Pain Management - A Life Of Courage

One woman is living — and thriving — with chronic pain


When Lisa Gigliotti talks to patient and support groups, the No. 1 topic she's asked about is her pain. If there's one thing Gigliotti knows, it's pain. She's had both ankles and elbows replaced and both knees replaced twice.

Gigliotti (gil-YOE-tee), 52, of East Lansing, has rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that eats away at joints. She also has myasthenia gravis, a faulty "wiring" problem between nerves and muscles that leads to weakness and fatigue. Even with the best drugs to treat her illnesses, most days her pain level is at four or five on a scale of one to 10.

Despite her health problems, Gigliotti works a 50-hour week as an administrative law judge and acting division director in Michigan's administrative hearing system. She serves on a state advisory committee on pain and symptom management and is an advocate for people with disabilities and for those receiving end-of-life care.

She also travels internationally, sings at her church, and has published three Coraggio! autobiographical books. "Coraggio" is Italian for "courage." A fourth book is in the works, which Gigliotti plans to publish this year.

Her approach to each day is "to live each moment with purpose, gratitude and joy." She meditates, prays, exercises, eats a healthy diet, and gets enough sleep. Gigliotti finds doctors who can help identify and manage the underlying cause of her pain. She takes strong pain medicine only after a surgery and touts the benefits of a post-surgery pump that's loaded with analgesic medication that automatically gives her the dose she needs.

Gigliotti has noticed a welcome shift in health care's attitude toward treating pain since having her first knee replacement 25 years ago.

"Back then I had a nurse say to me we would never give you a morphine drug because you're young and we don't want to make you an addict," she recalls. "Now the thought is more to ask, ‘What's your level of pain, and is there something more we can do for you?' "

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