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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB Fox 41) -- A 9-year-old girl living in chronic pain finds relief in an unusual medical treatment -- pediatric acupuncture.
It can be difficult to watch as a needle is inserted into an eye. For Gabi Lloyd, that brings a promise: "That's three ice creams."
The 9-year-old has had two hospital visits in October and one in January. She suffers from debilitating migraines. She was a "preemie," and sees a pulmonary specialist. For years her doctors and family thought her constant pain was linked to severe asthma.
Her mother, Kristeen, says, "It's not a good feeling."
Gabi describes the procedure this way: "They feel like I get hit in the head with a hammer and sometimes it feels like it's getting squeezed."
But Kristeen says it was necessary. "It was the look on her face, something bad was going to happen very soon and I was trying to figure out what it was."
When they did figure it out, her mother says Gabi went on a trial-and-error prescription cocktail: "She had been on ten different medicines prior to the migraines for her asthma, trying to get that under control and then you add more medicines then two or three more for her migraines."
Kristeen Lloyd is also a nurse. "And I said that's just too much. That's too much for her."
Doctor Mark McDonald offered a different answer. The new U of L physician just launched a pediatric acupuncture office in addition to his traditional practice, making him one of only two physicians in the Metro area performing the ancient Asian medicine on children. He explains, "Japanese acupuncture, we clear her Harare, that's the abdominal reflexes associated with everything in her life -- toxins, immunity adrenal, western culture we have stress so I can tell where she has pain and release it through acupuncture points."
Gabi gets three different treatments -- acupuncture via laser, electronic stimulation, and the needles. That's although she won't call them needles. To her, they're relief sticks.
It's the most challenging part of the visit, to get a 9-year-old to believe each pinch will make her feel better. Doctor McDonald started building trust, starting with one needle on the first visit. Now he's up to nine.
"Good job kiddo," he tells her, making sure to provide reassurance after each needle. "He took it step by step," Gabi says. After three visits she was almost completely pain free.
Her mother says she came back to life, playing like a normal kid again, her grades improving, and her asthma under control. "She's happier when she's pain free," Kristeen says. "She's easier to live with, let's just put it that way."
The family now knows foods are her triggers, but they're still learning which ones cause the pain. No pizza, no cake, for instance, and one mistake can cause another migraine. So she lives day-to-day with a pain chart.
She says headaches come back about once a week but they're not as severe, and she sees Doctor McDonald twice a month.
Some people in the medical community doubt acupuncture because it's not considered to be based in science. And if it's not performed properly, it can have some serious complication like bleeding, fainting, and infections.
Dr. McDonald says, "Unfortunately, many physicians, if they don't have an exact cause for the pain they think the kid's faking to get out of school. But kids don't want to be in pain."
Kristeen says, "I kind of feel like all the physicians I had seen, that people were OK with her being in pain. To me an eight or nine year old should not be in pain, she's a kid."
Insurance companies typically won't cover acupuncture. An average treatment costs between $50 and $100.