'Pain is very isolating.' In only four words, Ashleigh Hayden speaks volumes about the cruel nature of chronic pain. 'No one else can understand what you're feeling, yet your condition has such an impact on the lives of the people you love.' So it's only appropriate that a small community of people, including family, physicians, representatives from Abbott's Neuromodulation business and the innovative minds behind the Proclaim™ DRG Neurostimulation System and the NeuroSphere™ Virtual Clinic would work individually and communally to bring Ashleigh out of that isolation and back to the life, the work and the people, she loves. A Turn of the Ankle and a Twist of Fate In May 2019, Ashleigh Hayden suffered the pain – and ultimately the irony – of eventually becoming disabled after rolling her ankle walking down the handicapped ramp of her son's daycare center. An active, working mom in her early 30s, with a job that required global travel, she tried to walk off the discomfort for three weeks before it began to impact each step. X-rays showed no fracture and she was placed in a non-weight-bearing walking boot that brought no relief. Her pain continued to worsen over a course of months and by January, 2020, 'If a breeze hit my foot, I would be in crippling pain. The nights were the worst because the pain, as it progressed, was like the feeling of being burned. When the mind quieted at the end of the day, the situation became unbearable.' As the pain increased, so did the loneliness, despite sharing a home with the two most important men in her life. 'My son, Emerson, is a very active boy and I went from being the mom who took him to the park every chance I could, to being on the couch all the time because bearing the weight of walking was too much to handle. He was always worried that he could be hurting me just by being near me. I realized I couldn't go on like this when I physically wasn't able to take him trick or treating. It seems like a little thing but it represented so much loss and crushed my heart.' And husband Chris was doing everything that Ashleigh couldn't, adding to her feeling of not being a contributing member of the family. 'He is an incredibly kind person and did everything to not make me feel like a burden. But we went from being a true partnership to him doing it all. He never complained and did all he could to make me comfortable, but it was not what either of us had signed up for.' Building a Supportive Team As the situation forced Ashleigh further into herself and away from others, pieces were being put into place that would eventually result in her being able to have a meaningful place in her own world. Medical professionals aided the process by identifying the likely culprit: Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a burning, stabbing, stinging or throbbing pain that makes the affected leg extremely sensitive to touch. Ashleigh received a series of treatments involving pain medications that helped at first but became less effective over time. As it turned out, the first people destined to help Ashleigh out of her pain-induced isolation had already long been at work preparing treatment options for patients like her. For years, researchers had examined the impact of the dorsal root ganglion (DRG), a bundle of nerves located on the perimeter of the spinal cord, and its role in chronic pain. They now know that this bundle plays a key part in nerve pain for many CRPS patients. To help those with this condition finally find relief, Abbott launched the Proclaim DRG Neurostimulation System which involves surgically placing a stimulator that targets the DRG to relieve pain in the lower limbs due to CRPS. Putting the Pieces Together Once the decision to use the DRG System was made, Kaitlyn King, Abbott's Neuromodulation Territory Manager was ready to help. And help was definitely needed… 'Meeting Kaitlyn at the time of my first DRG placement, I was at a breaking point,' said Ashleigh. 'I did not see a future forward. I thought I was going on disability, felt completely overwhelmed and didn't know where to go. I was a hot mess emotionally because that amount of pain changes your brain in ways I can’t even begin to describe. Kaitlyn was very supportive throughout the process. She managed to instill hope in a situation that felt never-ending and she was a patient advocate for me at every step.' King felt a similar bond. 'I remember sitting on a park bench with Ashleigh and hearing her concern over not being able to work again, not being the mom she wanted to be to her son. Being a mom myself, I looked at her and told her that the team would do everything possible to get her to that position. And now she is there. We are all so proud of her.' A key aspect of Ashleigh's ongoing care was the involvement of Dr. Goran Tubic, a triple board-certified anesthesiologist who placed two neurostimulation leads and remains Ashleigh's treating physician. 'We had worked with Dr. Tubic several times and he's provided consistently great outcomes for his patients,' said King. 'I knew he would take care of Ashleigh like I would want a family member cared for.' 'I was impressed with Dr. Tubic from the start,' said Ashleigh. 'Unlike other people, he took the time to actually explain the disease to me. He had several CRPS patients and he was intimately familiar with the Proclaim System we would end up using. I also appreciated his multi-disciplinary approach, like referring me to a pain psychologist who gave me coping mechanisms that helped until the final DRG trial did its job. Just being able to talk to someone who really understood what that experience was like was so helpful. These people who appreciated what I was going through, looking out for me, really eased the pressure.' Lining Up All Three In early October 2020, all leads were placed. Prior trials had controlled the spread of the pain, but this step was designed to cover the entire affected area. Following the surgery, Kaitlyn King followed Dr. Tubic's device programming instructions, using her iPad clinician controller, and the impact was felt immediately. 'As soon as Kaitlyn turned it on, everything changed for me,' said Ashleigh. 'We made a couple of adjustments over the next several weeks but, honestly, I started with almost 100% coverage over the parts that had hurt so badly.' And like those leads, it was important to line up the team members who would assist Dr. Tubic in managing Ashleigh's ongoing care. With considerable assistance from George Vassiliou, a Clinical Specialist who works on King's team, Dr. Tubic's directions continued to be well – and quickly – carried out. 'If I have a situation where I need something, George and Kaitlyn both always respond quickly. If I need help with an adjustment made or if I have a concern, the team is always ready to respond. Dr. Tubic, Kaitlyn and George have changed my life and they will always be heroes to me.' Paying It Forward But Ashleigh isn't just grateful. She's helpful. 'She has become a patient advocate for others as well. When we have a younger patient, we reach out to Ashleigh and she is always so gracious to speak with people who want to know what it's like from her perspective,' said King. 'Her interactions with other patients make them comfortable enough to get the help they need.' 'No one else can understand what it's like,' said Ashleigh. 'Just talking to someone who had CRPS for the first time was a night and day experience for me. Knowing that I wasn't alone gave me hope and hope is the biggest part of moving forward with chronic pain. If I can pass along my experiences, the way things turned out for me, maybe it gives that person the hope they need to keep fighting.' 'I Have Peace of Mind.' And make no mistake, the fight continues for her as well. 'Things have been pretty steady since shortly after the third procedure, but there is almost a PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) element where if you feel anything, you start to freak out a bit,' said Ashleigh. 'One day I felt the old pain in my big toe and worried that the prior situation was returning. But I contacted the team, my concerns were soothed, they made some remote changes that stretched the pain coverage, and I was good.' The ability to control her own situation through the use of her phone app, as well as receive remote adjustments from her care team when necessary, have done more than keep the pain at bay. 'I have peace of mind,' said Ashleigh. 'I know that if there is a problem, I can reach people from wherever I am and adjustments can be made efficiently. I can meet with Dr. Tubic remotely through the NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic if I want to. I don't worry anymore.' Knowing she can access expert care and adjust her settings from her phone has opened another important door back to Ashleigh's life: her career. 'I honestly never thought I would be able to work again and I've always loved to work.' Today, not only can she hold down a job, the world can barely hold her back. 'I am Eastern Field Marketing Manager for a hops company and I cover an area from Texas to Florida to Maine to Saskatchewan. That covers a lot of ground and I travel pretty much every other week, an impossibility before. I put on events with breweries and help them activate new products. All because I have freedom from pain and fear that I couldn't imagine I would ever have again.' The Value of Technology… 'The Proclaim device and the amazing people who have looked out for me have given me back my family, my career and my life,' said Ashleigh. 'I appreciate things now more than before I was hurt. That feeling of being alone and seeing my path go a different way makes me more motivated to be a present mom and focus on the things I enjoy and truly value. Instead of my son worrying about hurting me, he can just crawl into my lap when we read together. This year, we went to DisneyWorld and I could take him on all the rides, covering 15,000 steps in a day. Before I couldn't get to 700. I'm able to be at the school bus every day. 'And I am so looking forward to taking him trick or treating. I can't wait.' Husband Chris is getting time off for extremely good behavior as the couple settles into the more natural shared responsibilities and concerns of their pre-injury relationship. 'Our marriage has never been stronger and I'm so grateful for all that he's done,' said Ashleigh. But even a lifetime of gratitude has its limits. 'I haven't done laundry in years. I am not taking that one back.' …And the Power of People Not very long ago, Ashleigh Hayden felt she had nowhere to go. Though only in her early 30s, she could sense her dreams of family, work and friends fading, only to be replaced by chronic, debilitating pain. Ashleigh didn't know she had a group of people willing to do all they could to pull her off the couch to which she was confined and place her fully back into the life she yearned to have. Utilizing the innovative pain-relief technology developed by Abbott scientists and engineers, combined with the empathy and skills of Abbott representatives, the expertise of Dr. Goran Tubic, her own tenacity and courage, the devotion of her friends and family and the dozens of others who contributed to her journey, Ashleigh Hayden is leading her chosen life. Pain is isolating. Pain relief is liberating. Community is powerful. These are the experiences of this person. Individual experiences, symptoms, situations and results may vary. The placement of a neurostimulation system requires surgery, which exposes patients to certain risks. Complications such as infection, swelling, bruising and possibly the loss of strength or use in an affected limb or muscle group (e.g. paralysis) are possible. Additional risks such as undesirable changes in stimulation may occur over time. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the possible risks associated with neurostimulation.