From agony to hope: Michelle Donicht’s journey to relief from immense pain

A Fond du Lac woman, once confined to a bed or chair due to excruciating pain, due a condition called CRPS, offers a message of hope and perseverance
Updated: Feb. 21, 2023 at 9:55 PM CST
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FOND DU LAC, Wis. (WBAY) - A story of hope after an exhausting medical search to find relief from immense pain: A Fond du Lac woman was ready to have surgeons amputate her lower leg after reaching a breaking point, but an Oshkosh doctor was able to save the leg and give Michelle Donicht a new lease on life.

“This was my life every day for four years. That was my life every day,” Donicht said as she looked at photos of herself confined to a bed or chair because of excruciating pain.

Donicht broke her ankle on a vacation with family in 2018. She developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS, which is a disorder that attacks the nerves.

“So much pain that I never could have thought was even possible,” said Donicht. “Emotionally and mentally. It’s very taxing and very draining.”

CRPS is incurable and Donicht said some doctors didn’t even believe her diagnosis, saying it was all in her head.

“Unfortunately, a lot of patients with CRPS hear that,” said Donicht.

Looking for relief, Donicht drained her life savings and went overseas to Italy to try a pain relief therapy. The results were short-lived.

Her journey to hope led her to Aurora Health Center in Oshkosh.

Dr. Mansoor Aman, an interventional pain physician with Aurora Health Center, listened when Donicht told him about the constant pain that continued after multiple surgeries and treatments.

“The incidence of CRPS is reported in the literature somewhere between five to 25 patients every 100,000 people. So it’s not happening every single day, but it happens often enough that I have many CRPS patients in my practice,” said Dr. Aman.

Dr. Aman said all of his patients require different pain strategies. Donicht said she deals with 10 to 12 different kinds of pain on a daily basis. Dr. Aman started with a lumbar sympathetic block in Donicht’s back, but it wasn’t enough relief.

“It felt like my bones were in a vise grip and somebody was squeezing them just to the point of breaking but just hanging out right there,” said Donicht.

After a few more therapy attempts, Donicht reached her breaking point and scheduled an amputation surgery. “That kind of made me pause and just a light bulb went off that where she is, is just not good enough,” said Dr. Aman.

Dr. Aman convinced Donicht to try one more thing, a Peripheral Nerve Stimulation System.

“I use an ultrasound to find the bundle of nerves that are responsible for carrying your pain. In her case, it was the saphenous nerve and the sciatic nerve,” said Aman. “I implanted this micro lead in her body.”

The micro lead allows Donicht to control the nerve pain using electricity. It’s attached to an external battery pack with a remote control to adjust the intensity.

“It’s using a stimulus, in this case, electricity at a dose that’s particular to that nerve we are targeting that’s going to give you the response. Patients feel tingling or a massage-like feeling instead of the pain,” said Dr. Aman.

“For the first time in four years, I walked the entire grocery store to do my groceries. That was such a big deal,” said Donicht.

For Donicht, a big deal to no longer be stuck in her bed for days, weeks, or even months.

“I think it’s a lot of wasted time. A lot of wasted time it’s too much time,” Donicht said.

Donicht wanted to share her story so that others don’t lose that precious time suffering from chronic pain.

“You’re a warrior, you just have to find your partners,” said Donicht. “I wasn’t just a number to him and that made me feel so confident and hopeful. That’s really what you have to have is hope.”

Brittany Schmidt previews a special report on chronic illness and a Fond du Lac woman's perseverance