Finding new strength - and self - through innovative pain program
Makayla Clark gave little thought to the pain that was slowly gripping her right knee. As an athlete, she was used to the aches and pains that accompany daily workouts and game-time intensity. But as time wore on, the pain worsened. And after months of trying to tough it out, the pain led Makayla down an unexpected path.
Eight months after the pain emerged, Makayla went from sprinting on the basketball court to hobbling on crutches. A few weeks later, she was virtually immobilized. Her entire right leg became dead weight. In the blink of an eye, the once-active 12-year-old was battling constant, crippling pain.
The Search for Answers
Makayla's condition remained a mystery as her family consulted one specialist after another. Medications were prescribed. Support braces were fitted. Still, there was no sign of improvement.
"She was convinced she would never be active again," Karen said. "She was basically couch-bound."
After trying every treatment option outside of invasive surgery, Karen finally came across an answer.
She learned that Cara Hoffart, DO, and her team at Children’s Mercy specialize in treating kids with Makayla’s symptoms. She soon had a name for the cause – a little-known condition called amplified pain syndrome. The next thing they knew, the Iowa family was making the five-hour trek to Kansas City with hope for a cure.
Karen and Makayla learned two things during their first meeting with Dr. Hoffart – 1. Recovery was possible and 2. It would not be easy.
The Rehabilitation for Amplified Pain Syndromes (RAPS) program leads patients through three to four weeks of intense physical exercise to help restore mobility. No medications. No surgical procedures. Just retraining the body through tough physical work and emotional work and – once function is regained – curing the pain that led to their condition.
"Pain syndromes usually begin with a minor injury, and then a variety of factors such as stress and inactivity make the pain much worse and cause it to spread to other parts of the body," Dr. Hoffart said. "The best treatment is to get patients up and active to rebuild their strength."
Makayla was initially skeptical. She felt pain just sitting still. The thought of walking on a treadmill and bounding up staircases seemed ridiculous – and terrifying. But Dr. Hoffart and the RAPS team provided reassurance, and Makayla was soon ready to get to work.
Right away, Makayla was taking steps in a therapy pool. Once she could walk unsupported, the activities intensified. From morning to evening she ran timed drills, carried weights, and practiced yoga. Her schedule also included group therapy sessions for added support.
At the end of her four-week program, Makayla was once again fully mobile. She still practices yoga at home and has her eyes set on making her school's volleyball team. These feats were unimaginable a matter of months ago. The hard work, she said, was well worth it.
"They would push you at times, but everyone was really encouraging," Makayla said. "We call the RAPS program a miracle."
At the start of Makayla's journey, her goal was to get back to her old self. Now that she's fully recovered, she feels she's left her old self behind.
"This is a brand new Makayla – better than old Makayla."