Since 2013, Blackstone resident Todd Whiteley had consulted with four cardiologists, two gastroenterologists, two pain specialists, a physical therapist and a spinal surgeon. Todd, 47, notes that he underwent at least four cardiac catheterizations, two endoscopy tests, two MRIs, five injections near his spine, and three injections near his chest wall. He went to a chiropractor for a year, saw an acupuncturist, and tried oral medications, ointments, and massage.
“I got bounced to a lot of different folks, and they did what they could in their specialty and then bounced me off to the next one,” recalls Todd, who was suffering from persistent unexplained chest pain. “There would be times when I was at work and sitting there with my head in my hands. You don’t get used to pain.”
His struggle started after a heart attack in March 2013. Todd was in the backyard with his son, then age three, when the symptoms gripped him. He managed to call 911 and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he had a stent put in. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning.
“I could always feel a tightness in my chest which presented like I was starting to have a heart attack,” Todd states. “If I did too much, I’d pay for it. Whenever we’d go on vacation, I’d be in pain for days from moving luggage. I would hurt for an hour after wearing a seatbelt and couldn’t drive with my left hand. There were times when my wife had to do everything, and she would never know when the next 3 a.m. tap on the shoulder would come telling her that we had to go to the ER.”
Eventually, an MRI revealed a bulging disc near a nerve bundle. Still, no one could tell him whether that was causing his chest pain. Frustrated with all the dead ends, Todd made an appointment with Dr. Stuart Dunbar, a Milford Regional pain management specialist. Dr. Dunbar brought the case to a pain clinic group of local doctors, rehab professionals, and other specialists that meets monthly to discuss challenging cases, and the result was a referral to Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine in Milford. He was paired up with physical therapist Jenny Clancy and soon noticed rapid improvement.
Within three weeks, Todd drastically reduced his pain medication, nerve-blocking pills that he had been taking three times per day. The early success shocked him as a past stint at another rehab facility added to his pain. Jenny took a different approach, beginning with stretching.
“I watched him move and saw where he was lacking mobility and strength and decided to work from the furthest point away from his greatest pain,” Jenny relates. “He was definitely swollen on his left side and the chest was tender. He’d been holding his pectoral muscle in tension for so long. His ribs and his left side were not moving very well. If you get all those things to move the way they’re supposed to, it takes stress off that area where the disc could be irritated.”
Jenny also used laser and ultrasound treatments, which encourage tissue healing. Once Todd showed improvement, she added strength exercises. In addition, she did the Graston Technique, a method that involves soft tissue massage instruments. “He’s so motivated and it was really nice to see he had such a positive outcome,” Jenny notes. “People don’t always like to hear there isn’t a pill to make it better and they have to do it themselves, but with the proper exercises and education, we can really make a difference in people’s lives.”
Todd credits Jenny with giving him his life back and says he feels lucky that after all the dead ends, he finally wound up at Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine. He knew his life was changing for the better when less than two months after starting rehab, he worked in the yard for 7.5 hours and didn’t suffer for it. He set up the swimming pool, vacuumed it, did weed-whacking, and cut his lawn.
“It’s not that I couldn’t do it before, but if I did, I’d be in pain for a week straight,” he declares. “But the next day, I didn’t wake up thinking it had been a mistake. The amount of things I’m doing now, the amount of freedom I got back into my life, I owe it to Jenny and rehab.”