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Getting back to normal is what local resident Dawn Cline expected after breaking her left foot 14 months ago. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the Aspen Copies co-owner developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a condition she hadn’t heard of, much less imagined would nearly consume her life.
Cline makes it to her store at 1789 Central Ave. most days and often alternates between her crutches and wheelchair when the pain becomes just short of unbearable.
“The hardest thing is having to explain over and over to curious customers why I’m on crutches or in the wheelchair or why my broken foot hasn’t healed,” Cline said. “It’s so difficult for me and my family to have to relive this several times a day.”
Cline has operated Aspen Copies for 13 years with husband James Cline. Their daughter, Amber, 8, is a familiar fixture at the store when not in school.
“This has been especially difficult for Amber,” James said. “She wants to go places and do things together with her mom like fishing, taking a walk and horse back riding, but now even something as simple as going to the mall presents many new challenges for Amber and her mom. Dawn can’t pick up Amber and spin her around anymore or give her a big hug - instead she has to ask Amber to help push her wheelchair up inclines.”
CRPS causes continuous, intense pain out of proportion to the severity of the injury, which according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), gets worse rather than better over time. The debilitating condition most often affects one of the arms, legs, hands, or feet. The pain often spreads to include the entire arm or leg. Dramatic changes in the color and temperature of the skin over the affected limb or body part are also typical, accompanied by intense burning pain, skin sensitivity, sweating, and swelling.
In Cline’s case, her left foot and at times entire leg is racked with excruciating pain.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes the condition. In some cases the sympathetic nervous system plays an important role in sustaining the pain, according to NINDS. Another theory is that CRPS is caused by a triggering of the immune response, which leads to inflammatory symptoms of redness, warmth, and swelling in the affected area.
To date there is no cure and treatment targets relieving painful symptoms. Doctors typically prescribe topical analgesics, antidepressants, corticosteroids, and opioids to help relieve pain, but no single drug or combination has produced consistent long-lasting improvement in symptoms.
Other treatments include physical therapy, sympathetic nerve block, spinal cord stimulation, and intrathecal drug pumps to deliver opioids and local anesthetic agents through the spinal cord.
The prognosis for CRPS varies depending on the person. Spontaneous remission occurs in certain individuals, others suffer unremitting pain and crippling, irreversible changes in spite of treatment.
NINDS and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health are conducting CRPS research.
Cline’s doctors won’t see her anymore, she said, because her insurance company, Mega Life, has declined to pay for further treatments. All major insurance companies Cline has contacted also have denied her coverage, she said.
A bank account has been set up to accept donations to help pay for Cline’s treatment and medical expenses under the name Dawn C. Cline Medical Fund at Los Alamos National Bank.