From Tortured to Blessed
After a terrible accident, Ashland County woman finds relief through UH pain specialists
Seven years ago in a small-town Ohio crosswalk, Danail Howell’s life was crushed when she was struck by a car. The 36-year-old was rushed to the closest trauma center in Columbus and put into a medically induced coma, with both legs and many ribs broken, her shoulder shattered, a low-back injury and multiple bones in her face fractured.
Bed-bound and recovering in a nursing facility, the mother of three teenagers began an odyssey of searching for a medical solution to excruciating pain. She visited countless physicians and hospitals all over northern Ohio, trying everything from physical therapy and pain pills (“not for me – I’ve seen other people get hooked”) to experimental surgery and implanted nerve stimulators.
She was ingesting a staggering 2400 mg of gabapentin, a medication for nerve pain, every day when her UH family physician referred her to Kutaiba Tabbaa, MD, at the UH Comprehensive Pain Center. Finally, she found pain specialists who listened to her unique situation and tailored a treatment plan to her needs.
“Pain management is not just a pill, a single injection, a fancy surgery or implants,” says Dr. Tabbaa, the Medical Director at the UH Comprehensive Pain Center at UH Parma. “It is an art tailored to each individual to help them regain their quality of life by empowering them and involving them in their care.”
Every time Danail gives her grandson, Bain, a gentle push on the backyard swing, or cuddles her granddaughter Daisymae – things she once could not trust herself to do without fearing she would lose her balance and fall – she is reminded why she has endured.
“I’m here to tell people in serious pain that no one should give up,” says the 43-year-old Ashland County woman. “It took me seven years to find someone I could get legitimate relief from, and nothing seemed to really help me. UH has been awesome. I survived for a reason.”
The comforting embrace of an entire team
Dr. Tabbaa listened thoroughly to her story and identified areas where his team could address her chronic pain. He utilized advanced interventional therapy with fluoroscopy guidance to target Danail’s pain generators.
He also addressed Danail’s secondary fibromyalgia with opioid-sparing IV infusions, which are administered over the course of one hour every month. The compassionate nursing staff emphasizes the importance of becoming healthy and improving function, he adds.
“We succeed in our program because we combine the best and latest technologies with a holistic approach to each individual patient,” says Dr. Tabbaa. “We respect our patients and empathize with and empower them to take charge of their illness and become active participants in our program.”
Through UH’s comprehensive pain program, Dr. Tabbaa also connected her with specialists at UH Connor Integrative Health Network. Keary O'Connor, DO, worked with Danail to focus on lifestyle changes, helping her to make anti-inflammatory diet adjustments and trying physical therapy. Chiropractor Robert Trager, DC, addressed Danail’s chronic spinal pain using a hands-on approach.
Dry needling taps into ‘a brand new person’
As a chiropractic physician, Dr. Trager employs a conservative approach that complements the medical pain management. He uses gentle, soft-tissue and spinal manipulation to improve her spinal mobility. He also incorporates dynamic stretches and has shown her exercises to do at home between visits.
Dr. Trager also uses dry needling on Danail to alleviate chronic spinal and nerve root pain stemming from her lower back. A different procedure than acupuncture, dry needling is more limited to the area of pain and muscle tightness. He takes extra precautions, considering Danail’s implanted stimulators. Collaboration with other pain specialists ensures they maintain best practices.
“I can teIl it’s helping,” says Danail, who looks forward to her regular chiropractic visits every two weeks. “I felt like a brand new person the first time I left Dr. Trager’s office.”
Neurological testing has shown improved strength in her lower extremities, says Dr. Trager. The treatment also is relieving the nerve root pain resulting from severe disc height loss in her low back.
“Since collaborating with UH Parma’s Comprehensive Pain Center, it has been great to see her improve week by week and have a better quality of life with less pain,” says Dr. Trager. “After years of having plateaued in her treatment, she’s breaking through and starting to make progress.”
Just the beginning
She may not yet be able to get down on the floor with her three grandchildren, including toddler Kenzlie. But she trusts herself to spend time with them without becoming incapacitated by pain.
“I’m more active than I was ever able to be before, and not being in all that pain helps so much,” says Danail, noting that she still suffers post-traumatic stress disorder from the horrifying accident, but lifting the burden of intense physical pain has eased her mental strain. “I’m too young not to be active with my grandbabies. It’s been a great relief. And this is just the beginning.
“I’ve been blessed. I feel I’ve been able to start enjoying life again.”