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James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital - Tampa, Florida


Improving quality of life for pain sufferers

Leyla and McKetham Campbell pack Mcketham's belongings after he graduated from the Chronic Pain Rehabiliation Program Sept. 14.

Leyla and McKetham Campbell pack Mcketham's belongings after he graduated from the Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program Sept. 14.

By Ed Drohan
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
McKetham Campbell knew he had a major problem the day he blew up and started yelling at his grandson for no reason.

The Army Veteran has suffered from severe and chronic pain ever since he was electrocuted by a faulty deep fryer 19 years ago while on active duty.  The electrical jolt threw him across the room, knocking him unconscious and sending him to the hospital, where he woke to “…somebody stapling my head together.”

Pain has been a way of life since then, but the incident with his grandson scared him.

“I called my wife and told her I was having issues with yelling,” McKetham said.  “I kind of blew up and my grandson didn’t know why, so I knew something was wrong.”

He talked with his primary care provider soon after that.  After speaking with a psychiatrist and a psychologist, he found he was suffering from not only pain, but severe depression and anxiety associated with the pain. 

The psychologist recommended he try the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program (CPRP), a 19-day inpatient treatment program used to treat chronic pain in a unique way.

“Our program is designed to understand and treat chronic pain holistically from a biopsychosocial approach, meaning we look at different biological, psychological and social factors, their interaction and impact on pain and quality of life,” said Dr. Nicolle Angeli, the inpatient CPRP’s clinical director.  “We, as a team, work closely together with the Veteran to teach them how to manage their pain and improve their quality of life through safe and indicated exercises, skills, and techniques, to make life bigger so pain relatively feels smaller and more manageable.”

While the program may not be as well-known as others in the hospital, it has actually been in action for 30 years.  It is the only inpatient pain program in the VA that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities and it also tapers Veterans off opioids and muscle relaxants, Angeli explained.  The program accepts Veterans from VA facilities throughout the country as well as active duty service members.

After going through numerous treatments and medications over the course of almost two decades of pain, McKetham was skeptical when he first heard about the program.  His wife, though, thought it might be a good idea.

“We had a long talk before he got here.  I told him to have an open mind and stay positive,” Leyla Campbell said.  “I said, ‘if nothing else you’ll get away from your job for a while and try to relax.’  He promised me he’d keep an open mind.”

According to Angeli, socialization is a large part of the program, and McKetham found that out his first day when he was met by graduates from the previous group to go through the CPRP.

“I think there’s going to be bunch of staff with notebooks and coats to greet me, but it wasn’t,” McKetham said, surprised that the previous group’s graduates were there to meet him.  “So, they took me to my room, I drop my stuff off, they walk me around the entire place and explained to me about the program.  They said to give it a chance because it works, that the docs are here to help.”

Most of the activities are done in groups, McKetham said.  Program participants – up to 12 at any given time – meet in the morning and walk to breakfast, eat together, then break up into groups for the day’s activities.  Those include heated pool therapy, relaxation training, educational classes, recreation therapy, physical therapy, walking for exercise, meetings with a nurse practitioner, and then down time in the evening where participants can work on individualized exercises in their private room. Veterans are also exposed to treatments such as yoga, tai chi, virtual reality, and biofeedback.

 The learned rehabilitation program  (the program of exercises and skills patients learn through the CPRP to manage their pain) is not only encouraged within the hospital, but also designed to be integrated into a Veteran’s daily routine. On weekends Veterans are able to leave the hospital and practice what they have learned out in the community or at home.  McKetham’s home visit after his first week in the program was what made Leyla a believer.

“I saw a huge difference.  He looked like a weight had been lifted off him.  He seemed more at ease,” Leyla said.  “He was just so excited to talk about the program.  We talked about it from Saturday morning until I dropped him off.  I could see an instant difference in him and it was positive, very good.  I was excited.”

For McKetham, the camaraderie and structure of the program reminded him of his days in the military, something that was comforting to him.  It also helped being among others who suffer from chronic pain like he does.

“The camaraderie here is fabulous,” McKetham said.  “We understand each other.  We know what each other goes through.  We never leave anyone behind and we have to keep that cycle going from the first class to the last class.”

He added that the program has given him the tools he needs to help manage his pain.  Working in the pool has taught him how to breathe through his core.  He also uses relaxation and distraction techniques that include music now that has helped him get to a point where his pain isn’t controlling his life.

McKetham said his pain has been as high as a 10 on a 10-point scale and usually averaged an eight.  Since completing the program, he’s learned to manage it at a five, which he said has dramatically improved his quality of life.

He was also able to lose 20 pounds during the program by managing his diet, doing his individualized exercises and walking every day. 

For Leyla, the day she got to shadow her husband as he went through a typical day of the CPRP gave her a better appreciation for what he’s been going through for almost 2 decades.

“I learned a lot that day.  I told him I always knew he was in pain, but sometimes I would feel he might be exaggerating,” she said.  “Going through the shadowing thing, I learned a lot.  Just sitting back and listening to all of them talk around the table made me feel bad to even think that he was exaggerating his pains at any time.”

McKetham has nothing but praise for the staff he worked with over the 19-day program. 

“In my opinion, this staff is the greatest staff I’ve ever seen,” he said.  “From the nurses all the way up to the doctors, from physical therapy to the people at the pool and the people in the Heroes Kitchen.  These people are fabulous.”

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