Escaping a ‘Prison of Pain’

Imagine living each day of your life in pain; searing, throbbing, intractable pain. For years, 52-year-old Rob Mastromatteo was imprisoned by pain so severe that he was barely able to move or care for himself. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of pain specialist, Dr. Maria Calvo, and the cooperation between the staff of Hamilton General Hospital and St. Peter’s Hospital, Rob has been released from his “prison of pain”.

Rob Mastromatteo and his wife Leslie.

Rob Mastromatteo and his wife Leslie.

Rob’s troubles began 27 years ago when he noticed a strange numbing sensation in his hands and feet a day after returning from Mexico. Doctors in the Emergency Department at Hamilton General Hospital diagnosed him with Guillain Barré syndrome, a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves. The numbness spread quickly throughout his body, leaving Rob temporarily paralyzed; he spent nine long months in The General before he was well enough to go home.

Over the next two-and-a-half decades, Rob developed diabetes and a variety of other serious medical problems. The residual pain in his arms and legs resulting from Guillain Barré syndrome became excruciating, limiting his mobility and robbing him of his ability to work or to enjoy spending time with his family. In October, 2012, Rob developed a life-threatening blood infection and spent three months at The General. He was subsequently transferred to the Restorative Care Unit at St. Peter’s Hospital where he hoped to begin his recovery.

It was not to be. On top of his existing medical issues, Rob was diagnosed with Gastroparesis, a painful gastrointestinal condition that caused him to deteriorate further and he was moved to the Complex Care Unit. At this point, Rob was completely bedridden and totally dependent on the staff for activities of daily living.

To help manage his pain, Rob was using a CADD pump, a portable device that delivers a constant dose of medication that he could control. By the end of 2013, it was no longer sufficient to control his pain. “The pain wears you down,” says Rob. “At times you just want to give up.” If not for the support of his family, and the ingenuity of Dr. Maria Calvo, a pain specialist at The General, he may have done just that.

Dr. Calvo recommended surgery to implant an intrathecal pump, a medical device that delivers pain medication directly to the area surrounding the spinal cord. She pulled together a team of specialists from neurosurgery and anesthesia and in February, 2014, the hockey puck-sized pump was implanted in Rob’s side.

Two weeks after his procedure, Rob was transferred back to the Complex Care Unit at St. Peter’s. Dr. Calvo has been in constant communication with Rob’s health care team at St. Peter’s, whose care and support has been instrumental in recovery.

The difference in Rob’s quality of life has been transformational. “I have been given a second chance at life thanks to Dr. Calvo , our ‘knight in shining armor,’ and the staff at both hospitals who worked so hard to make this happen,” says Rob. With his pain under control, Rob will be able to start physiotherapy and is looking forward to the future. “My goal is to be out of this wheelchair in two years so I can walk my daughter down the aisle and have our father-daughter dance.”