Rebecca Rengo, 60, was haunted by chronic pain in her neck for all of her adult life. Then recently, she walked into a physician’s office and found herself all but fixed in one afternoon.
“My friends say I’m like Benjamin Button, aging in reverse,” she said. Benjamin Button was the primary character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
Before, “It hurt like hell; excruciating pain all my life,” she said. “Now it’s over … I feel better than I did in my 20s.
“The quality of life is huge. I feel better, and that’s the only thing that has changed.”
The remedy was an injection of stem cells into the faulty area of her upper neck. The physician is Dr. David Crone of Blue Tail Medical Group, which specializes in “regenerative medicine.” He extracted stem cells from Rengo’s own bone marrow, then injected them into her troubled neck area.
Stem cells can grow into any sort of cell in the body. They come from a number of sources, some controversial. The most convenient source grows in individual human bodies. Technology has made it possible for doctors to extract those cells from individuals’ bone marrow and reinject them in concentration where they can fix certain conditions.
In Rengo’s case, she’d developed a condition called TMJ, severe inflammation of the temporomandibular joint, the connective tissue between the jaw and the skull. The condition causes face pain and severe headaches.
Rengo’s condition began when she was 16 when an orthodontist fitted her with braces — once a common cause of the condition.
A few years later, in her early 20s, she suffered a severe neck injury when her car was struck by a tractor-trailer. That and two subsequent traffic mishaps nearly debilitated her.
She lived with the condition for decades.
Along the way, she got numerous diagnoses and suggested remedies, from major surgery to the suggestion that the pain was in her head.
The demon had created a vicious cycle: The pain caused emotional upheaval, and the emotional upheaval intensified the pain.
It so distracted her that she began years of searching for physical, emotional and psychological answers to her problem — so much so she became a chronic pain counselor, often using her experience to help others.
She learned that to cope she had to be kinder to herself. She accepted the pain as part of life, living with it and working around it.
She said in a 2007 interview with the Post-Dispatch, “A lot of women have the misconception that if you take care of yourself, you’re somehow being selfish. It’s selfish not to take care of yourself first.”
That hasn’t changed, she said. She gave herself more time to do things and did only what she was capable of doing. So, sometimes, the family cooked their own meals and some cleaning didn’t get done.
She wrote a manual on dealing with chronic pain, “Beyond Chronic Pain.”
After she began treatments last year with the Blue Tail facility, she feels, “Amazingly better. It’s a lot of independence, carrying groceries. Picking up my grandson is huge.
“I can enjoy life more now. I don’t have to take prescription medication.”
She has expanded her counseling/coaching service. Now, she helps caregivers and does sensitivity counseling. It seems there’s a community of people in the United States who are adversely affected by stress, pain and normal aggravations of life.
“It’s easy to get overloaded,” she said. Recent research shows “the brains of these people are wired differently. They need to know how to cope.”
She doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, she said. “I don’t think there’s one right solution,” she said.
Rengo has written an e-book on the topic, “Inner Peace for Highly Sensitive People.” It’s available on her website, RebeccaRengo.com.