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After an accident in 1997, Charlya dealt with severe, debilitating pain for nearly two decades. An unruly patient at the hospital where Charlya worked had fallen on her, causing her to lose her pregnancy (she was 8 months along) and lodging bone fragments in her spine. She lost her ability to walk, spent three years in a nursing home and underwent several spinal surgeries.

“The pain I was in was astronomical, so I was first on high doses of OxyContin and was then switched to morphine,” she said. She also was dealing with the overwhelming emotional pain of losing her unborn son and turned to food for comfort. Gaining weight put additional pressure on her spine and joints, further aggravating her physical pain.

In 2016, Charlya decided to undergo bariatric surgery to help her lose weight and manage her diabetes. She had recently dealt with the trauma of her past miscarriage with the help of counseling and a support system at church and felt like she was ready to move on with her self-care.

Charlya soon lost 200 pounds, and movement returned to her feet, likely because of reduced pressure on her spine. She went to the Pain and Healing Center at MetroHealth, where she started working with a pain management specialist. Charlya’s goal was to reduce the amount of pain medication she was taking — three doses of morphine daily.

Physical therapy and exercise became vital. At first, she could walk only for 20 seconds on the treadmill. Recently she began walking 5Ks and 10Ks. She also uses water therapy to build strength, as well as art and music therapy to calm her down when her pain flares up.

Charlya is now down to one small dose of morphine a day, if that. Today she is a healthy eating plan coach and is training for a half marathon. She spends much of her free time volunteering in her community, and she continues to find strength in her church.

“I found having a connection with a community is critical to relieving my pain,” she said. “It’s given me freedom.”