LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 2, 2016) – It all started with a toothache. In 2002, Sandy Baker had a root canal but that dental work lead to additional work which left her with constant jaw pain. Eventually, the tooth was extracted; unfortunately, the pain was not removed with it.
Baker lived with severe pain; she didn't even get relief while she slept. After four months of seeing dentists and doctors, and being told the pain was in her head, her longtime family doctor referred her to Dr. Jeffrey Okeson and the University of Kentucky Orofacial Pain Clinic.
After trying several treatments, Okeson was able to bring Baker's pain level down significantly, the closest thing to relief she had experienced. Unfortunately, side effects from the medications that reduced the pain left her unable to learn new things, drive, play piano or write. After 30 years as a teacher, and three years after beginning the medical regimen, she retired.
Throughout her treatment, Baker realized there was no one to talk to about her experience; there were no support groups or patient advocates. So, she decided to take on a new teaching role and she now helps patients in the clinic that helped her. She talks to patients and provides touch therapy. Additionally, for the past four years she has spoken at the Orofacial Pain Mini-Residency that UK hosts each year. While she misses her time in the classroom she says, "I thought my purpose was to teach; 30 years in the classroom prepared me for this."
As the world leaders in orofacial pain, UK organized a small conference to accommodate a group of doctors from England interested in observing patient care at UK. Now, 11 years later, that small conference has grown into the Orofacial Pain Mini-Residency which included doctors from 15 states and 17 countries last year.
Participants in the mini-residency spend one week learning about the treatment of orofacial pain. During this 40-hour course, lectures are given on a variety of topics, from psychology to neuroscience.
Another unique aspect of this program is participation from Baker who shares her story and provides the patient perspective. She discusses how psychologically taxing orofacial pain can be and how that influences a patients interaction with their physician. "For many patients the orofacial pain specialist will have been the 10th or 15th physician they've seen for treatment," she said.
She also reminds the clinicians that more people are being affected by this chronic pain than just the patient. Sandy's daughter, a high schooler when her mother's pain began, had to take on more and more responsibility as the pain got worse and worse. Kate, now an engineer at NASA, works in medical research with the hopes of helping people like her mother. "Participating in the mini-residency each year is a reminder of where I was and where I could be," Baker said.
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