/f/functional-independence.
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SOURCE Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center