Olivia: On the Upswing

Olivia Munoz had always been athletic; at age 12, she was already a skilled golfer. But over the next year, she became unable to walk, use her hands, or eat without intense pain. X-rays and MRIs did not explain her symptoms, and multiple doctors were baffled.

After treatment at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, Olivia’s life is finally back to normal.

Her odyssey into a terrifying world of pain started in August 2016. While playing golf with her dad, Jesse, Olivia’s left foot suddenly began to ache. A month went by and the pain didn’t subside. After two months, she had a cast put on – no relief.

“Either he doesn’t understand what’s going on, or he knows exactly what he’s talking about.” – Jesse, Olivia's dad

In November, Olivia’s left wrist started to hurt. Then the pain spread to both arms and hands. She began to experience pounding headaches and extreme sensitivity to noise; even a whisper sounded like a scream.

In February 2017, Olivia woke up and tried to eat breakfast as usual, but her stomach exploded in intense pain. That’s when her pediatrician referred her to David Becker, MD, an integrative medicine physician and pain specialist on our San Francisco campus.

“Dr. Becker said, ‘I know exactly what this is. Don’t worry; she’ll be walking by the end of the summer,’” says Jesse. “I thought: Either he doesn’t understand what’s going on, or he knows exactly what he’s talking about.”

Dr. Becker diagnosed Olivia with amplified pain syndrome (AMPS), a mysterious but not uncommon condition that causes the brain to misfire pain signals. While AMPS doesn’t show up in diagnostic tests, it causes crippling pain, and there is no cure.

But physical therapy can put AMPS into remission. Olivia started rigorous treatment with Brian Bosl, a physical therapist at our Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes in San Ramon. Operated by UCSF Benioff Oakland, the Center offers a one-of-a-kind resource for sports injury care and prevention, providing young athletes with the most current and comprehensive medical care and educational programming available.

“No one could touch me,” Olivia recalls. “I couldn’t wear shoes or socks, hold a pen, or type. Physical therapy brought me back to who I was before the AMPS. I don’t know where I’d be without Brian.”

After six months of strenuous therapy, Olivia gradually overcame her pain and was thrilled to enter eighth grade with the rest of her classmates at the Cathedral of the Annunciation School in the fall. She has even returned to golfing.

“There aren’t too many places in the country that can do what UCSF and Brian have done for Olivia,” says Jesse, himself a physical therapist.

The experience has inspired a potential career path for Olivia: sports medicine.

“Brian changed my life, and I want to do that for other people because it meant so much to me,” Olivia says. “I would be able to relate to my patients on a level most doctors can’t because I have gone through pain too.”