TAMPA, Fla. — A unique program at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa is shining a light on the problem of pain and getting veterans and service members the help they need.
Tuesday Kayongo knows what it means to serve her country.
“I served in the United States Air Force for 23 years, five months, and six days, to be exact,” said Kayongo.
Kayongo also knows what it’s like to live with pain. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2016 while she was still on active duty.
“I also with that started to experience a lot of the neuropathic pain, a lot of the chronic pain that a lot of patients with Multiple Sclerosis suffer from, and I was at my wits’ end at that point,” said Kayongo.
She said it was pain she wasn’t able to get rid of or mediate with any of the other therapies or medications she was on, so she turned to the PEAK program.
“It is an all-virtual, interdisciplinary, whole person, active, and evidence-based pain rehabilitation program,” said Dr. Nicolle Angeli.
PEAK, or Pain Empowerment Anywhere, is a program delivered virtually through the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa. Dr. Angeli, a pain psychologist and the team lead for the PEAK program, said the program opens up access to people who might not otherwise be able to come to the facility for care.
“We focus on personalized rehabilitation, so the individual’s goals, and provide evidence-based exercises, skills, and techniques that people use together to improve their quality of life, decrease pain, and increase their activity level, their overall functioning, improve their sleep, improve their mood, engage in hobbies and recreation, and other meaningful activities,” said Angeli.
Over five weeks, participants get help with a wide range of skills and therapies, from mindful meditation, learning about the physical and emotional effects of pain, adaptive living skills, even movement-based therapies like Tai Chi and yoga. Participants are also offered ongoing programming when they graduate from PEAK.
Dr. Angeli highlighted some of the successes from the program, like participants who went from limited or sedentary lifestyles and end up working toward running a 10k.
“Their life is opened up. Pain is a part of that, but it is not in the driver’s seat,” said Dr. Angeli. “It is not calling the shots. They are leading the way in terms of how their day goes, what they’re doing, how they’re doing that.”
Kayongo explained she essentially doesn’t have the big chronic pain that brought her to the program anymore, and if she feels like she’s going to have that pain, she said she now has a number of techniques and skills to help deal with it. She said these are skills you take long-term, calling it a lifestyle change.
“I was afraid to do a lot of activities because of the pain. I didn’t want to exercise because of the pain. There were certain things that I would do that I felt like would cause the pain to either get worse or bring the pain about, or there were certain things I just didn’t think I could do anymore or would ever do anymore,” said Kayongo. “They gave me a lot of confidence.”
The PEAK program is available for veterans and active-duty service members who are local to the Tampa Bay area, but they also receive referrals from across the country. For those who are interested, Dr. Angeli said to talk to your doctor.
She said they receive referrals from any VA healthcare provider through a consult to their pain clinic. From there, you can ask for an evaluation for the PEAK program.