Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Another Family Swears by Texas Doctor’s Unorthodox Method

Manhattan Beach Family Also Hails Doctor’s Unorthodox Method

(Sidebar to Boy’s Pain Eases From Podiatrist’s Treatment)

It was a decision that left many people scratching their heads.

The parents of Joseph Martinez, the Torrance teen who was suffering from a rare chronic-pain disorder, pulled him out of a renowned medical center at Stanford in favor of an unorthodox treatment invented by a foot doctor in Texas.

But the Martinez parents — whose son seems to have greatly improved — aren’t the only South Bay folks who say the Texas doctor has saved their child.

Manhattan Beach resident Susan Brady says Dr. Donald Rhodes’ patented method — which involves a small machine that stimulates the nerves through an electrical current — saved her daughter, Morgan, who was experiencing severe and relentless pain in the aftermath of a minor foot injury while playing soccer.

In fact, although the families had never met before the Martinez family dropped out of Stanford in April, Morgan’s experience with Rhodes 14 years ago is what ultimately led the Martinez family to Texas.

The connection was a classic two-degrees-of-separation story: Susan Brady’s boss is the brother of a woman who goes to the same parish as the Martinez family. That woman mailed the family a book written by Rhodes, and the rest is history.

Morgan is now 28 years old and works as an emergency-room physician assistant. The stories of the two families’ battle with the disorder — called complex regional pain syndrome — share some uncanny similarities.

Both families say they visited many doctors who were of no help. Both sets of parents say their children were excessively drugged and that doctors seemed perplexed or even skeptical of their reports of searing pain. Both say Rhodes was more willing to acknowledge the pain than other doctors and more willing to treat the pain before asking their children to engage in physical therapy.

Morgan’s woes began when she twisted her ankle playing soccer in May 1998, while a student at Mira Costa High School. It was a minor injury, but her pain only worsened.

She visited orthopedic doctors, neurosurgeons, psychologists and even a doctor specializing in laser treatment, to no avail. In late 1998, Morgan went to Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, where doctors had her trying physical therapy, dance therapy and counseling. The doctors put the girl on several drugs, including Neurontin and trazodone for sleep issues, Luvox for pain and Mellaril for extreme pain, Brady said.

None of it worked. Eventually, the girl’s foot began to exhibit alarming signs of damage. It would turn purple and cold before turning red and hot. It shrank to two-thirds its regular size.

“She would keep it retracted, like a flamingo,” Brady said. “She was visibly shrinking from me. I felt like I was losing my child, and I had nobody who could help.”

Brady learned about Rhodes through her brother, who’d discovered his practice on the Internet. The family decided to give it a try.

Mother and daughter traveled to Rhodes’ practice in Corpus Christi. When they arrived, Rhodes was immediately engaging. The first thing he did was pull out a marking pen. He draw a circle around the point of pain on Morgan’s foot.

“He said, `I will put you in remission – believe in me,”‘ Brady remembers.

Back then, Rhodes had just one device, now called a VECTTOR machine. The waiting room would be filled with suffering people who’d traveled from all over the country to use it.

The group of patients grew close and would arrange social outings. Brady remembers going out for drinks with a woman whose hands were too sensitive to hold anything unless they were gloved. Brady bought the woman a margarita, but only on condition that she hold it in her bare hand. She did without protest, and the woman’s son, who was there, cried, Brady said.

Also, Rhodes and his wife took the Bradys and other families to his ranch, where the kids would ride his all-terrain vehicles.

“We all got to know each other well,” Brady said. “We were all fighting for our lives.”

Morgan’s treatment lasted for 25 days, though she returned a couple of months later for a quick tune-up. She returned to the soccer field, not only at Mira Costa, but in college at Seattle Pacific University. (She graduated from Loyola Marymount University.) She now participates in minitriathlons.

As a physician assistant, Morgan herself has become an expert in the medical realm. She hesitates to talk much about her experience, in part because it dredges up painful memories, but also because the medical field has its share of doubters, and it’s easy to feel stigmatized.

She attributes the medical community’s chilly response to Rhodes’ method to the fact that pain management is still an emerging field with a lot of unknowns.

“In medical school you learn there is no cure,” she said, speaking by phone during a brief pause between emergency-room patients. “If someone comes along and says, `Oh, I have these modalities that can fix it,’ the immediate response is to doubt.”

But her belief in the method has remained steadfast, notwithstanding her many years of medical schooling.

“It’s frustrating when you’re told by multiple medical professionals that there’s no cure for the diagnosis you’ve been given,” she said. “When somebody comes along and offers hope like Dr. Rhodes, you know, it’s natural to doubt. And when he’s able to prove to you for the first time that your pain can go to zero … it’s amazing.”