Massaging Pain Away

Last September, Trista Brown, a normally peppy junior at Fresno Christian High School in Clovis, began feeling exhausted.

“She wanted to sleep all the time,” says Trista’s mother Holly. “Then she started to get all these bruises—she looked like she was playing football.” Something was clearly not right.

Blood tests were done, and when Trista’s pediatrician saw the results he called them immediately: Trista’s platelet count was dangerously low, and she needed to be rushed to her local emergency room.

“UCSF has been absolutely wonderful. I felt like we received the best possible care that there is.” – Holly, Trista's mom

Two months later, 17-year-old Trista was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia. Her bone marrow was not producing enough blood cells, and a bone marrow transplant was her only option. Luckily, her brother Reese was a perfect match. Trista’s family was referred to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, ranked among the top ten facilities in the country for pediatric bone marrow transplants.

“When you have two children in the hospital undergoing anesthesia, taking life from one to give to the other, it’s quite a tough moment for a mother,” Holly says. “But the procedures could not have gone better.”

But just over a month into her recovery, Trista suddenly developed constant, uncontrollable pain. For the first time, Holly broke down in tears. Trista’s doctor called in a specialized team: Integrated Pediatric Pain & Palliative Care. This team helps manage patients’ pain and meet emotional needs through alternative therapies like massage, guided imagery, and acupressure.

Their recommendation? A change in medications, plus massage therapy.

“That was the beginning of everything turning around,” Holly recalls. “After the massage, Trista was able to nap for the first time, and she decreased her pain medications. Within three days she was off them entirely. It was just miraculous.”

A few weeks after returning home, Trista was readmitted to the hospital with severe nausea. But after another massage therapy appointment, she again stopped needing medicine. She’s now recovering at home, getting stronger every day.

A recent Mayo Clinic study found that complementary health approaches—including yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, and massage—can be effective tools for helping manage common pain conditions. UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals is embarking on a major study to further explore the use of acupressure to reduce symptoms—nausea, pain, fatigue—among child cancer patients.

“We’ve been so thrilled and amazed by the use of alternative therapies,” Holly says. “All the core needs of life you want safe and secure—health, family, finances—come into a whirlwind when you have a medical crisis, but UCSF has been absolutely wonderful. I felt like we received the best possible care that there is.”