When Anthony Hale was only 21 years old, a forklift ran over his leg, causing significant crush injuries.
The now 29-year-old would spend the next eight years of his life amidst a whirlwind of doctor appointments, failed procedures and prescription drugs.
“I got passed around from doctor to doctor and was prescribed any kind of narcotic prescription medication they could give me,” Hale said.
“They were threatening to get my leg cut off,” he said. “I was told I would never work again.
“It was a very dark, depressing time for me and I just got consumed by my injury, being told I was never going to get better,” Hale said.
When Hale began receiving treatments at Dynamic Health Technologies in September 2013, he was skeptical at best.
In years prior, three different doctors told him he would lose his leg and his days were spent in a drug-induced cloud.
“It only took two weeks here before he was off his pain meds,” said Carol Wilcock, the CEO and clinical supervisor at Dynamic Health.
The clinic, located in the basement suite at 900 N. Montana, seems unassuming at first glace, but the treatments offered there are, in many ways, revolutionary.
After spending almost 10 years as a nurse at St. Peter’s Hospital, Wilcock decided to open the clinic in July 2011 as a way to treat what she felt was an underserved patient demographic.
“I realized I wasn’t in health care, I was in disease management,” she said. “I just found there are people being left behind.”
She began researching alternative methods for treating and now boasts multiple noninvasive, non-narcotic treatment options.
The Enhanced External Counter Pulsation system works to increase circulation and revascularize weak or damaged tissue. Patients strap what function as giant blood pressure cuffs around their waist, thighs and calves and spend one hour a day attached to the machine, five days a week for seven weeks.
“When your heart is contracting, the cuffs are relaxed, but when your heart is relaxed, the cuffs inflate,” Wilcock said.
She asserts the treatment is equivalent to getting three years of exercise in seven weeks.
“It really keeps your circulatory system in peak performance,” she said.
An on-site hyperbaric chamber oxygenates damaged blood vessels in patients with inflammatory or brain injuries and an H-Wave unit stimulates and rebuilds damaged nerves.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re keeping one foot out of the grave or training for a marathon,” Wilcock said. “You don’t feel less pain because we try to fake you out of it, you feel less pain because you are less unhealthy.”
After weeks of an intense combination of treatments at Dynamic Health, Hale said he got his life back.
He is now the warehouse manager at Morey’s Gifts and enjoys playing with his 7-, 8- and 10-year-old children.
He is thrilled to be rid of the pain pills.
“With a natural path it takes longer,” he said. “It’s not just take a pill and then 20 minutes later you feel nothing.”
“Before you know it, that’s all you’re doing every day, is taking pills,” he said.
“I’m so glad I was able to get free of that.”
A way out
Dynamic Health Technologies is only one of a number of alternative treatment options for chronic pain patients in the Helena area.
Deidre Smith opened the Helena Acupuncture Clinic in 2008 and prides herself in taking a holistic approach to pain management, especially considering she is no stranger to pain herself.
“I’ve had lupus for almost 25 years,” she said. “I just thought it was normal to hurt so bad.
“I wanted to die,” she said of her battle with the disease. “I just thought, I’m awake, but I can’t open my eyes.”
Smith dedicated more than six years of her life to the study of Eastern medicine, which she said has helped her manage her own chronic pain.
She received a master’s from Portland College of Oriental Medicine and spent two years studying at a traditional medical hospital in China before returning to Montana to open her clinic.
Her services range from traditional acupuncture to dietary consultations to cupping — a method of suction used to relieve tension in muscles — to magnetic light therapy.
With a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Carroll College, Smith also attempts to address the nonphysical contributors to pain.
“There isn’t any elegant thoughtful plan on how to treat not only just the pain body, but the emotional body and the spiritual body,” she said.
She said her ultimate goal with every pain patient is to reduce the pain level to less than a two out of 10, using whatever combination of treatments she can offer.
“I throw everything at them heavy and hard,” Smith said. “Let’s feel your body, let’s talk about your emotional life and let’s laugh a little because there’s irony in pain.”
She supports a multifaceted approach to pain management and encourages her patients to take prescribed medications when they feel it’s necessary.
However, she also promotes the addition of healthy lifestyle changes for pain patients including proper dietary supplements, yoga, swimming and counseling.
“Anything that can just take the edge off,” she said. “Sometimes that’s all they need.”
Dr. Matthew D. McLaren offers equally innovative, but more invasive options for pain management. His new pain clinic will open its doors June 2 in suite F at 301 Saddle Drive. McLaren said interested patients can call 422-0503 to set up an appointment.
McLaren is the former pain specialist with St. Peter’s Hospital and offers chronic pain patients with a number of surgical options to treat their symptoms, including an intrathecal pain pump and neuromodulation.
Neuromodulation, McLaren said, is “a way of intercepting the pain pathways.”
The typical neurological response that would be sent to the brain is intercepted and “redirected as a massaging feeling,” he said.
Intrathecal pain pumps are implanted at the base of the spine and release electrical signals that prevent pain signals from reaching the brain.
“You have to think about it as a way of short circuiting the typical way your nervous system works,” he said.
He admits there is a notable chance for pain pumps to migrate — or move from the spot of implantation, rendering them ineffective — but said there are more successes than failures.
“They feel better than they have in years if not decades,” McLaren said of people who have had the pump implanted.
For Anthony Hale, a pain pump was not the best option.
He said he was the youngest person in the nation to have a pain pump implanted, but his age turned out to be a hindrance rather than a benefit.
“I was too young and too wanting to be active,” Hale said.
He said the migration of his pain pump was a significant low in his journey to healing, but that his experience with alternative pain management has changed his outlook on life.
“I wake up in the morning (now) wanting to get up and do something for the day,” he said. “Not dreading how long is it going to be before I can sit down or how long is it going to be before I can’t move.
“There is hope out there,” he said. “You just have to want to get better and believe that you can do it.”