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Painless Treatment For Children: That’s This Doctor’s Mission

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Most children get anxious if they have to go the hospital, or even the doctor’s office for a shot. Pain is scary for kids. So in this age of modern medicine, why isn’t a bigger effort made to alleviate pain in children?

Answering that question led to a cutting-edge program at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics. There, a doctor who came all the way from Germany is taking away the pain of Twin Cities kids.

Remember the days when doctors carried all their gear in a black bag?

Well, Dr. Stefan Friedrichsdorf is a different breed. He carries his gear in a colored box called a “comfort kit.”

It’s filled with all kinds of toys and gadgets designed to distract, soothe, and otherwise help kids deal with pain.

“There’s nothing better in the world as a job as taking pain away,” the doctor said. “You’re pretty popular by the kids.”

Children’s Hospital has one of the few pediatric pain clinics in the country. And it’s no surprise that they tapped a German, who trained in Australia, to run it.

“Pain training in the United States in 2013 is abysmal, meaning tens of thousands of children are suffering needlessly,” Friedrichsdorf said.

He says American pediatricians don’t get enough pain training. They get zero to eight hours of training compared to 60 to 80 hours of training for an average veterinarian.

“So if we could treat our kids as well as our cats, then we would do much, much better in this country,” he said.

One young person who knows a thing or two about pain is 16-year-old Anna Lundquist.

She suffered sudden, “burning” pains in her leg in late July, and it sent her right to the emergency room. She had a condition called complex regional pain syndrome.

“The receptors in my leg were sending three to four times as many pain signals as [they] should be up to my brain,” she said.

Doctors drew a diagram to explain to Lundquist what was going on in her body. But her acute pain was actually controlled by something as simple as coloring: a distraction technique doctors combined with pain meds, physical therapy, and psychology.

Lundquist likened the treatment to retraining her brain to deal with the pain.

It was a multi-pronged approach that also works with a common fear: one involving kids and needles.

“We now know that up to 25 percent of adults are actually needle-phobic,” Friedrichsdorf said. “And when did they develop it? Duh, as children.”

Numbing the skin, offering nitrous gas, or even simple distraction can make shots so much easier for kids.

So, Children’s Hospital will work over the next three years to offer numbing before all needle sticks.

“If we can take pain away from children, we should and must always do that,” Friedrichsdorf said.

Pain prevention isn’t a money-maker for hospitals or doctors. One of the goals of the Children’s Hospital Association is to raise money to pay for the program and teach doctors around the nation, and the world, how to alleviate pain in kids.

The annual Storyland Gala is this Saturday at the St. Paul RiverCentre. I have the honor of emceeing the event.

There’s a dinner plus silent and live auctions. Some tickets are still available. Learn more here.

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