Advocating for alternative options.
At the spry age of 67, Bob Boehler’s first priority is time with his grandchildren. He’s always been a family man, and his ability to remain mobile enough to enjoy time with them has been vital throughout his journey for treatment.
Chronic pain is not new for Bob. It started in high school, thanks to athletic injuries. He played all through college with low back pain and sciatica. “I went to school on a scholarship, so I felt obligated to ignore the warning signs,” he says. “I also didn’t get the treatments I probably needed to help the pain, and I wonder how much of that was a precursor to my later symptoms, including the development of arthritis in my spine.”
Despite living with pain since his teens, it wasn’t until Bob reached his 40s that he actively sought out treatments. Even then, it would be another decade before he was willing to take prescription medications, and even longer before finding the right treatments for his health.
“I self-medicated with NSAIDs and now have chronic kidney disease as a result,” he says.
Like many pain warriors, Bob’s journey has not been easy; but he is not giving up. He wants to make sure others know about alternative options.
Living in a fog
Not wanting to take pain medications due to fears of addiction, Bob initially opted for complementary treatments such as chiropractic care and a strict vegetarian diet to help control inflammation. The adjustments didn’t take the pain away, but brought him enough relief that he was able to continue working. He continued to follow this course of care for 10 more years before he finally sought out a physician for help.
The physician treating Bob put him on muscle relaxers and other pain medications to treat his severe pain, as he still did not have a confirmed diagnosis.
“Despite all of these pain management strategies, I was never pain-free,” Bob says. “Pain was a constant nuisance and distracting, if not debilitating.”
He was teaching high school science at the time and says the medications allowed him to function and be present for his students—otherwise he would have been bedridden with pain. But his wife, Cindy, noticed side effects: His demeanor was different, he seemed to be in a fog, and he was not his typical self. Yet for Bob, who at this point still did not have a diagnosis but had developed severe pain in his neck and shoulders leading to additional procedures and fusions, having his pain managed was the utmost importance. From his perspective, the side effects did not seem problematic and were easy to overlook. In fact, it wasn’t until he stopped taking the medications seven years later that he understood what she meant.
“All of a sudden a fog I did not even know existed just disappeared,” Bob says.
During Christmas celebrations in 2012, Bob’s daughter Lillian, an anesthesiologist, noticed Bob’s obvious pain and discomfort. So she arranged for a cervical fusion with an internationally recognized neurosurgeon she frequently works with in Dallas, Dr. Richard Wagner.
“She recommended I see him for the nerve pain in my neck and I said, ‘Sure, I’ll just have to wait about three months to get in,’” he recalls. “Three days later, I was in his office looking at my X-rays with him … two days later my surgery was scheduled. I couldn’t argue with that intervention!”
That procedure, as well as a foramentomy performed by Dr. Wagner, did ease his pain somewhat, Bob says, and he also believes it prevented loss of motor control in his left hand.
“I’ve been able to visit with him and his wife a few times since at my daughter’s annual Christmas Eve open house,” Bob says.
New diagnosis and promising treatment
But it was another doctor whom Bob credits with finally diagnosing him with osteoarthritis and helping him find the most effective therapies for his pain: an anesthesiologist named Dr. Craig Danshaw, who specializes in pain control. After first recommending a series of treatments including Butrans patches, epidurals, rhizotomy, and a cervical fusion, Dr. Danshaw introduced Bob to Limbrel, a medical food specifically designed to treat osteoarthritis, that requires a prescription and is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “It was amazing: like magic,” shares Bob of how much better he felt. “I had no pain anywhere.”
Unfortunately, a year after starting this promising and life-changing treatment, the medical food was voluntarily recalled due to adverse event reports of elevated liver function tests or acute hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Bob was shocked; after decades of searching, he had found the right therapy for him and now it was gone. To go from being pain-free to living with chronic, debilitating pain again was devastating.
Yet, Bob is not one to give up. On the recommendation of a friend, he started seeing an acupuncturist with an onsite herbal supplement compounding pharmacy. With a large inventory of herbs in powder form to mix together whatever a patient may need, Bob began searching online for the ingredient list of his medical food. He researched Chinese herbs and other ingredients to find their scientific names and passed the information along to his acupuncturist. “My acupuncturist has been able to formulate a similar supplement for me, which is working well,” shares Bob.
Bob believes his newfound freedom from pain is due to a combination of treatments, including acupuncture. “I am a true believer in the power of alternative medicine,” he says. “I’m just marveling at the fact that I apparently have a permanent fix. But if it does come back, I know what to do. I have the tools that work for me.”
Bob is now able to work out with a trainer—something he hasn’t done in years. He also has found relief in one of the most natural remedies of all. “My recent retirement has allowed more hours of sleep every night than ever before,” he says. “This has been beneficial to my healing and recovery from bouts of pain.”
Getting the word out
Bob is passionate about spreading the word about medical foods, Chinese herbs, and alternative therapies. He recalls a time when he was speaking with two other patients, one a nurse for over 30 years and the other a woman with chronic pain-induced depression; neither of the women had heard of Limbrel or the Chinese herbs.
Bob knows that many medical professionals are skeptical about alternative medicine. “I’ve had this conversation with my daughter,” he says. “But she does admit that she’s heard of some remarkable things that acupuncture can do. And so I think that’s part of my advocacy.”
Bob even went to the FDA with the U.S. Pain Foundation to speak about his journey with osteoarthritis and chronic pain. His goal was to advocate and encourage alternative proposals. “I knew I only had five minutes,” he explains, “so I was determined to spend less time focused on the use of opioids and more on the potential benefits of alternative treatments. I can’t help but wonder whether there might be medications that could be made available to provide alleviation without strong side effects.”
Bob Boehler is a man with a mission. And so he continues to get the word out, even if it is just one person at a time.
“I wish there was a greater awareness of how painful these conditions are and how much they restrict mobility—then perhaps patients would receive more and kinder consideration,” he says.
He wants other people living with pain to know there are therapies out there and to keep searching.
“It’s hard for people with chronic pain to reach out,” he says. “If there is anything I can do to allow people to experience the relief I have, I will do it.”