Book of Dreams

Teen suffers from chronic pain; machine sought as remedy

After working on his school project at his desk in the living room, Tommy Haack,13, waits to eat dinner with his mom, Susie Haack, and brother David, 12. Tommy has complex regional pain syndrome, a rare, debilitating nerve disease. For nearly two years, Tommy has not been able to walk because of unremitting, tortuous pain.
After working on his school project at his desk in the living room, Tommy Haack,13, waits to eat dinner with his mom, Susie Haack, and brother David, 12. Tommy has complex regional pain syndrome, a rare, debilitating nerve disease. For nearly two years, Tommy has not been able to walk because of unremitting, tortuous pain. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

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The screams have subsided. But the pain persists, robbing Tommy Haack of a normal teenage life. Tommy suffers from a neurological disorder, complex regional pain syndrome, and says he hopes an experimental treatment, the Vecttor Therapy Machine, can bring some relief.

Tommy, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Alice Birney Public Waldorf School in Sacramento, led a normal life until October 2013, when his mother, Susie, says “a big utility truck” rear-ended them. The whiplash they suffered from the vehicle accident outwardly didn’t seem too severe, she said, but within a few weeks, her son started to complain that both his legs and feet were achy. Soon he was unable to stand up and walk throughout the day at school. The pain that caused him to scream in agony began.

According to the National Institutes of Health, CRPS is a chronic pain condition. The key symptom of CRPS is continuous, intense pain out of proportion to the severity of the injury, which gets worse rather than better over time. CRPS most often affects one of the arms, legs, hands or feet. Often the pain spreads to include the entire arm or leg. Typical features include dramatic changes in the color and temperature of the skin over the affected limb or body part, accompanied by intense burning pain, skin sensitivity, sweating and swelling.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes CRPS. In some cases the sympathetic nervous system plays an important role in sustaining the pain.

Tommy was in such pain, he said, “I couldn’t wear pants for two years, and the touch of almost anything, even wind or rain …” He winced at the memory. “I had to even tuck my shorts up over my hips so it wouldn’t hurt.”

His mother said she has taken him to doctors, podiatrists and physical therapists, but said Western medical practitioners, for the most part, have no training in this disease, and sufferers “have been tremendously undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.”

“They tried to give me opiates for the pain, but they just made me nauseous. I hated them. I can’t take them,” Tommy said. The doctors then tried femoral and sciatic nerve blocks, but they “didn’t do that much,” he said. When he tried water therapy, it felt great in the water, he said, but his skin was too sensitive to towel dry and even the movement of the exhaust fans as he came out of the pool hurt him.

During the times Tommy’s pain was so awful that “he’d wake up every 10 minutes going ‘Ow, ow, ow.’ I’d spend a lot of time researching on the internet,” Susie Haack said. She was intrigued by the work of Dr. Katinka Van Der Merwe, originally of South Africa and now a chiropractor in Fayetteville, Ark., and Haack said Tommy responded favorably after sessions with the Vecttor Therapy System in Van Der Merwe’s office. But the cost of traveling to Arkansas and staying for the full 12-week therapy was out of reach financially for the disabled single mom (she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1988 and stopped working full time in 2006.)

Haack contacted the developer of the Vecttor Therapy System, Dr. Donald A. Rhodes of Woodlands, Texas, and found out he would sell her the machine after examining Tommy, his younger brother David (who she said has suffered concussions and hypermobility) and her, and training her to use it. She said this offers the best chance for all of her family to deal with their pain.

The Vecttor provides electrostimulation of four acupressure points on each side of the body simultaneously while providing feedback on skin temperature changes.

Haack hopes to travel to Rhodes’ office in Woodlands, a community north of Houston, in January. Tommy turns 14 in February. Could he possibly be pain-free by then? Haack said she could not ask for a better gift.

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Book of Dreams has been helping people in our community for nearly 30 years. Each year during the holidays, the Sacramento Bee publishes stories of people and nonprofits in need. The dreams can be simple, such as cribs for children, a bike for a

The request

Needed: The Vecttor Therapy System, VT-200

Cost: $4,950

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