Isaac Brown, The Boy Who Feels No Pain
The parents of a five-year-old Iowa boy have had to teach him to learn when he may be hurt because he cannot feel pain. Isaac Brown was...
The parents of a five-year-old Iowa boy have had to teach him to learn when he may be hurt because he cannot feel pain.
Isaac Brown was born with a congenital insensitivity to pain, which means he rarely feels anything even when he breaks a bone.
'The toddler years were an absolute nightmare,' Isaac's mother, Carrie, said. 'He would just drop to the ground and smack his face on the table. He thought the fall was fun.'
Like most toddlers Isaac has had his fair share of cuts and scrapes. He has stuck his hand in hot coffee and on a hot stove, cut himself on a shard of glass and broken his pelvis - all without shedding a tear.
Because he can't feel when he is hurt, Isaac's parents have to keep a constant watch on their active son, and try to teach him to understand when he may have injured himself.
'We're doing the best we can to just teach him; he knows blood is bad,' Mrs Brown told Good Morning America. 'We taught him even when he was little to say "ow".' You don't have to tell normal kids to say "ow".'
Isaac's condition, Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis, affects fewer than 100 people in the U.S. As well as not feeling pain, the untreatable disorder makes Isaac unable to sweat or feel extreme heat and cold.
Although his parents sought medical help, there is little doctors can do to treat the condition. When she first took her son to a specialist, Mrs Brown was told to just watch him carefully and bring him in if he appears to be injured.
The couple found more practical help through online support group The Gift of Pain, where parents whose children have the same disorder shared their experiences.
'We got a ton of ideas of people who have gone through it,' Mrs Brown said. 'They have been a gift to us.'
Next month the family will attend Camp Painless but Hopeful, set up by the family of 13-year-old Ashlyn Blocker who has the same disorder.
The camp will give the Browns the chance to learn more about the condition and spend time with families in a similar situation.
Camp Painless is held in Georgia in November so children with the condition can do the same fun activities others their age do over the summer.
Because the condition prevents sufferers from controlling their temperature, children with it often have to stay indoors when it is hot, or wear cooling vests when they go outside.
Dr Stephen Waxman, of Yale University's Center for Neuroscience and Regeneration Research, said because the disease is so rare it made sense that parents might turn to others in the same situation for advice.
'There's not guidelines,' he said. 'I think we doctors need to work with [these patients] and educate them and we need to learn more about this disorder.'
For the Brown family, having a child with Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis has been a learning curve.
When Isaac's father, Randy, accidentally stepped on his child, the five-year-old giggled because he thought it was funny.
Mr Brown had to explain that being stepped on was a bad thing, and that Isaac should say 'Ow' and tell an adult he was hurt.
A few hours later, Isaac yelled 'Ow' as the family cat delicately stepped on him, believing it would hurt as much as being stepped on by an adult.
A more serious injury however came when Isaac fell from some playground equipment and broke his pelvis. He knew something was wrong but it took a couple of X-rays and scans to spot the break.
'He does feel [something], but the pain has to be 20 to 30 times greater to what we would feel,' Mrs Brown said. 'He thought his ankle hurt.'
Her husband added: 'We consider him pretty normal.'
'Other kids have had all their teeth removed because they would self-mutilate, bite their tongues, chew their fingers off,' he told the Sioux City Journal.
The family are currently working with researches at the Mayo clinic who are examining Isaac's DNA in the hope of uncovering the gene mutation that leads to the disorder.
It could take up to eight years to find the mutation, and even when it has been found researchers still won't have a cure for Isaac.
But, by finding the gene, doctors could find a way to simulate the mutation to ease suffering for patients with chronic pain.
'We could fill our clinics five times over with patients in chronic pain,' Dr Waxman said.
'If researchers could disrupt a specific channel that only transfers pain messages it could possibly mean alleviating pain for those suffering debilitating and chronic conditions.'
Mrs Brown said the possibility that her son's condition could be used to help others has been a silver lining for the family.
'When he was diagnosed, [doctors said] there's nothing we can do for Isaac, not yet anyway,' Mrs Brown said 'But the fact that they can take his mutated gene and cause people with chronic pain to feel less pain. The thought of that is unreal.'
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