Founder and chief child officer of Pain Free Kids
At 11, Anaïs Poirier has had enough pain to last a lifetime: A minor foot injury spiralled into constant, severe pain; and then an emergency appendectomy resulted in nerve damage in her abdomen. The words of her doctors that "there was nothing wrong with her and the pain would go away if you ignore it" turned this girl from a victim into a crusader for kids who suffer from chronic pain.
After missing 56 days of school in one year and visits to dozens of doctors, Anaïs was finally taken seriously by Gillian Lauder, a doctor at the BC Children's Hospital's pain clinic. Anaïs was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) at the age of 9 and has now fully recovered, giving her the time to establish Pain Free Kids, an organization that gives a voice to children with chronic pain.
I told my mom I wanted to cut my hair off to raise money for the pain clinic at Children's Hospital, and then I wrote down part of my story and made a pamphlet that I took to school and showed to my friends and teachers. I raised $250 that way and then my mom helped me design a website to reach more people.
I have raised almost $7,000 (my current goal is $12,000) and the first $5,000 is going to be used by the BC pain clinic to create videos . The videos will teach doctors in Canada how to treat pain in kids. We plan on mailing the DVDs to doctors' offices and we will post them online too. The more people that can see them, the more we can change how kids are being treated.
If we could change the attitude many doctors have that when a kid complains of pain that they can't explain (like "broken bone" or "arthritis") that they are faking and just doing it for attention, it would change everything. Kids would get the help they need faster – and they would recover faster, too.
I want to be a doctor, but since I am too young for that right now I want to do things to help kids with pain, so I cut off my hair and donated it to Wigs for Kids. Cutting off 18 inches of my hair felt very weird but really good because I reached my goal .
The next goal will be to set up a nurse hotline where parents, children and even doctors can get answers and support. The biggest goal would be to get the funding for a new doctor at the pain clinic. Sometimes the waiting period to see a doctor at the clinic can be up to six months.
What do you do for fun?
Gymnastics. Cooking competitions with my sister and cousin with secret ingredients. Art.
That's an easy one! Dr. Lauder, because she saved my life. I know pain doesn't kill you, but it takes everything away from you.
My hair, and I really, really love my hair. My gymnastics coach isn't so happy either because I am supposed to have long hair when I compete.
I first thought I would only try to raise $1,000, but my parents thought I should set the goal at $5,000. I told them I would never raise that much money. Today, my fundraising total has reached almost $7,000! I guess this one time, my parents were right.
What keeps you going?
Thinking back to when I was in pain and stuck in the ER for six to eight hours at a time and having the 18th resident come into the room and press on my stomach right on the place that it hurt the most and say, "Does this hurt?" Then sent home with no help and no advice except to take Ibuprofen. Here's a news flash – Ibuprofen doesn't work when you have CRPS or when you have nerve damage!
My mom had these buttons printed that say "Ask Me" on them. They are supposed to get people talking about kids waiting in pain. When my mom first gave me a pin to wear, I didn't really want to put it on. I guess I was feeling kind of…shy. I did put it on and in the first five minutes I was wearing it, a man asked me, "Ask you what?" I told him I was raising money for the pain clinic at Children's Hospital and he gave me $5! That is when I knew I could talk to strangers .
The first person I thought of was Gord Downie [of Tragically Hip] because my dad and I listen to his songs together and they always have a story. I'm sure he could write a really great song about kids in pain.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Farah Mohamed is president & CEO of the G(irls)20 Summit. Send suggestions for Action Figure to Livebetter@globeandmail.com