Mon, March 17, 2008
A Mooretown woman was put in a “ketamine coma” after friends and strangers raised $20,000.
By SHAWN JEFFORDS, SUN MEDIA
SARNIA — Strapped to a bed in a Mexican hospital, Heather Kennedy-Redmond was battling shadows from the darkest corner of her mind.
Tubes pierced her body to feed and help her breathe, while beeping monitors registered her vital signs.
After exhausting traditional medicine, the 26-year-old Mooretown woman had travelled to Mexico for experimental treatment of chronic pain.
She has a little-known condition called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD.
The controversial treatment she underwent involved inducing a coma by flooding her body for five days with ketamine, a powerful human and veterinary anesthetic known to street users as Special K.
For the week, vivid hallucinations threatened to consume her. But a year later, the pain she endured has now eased.
Parents Linda and Paul Kennedy and husband Ken Redmond hovered over her for the week, hoping she’d emerge from the coma changed.
Looking back, Kennedy-Redmond recalls a simple gesture in that hospital room in Monterey as a revelation. “I remember holding my dad’s hand and it didn’t hurt.”
Mother Linda Kennedy describes her family as quiet.
“We’re very ordinary people. We’re not the kind of people to go through with coma treatments,” she said.
But after seven years of few answers and even fewer viable treatment options in Canada, even a radical long-shot seemed better than nothing.
“For my parents, the ketamine coma was not something they wanted to do,” Kennedy-Redmond said. “For me it was like, ‘It can’t get here fast enough. Let me do it now.’ ”
The pain of RSD first appeared following a routine injection in July 2000. She’d just had her tonsils removed and the inter-muscular shot in her right leg hurt for days.
The pain spread and grew intensified. Prescribed anti-inflammatory medication did nothing to ease it, she said.
“We went to so many doctors. They were telling me I was crazy and it was all in my head,” she said.
The changes were devastating for a woman who filled her free time at sports and preparing for 10-kilometre runs.
“Within two years it had spread across my body, from my scalp to my toes.”
In desperation the Kennedys turned to the Internet, searching for anything that matched the symptoms. In 2003 they found a doctor in Vero Beach, Fla., who treated chronic pain, and booked an appointment.
With diagnosis came shocking news: RSD has no cure.
“We just kept saying, there’s always hope,” said Linda Kennedy.
Her daughter began travelling to Hamilton every three weeks for nerve blocks and epidurals, adding 30 needles to a daily regimen of 17 pills.
The treatments threatened to do irreparable harm to Kennedy-Redmond’s body. Worse yet, the pain kept increasing.
Eventually the Kennedys’ research led to ketamine. They read a single, low-dose treatment was showing promise. Another more radical “ketamine coma” left some patients in trials pain-free.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved the treatment, but a doctor in Mexico had secured the drug from German physicians.
“My parents didn’t tell me about it,” Kennedy-Redmond said. “They were good about it, because they didn’t want me to get my hopes up and be excited and then be shot down.”
Paul and Linda Kennedy talked to patients who’d had the treatment and doctors who administered it. But the wait list for a low-dose treatment was about 250 names and the first opening a decade away.
Family, friends, co-workers and strangers raised $20,000 for the $50,000 treatment cost.
“There are just so many people to thank,” Heather said.
They flew to Mexico last March. Heather returned feeling weak but different.
A year later, she’s “60 per cent” better. Though she’ll never be cured, she expects to be symptom-free soon. Not everyone responds to the treatments, she cautioned.