At eighteen, Edania Maldonado is young, compassionate and full of life. A freshman at LaSalle University, she dreams of becoming a pediatric physical therapist. Edania may appear to be a healthy teenager, but for the past six years, she has been living with chronic pain.
During the summer of 2004, Edania injured her right forearm when she fell off a tire swing. Because she was twelve, doctors placed her arm in a soft cast, believing it would heal on its own. While the pain did not fully go away, she gradually regained mobility of her arm after two months and began to return to her normal activities. Unfortunately, when she returned to one of her favorite pastimes, gymnastics, a friend doing cartwheels accidentally kicked Edania’s arm, causing the pain to return immediately.
Things only got worse. Several weeks later, the burning, throbbing sensation spread when she tripped over a suitcase and fell on her left elbow and shoulder. Soon she was wearing a soft cast on her right arm and a sling on her left arm as the pain traveled to her neck. Over the next two years, Edania continued to struggle with severe pain and no answers. During this time, she injured her left leg while dancing for her school’s talent show auditions. Since this injury, her left leg turns permanently inward.
Edania’s doctors seemed dumbfounded by her symptoms. Since they were unable to locate a physical reason for her pain, they labeled her as crazy. Although the medical community believed she was exaggerating her symptoms, Edania did not let it bother her. She knew her body. She knew that she was in pain and that something was wrong.
Finally, in August 2006, her physical therapist diagnosed her with widespread reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), a neurological and chronic pain disorder affecting the sympathetic nervous system. In Edania’s case, it causes constant shooting, stabbing, burning and throbbing pain throughout her body. The pain is especially agonizing in her left leg. She keeps crutches by her bed in case she needs to get up during the night and is unable to put pressure on her leg. She has decreased limb mobility, atrophied and shortened muscles, an abnormal gait and intense muscle spasms. In addition, RSD has changed her skin pigmentation, caused her body temperature to fluctuate frequently between hot and cold, and given her migraines, nausea, lightheadedness, insomnia and fatigue.
Edania does not take medications because she has reacted poorly to them in the past and because she believes an all-natural approach is best at her young age. She regularly attends physical therapy to help her regain and maintain limb mobility. She understands that while stretching and movement may temporarily exacerbate the pain, it is a necessity to keep her active. For relief after physical therapy, Edania uses cold gel packs to reduce swelling, alleviate pain and relax muscle tension.
Her life has changed because of RSD. Focusing on schoolwork has become a task, as the pain makes it difficult to concentrate. With pain affecting most aspects of her life, Edania no longer takes simple activities like dance and gymnastics for granted. She has learned at an early age to appreciate health and live for the moment.
Although she is still looking for answers that will bring sustained relief, Edania refuses to let pain conquer her. She managed to graduate high school, attend prom and perform in a parade, and she is now embarking on college. “I see myself for nothing less or more than who I am. I follow my dreams, and try to live in the moment. I take it one day at a time. This will not kill me, but make me stronger.”