When Oswego resident Sam Kauski got into his car on Memorial Day in 2016, he had no idea how much his life was about to change.
A crash launched Kauski out his sunroof, causing devastating injuries.
Overcoming great odds, Kauski survived a shattered pelvis, fractured spine, multiple organ failures, a punctured lung and traumatic brain injury. However, extensive nerve damage left him with excruciating chronic pain, for which he turned to the Marianjoy Integrative Pain Treatment Center, part of Northwestern Medicine.
In addition to minimizing his pain, Kauski's primary goals upon entering the program were to be able to walk without special orthopedic footwear; continue increasing strength and mobility; and, just as important to him, reduce his dependence on pain medication.
Dr. Silpa Katta, medical director of the Marianjoy Integrative Pain Treatment Center, said chronic pain is more difficult to treat than acute pain because the basis is psychological or neurological.
"Chronic pain involves changes in the nervous system that create a physical effect," Katta said. "We integrate treatments that target the nervous system as well as the mechanical dysfunction."
Due to the complex nature of Kauski's pain, Katta and the rest of Kauski's care team employed a variety of treatments and techniques, including manual physical therapy and cold laser therapy, a noninvasive procedure that uses low-level light energy to accelerate the healing process.
He also underwent biofeedback therapy, a technique enabling patients to tune into the signals from their bodies to improve health and physical function.
Using the data received from biofeedback, a physical therapist helps individuals modify responses to pain and stress within everyday life.
Additionally, Kauski cites that nutrition lessons in the anti-inflammatory properties of certain vegetables, teas and herbs as a key component in helping him live with decreased pain.
Kauski found trigger-point injections to be one of the more helpful aspects of care at the center. The procedure involves inserting a small needle into the patient's trigger point. The injection contains a local anesthetic or saline, and may include a corticosteroid.
"Sometimes injections can help to break the cycle of pain so that a patient can engage in physical therapy as a means of addressing the root cause of the pain for long-term benefit," Dr. Victor Foorsov said.
"There is a lot of art in pain treatment. Finding the pain generator is half the battle. It's an act of precision."
Psychology is also an important part of the program, with a cognitive-behavioral approach to retraining the nervous system that teaches patients pain coping and pain management skills. Patients learn relaxation techniques, sleep habits and other strategies to manage their pain.
"People in pain can sometimes be fearful of trying new techniques or practices, because this is often not their first stop on the road to recovery," said Prutha Nanavati, physical therapist for the Marianjoy Comprehensive Pain Management Program.
"Because Sam was willing to try new things when coming to our program, he had a lot of success. From the very beginning, he was positive and dedicated -- always smiling and making others smile, too."
"You have to come in with an open mind for pain therapies to heal you," Kauski agreed. "I'll admit I was a little skeptical at first, but I quickly learned it's OK to ask for help, and it's OK to have pain--lessening the stigma.
"Accepting you need the help can be hard, but it's part of the process," he said.
Less than a year after his accident, Kauski returned to school to complete a marketing degree and is pursuing an MBA. He's back to working full-time as a Realtor, as well. Now, Kauski visits Marianjoy only for trigger-point injections as needed, typically every few months -- tremendous progress from daily outpatient treatment.
He is completely weaned off the narcotics he'd been prescribed previously. As for his walking goal, he met that in only 12 days.
"Overcoming serious injury and chronic pain can be depressing, but you have to smile and keep going. At 23, I realized I still had a whole life to live," Kauski said. "Sometimes, the situations that happen to us can make us feel stagnant -- but they can be an opportunity for change. I feel like I'm starting a new beginning."
For information about the Marianjoy Integrative Pain Treatment Center, visit marianjoy.org/clinical-programs/pain-management/index.aspx.