Family of boy with pain syndrome leaves Stanford for new treatment

Published: 2011-05-25 10:41:58
Author: Rob Kuznia

It had seemed like a dream come true.
In early April, when insurance providers finally agreed - after months of denials - to send a 14-year-old Torrance boy to a children's hospital in Stanford for treatment of an extremely rare pain disorder, many people cheered.

That day, when the medical plane lifted off at Torrance Municipal Airport bound for Palo Alto, family members of Joseph Martinez hugged and cried, believing that this might bring back the old Joseph - the one who played video games and baseball - as opposed to the one who lay in bed 24/7, screaming, moaning and addicted to painkillers. The one who'd missed an entire year of school.

But it wasn't to be.

After about six days, the family felt that the team of doctors in Stanford was making insufficient progress. So they pulled out of the program in mid-April. Now, they are in Texas, pinning their hopes on a podiatrist with a gadget.

Not long after leaving Stanford, they learned of the folksy doctor whose practice does not carry nearly the same prestige as the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford, which is among just a handful of U.S. medical centers equipped to treat children with complex regional pain syndrome, the rare disorder from which Joseph appears to be suffering.

Dr. Donald Rhodes of Corpus Christi is a podiatrist by trade, a "foot guy," as he says. Though he is little known in the small field of pain management, the family in late April was impressed enough by the look of his methods to rent an RV for $2,700 and drive out to Texas from Torrance. (Joseph is in too much pain to sit in a car for extended periods.)

Unlike Stanford's comprehensive treatment, Rhodes' approach does not require a medical team of nutritionists, physical therapists, psychiatrists and pediatricians. Instead, it requires just a black box, 8 inches by 8 inches, from which protrude electrodes that attach to various parts of the body.

Unlike the treatment at Stanford - estimated to cost $17,000 a week - Rhodes' care is not covered by insurance. Instead, the cost is borne entirely by a $35,000 pot of donations raised mostly by Joseph's school, St. Catherine Laboure in Torrance. A day or so before leaving for Texas, the family requested and received $15,000 from the principal. Joseph's mother, Susan Martinez, said the family has about $5,000 left.