On almost any given day you can watch Sandra Waldron joyfully sweeping her grandkids into her arms, bargain-hunting with her daughter at the mall, checking out specials in the grocery store or preparing elaborate meals and baked goods for her friends and family.
In fact, to see her today you’d never suspect that for most of her adult life she endured physical agony so extreme that she couldn’t do any of those ordinary activities. For decades her life revolved around making it through the day running a medical billing business with the help of strong prescription pain killers and muscle relaxers.
That discouraging lifestyle all changed when a doctor she worked for suggested she seek help from the Center for Brain Training.
“It’s been amazing,” said Sandra, 66. “Without the Center for Brain Training I would have lost everything.”
The train wreck
Sandra’s journey began with an actual journey back in high school when she and three friends boarded an Amtrak train in West Palm Beach headed on a big adventure.
Finalists in their county, the high school girls were traveling to compete in a state contest in Gainesville, Florida for 4H. They giggled and chatted about school and boys and teachers and the 4H club without a care in the world. That is, until they reached Winter Haven…and their train collided head-on with another. They were violently thrown about.
Although they didn’t need to be hospitalized, all four would ultimately suffer lifetime pain from back and neck injuries that didn’t show up right away.
By the time Sandra was in her 50s she had gradually become so disabled with neck and lower back pain from the crash, and resultant sciatica, that she was living on pain pills and muscle relaxers. Those medications caused her to suffer from memory loss, something she would later realize.
Sandra couldn’t complete the simplest of daily living activities. She only did the bare minimum required to take care of herself and keep her business going since everything she did caused excruciating pain. She had frequent headaches. Eventually she considered the idea of getting a wheelchair.
Her husband had to do all the cooking and grocery shopping. He took her to her doctor’s appointments because the pain meds made it unsafe for her to drive. He had to help her get into and out of the car, and he laid her as gently as he could in bed when she came home from the office. Many days when she walked in the door from work she would burst into tears from pain and frustration.
Sandra had one of the disks surgically replaced in her neck around age 40 but still suffered from headaches. Fifteen years later she had a surgical back procedure that failed, after which she vowed to have no more surgery. She saw pain doctors, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, and tried yoga. Nothing gave her relief.
Sandra worried all the time about running out of medication, and she wondered how she would ever get off of it without having to go to rehab or see a psychiatrist. There were days when she thought she simply couldn’t take the pain anymore, especially because there wasn’t a single position, standing or lying down, that didn’t hurt. “There was no way to escape the pain,” she said. “It was exhausting.”
Five years ago, when she discussed her physical problems with one of the physicians she worked for, he suggested she try biofeedback at the Center for Brain Training.
“I was like, yea, yea, whatever,” Sandra recalled. “Nothing I had done so far had worked and I didn’t expect neurofeedback to work, either. I thought, what can showing me pictures on a computer screen possibly do to make me feel better, but what did I have to lose? I felt hopeless going into it. I didn’t think there was anything that would actually work, but Mike (Cohen, the center’s director) was very persuasive, so I decided to give it a shot.”
She did three or four neurofeedback sessions and noticed….
Unconcerned, Mike encouraged her to come a few more times. When the center obtained a body biofeedback machine, also known as BioRegulation Therapy/BRT, it was added to her visits.
Off of all medications
Slowly Sandra started feeling better. Cautiously she decided to reduce her medications, just to see what would happen. The improvement was so gradual she didn’t think much of it until five months and 19 sessions later. At that point it dawned on her that she was completely off of her pain meds and muscle relaxers. She hadn’t had any withdrawal symptoms or needed professional help to do it.
“I’m still amazed at how well the biofeedback worked,” she exclaimed. “Brain training helped my pain without negatively impacting every other part of my life like the side effects of the medications had done. To be able to go from being unable to do anything to finally having significant relief without pain medication was a blessing.
“I hadn’t realized how much of my life I had lost until I regained it,” she added. “My family told me about crafts I had made and things I had done when I was on those medications that I had absolutely no memory of. As I learned more about the side effects of those medications, I became more and more grateful that I had been able to wean myself off of them.”
Sandra isn’t 100 percent pain-free to this day. She still has to be careful not to stress her neck and back, and to pick up her grandchildren carefully. She also returns to the Center for Brain Training for periodic “tune-ups” when she feels the pain ramping up. However, she says she’s finally living a “normal” life.
“It’s surprising to me that more mainstream physicians don’t know about neurofeedback,” Sandra said. “I tell people every day that there’s more they can do for their pain than surgery and pain medications.
“Going to the Center for Brain Training saved my life,” she added. “I’ll be forever grateful that I found them.”