For Dr. Shiyi Abla-Yao, pain is something you neither bring, as people are fond of saying, nor bear, as people are fond of doing. It's something you manage. And Abla-Yao wants patients to know she's here to help. Oh - and that she's not going to stick you with the giant needles of your imagination.
A Lewisburg resident, Abla-Yao founded the innovative Central Pennsylvania Interventional Pain Medicine Center, 451 River Ave., to help improve patient care with an alternative approach to pain management.
Her goal is to improve her patients' qualities of life, as well as to offer them what she calls a clean, comfortable, specialized "one-stop shop" for chronic pain care in a peaceful environment.
It's evident when you meet Abla-Yao that she's both compassionate and dedicated to her field. The doctor is warm, optimistic and enthusiastic, like one's mother or daughter - depending on your age.
It's a feeling Abla-Yao wants to perpetuate in her office, where she treats everything from lower back pain, headaches and whiplash to fibromyalgia, muscle disorders and spinal stenosis. She wants to avoid that "hospital feeling," where, smell aside, patients often must ping-pong through various offices and facilities in order to receive diagnosis and treatment.
But those who fear that "alternative pain management" is a synonym for "New Age hocus-pocus," rest-assured that the good doctor also has a formidable educational background.
For Dr. Shiyi Abla-Yao, pain is something you neither bring, as people are fond of saying, nor bear, as people are fond of doing. It?s
something you manage. And Abla-Yao wants patients to know she?s here to help. A Lewisburg resident, Abla-Yao founded the
innovative Central Pennsylvania Interventional Pain Medicine Center, 451 River Ave., at left, to help improve patient care with an alternative approach to pain management. Above and at right, Abla-Yao is seen with her staff, which includes, above, from left, Christine Shifflet, Lisa Shuler and Brenda Foust. Terry Tibbens was not present for the photo. It?s evident when you meet Abla-Yao that she?s both compassionate and dedicated to her field. The doctor is warm, optimistic and enthusiastic, like one?s mother or daughter - depending on your age.
Originally from Shanghai, Abla-Yao is a bilingual graduate of Jefferson Medical College, and worked in pain management at Evangelical Community Hospital, Lewisburg. In 2007, she completed the Anesthesia-Pain Medicine Fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, studying the intricacies of geriatric pain care and chronic pain management.
Abla-Yao's treatment plans can involve medication, acupuncture, physical modalities or injections to help patients manage their pain. But what may sound intimidating is actually very patient-oriented.
For each of her patients, Abla-Yao takes into account particular sources of pain, as well as lifestyles, whether the patients are older and living alone, or if they live with their families or in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
When patients come into her office, she first evaluates their condition, consulting both with them, their referring doctors, and sometimes also their family members, about what will be the most beneficial way to address the very individual nature of their pain.
And, once a patient leaves an appointment, Abla-Yao's door is still open.
"We don't just give them a shot or two or three, and be done with it," Abla-Yao said. "Those are truly our patients, and they do come back for follow-ups if they need to. If their pain has recurred or things have gotten worse, then they come back for further help. We work alongside their family doctor or their referring doctors to co-manage their problem."
It's an everyday approach to pain care that sounds simple, even obvious. But for those in pain, the everyday can mean everything.
That's how it was for James Hackenburg, a patient of Abla-Yao's since early August. In mid-June, Hackenburg, 67, began to develop constant, severe back and leg pain in mid-June, which settled in his torso. But after several tests, including two MRIs and CAT scans, local physicians were still unsure of the source of his pain.
For an outdoorsy man who'd rather be working outside than watching TV, the situation was unfathomable.
"At the time I was indeed in misery," Hackenburg said, adding that he never found a definitive diagnosis through traditional channels. In August, his family physician referred him to Abla-Yao, who Hackenburg said used a medical process of elimination to determine that his pain was muscular-skeletal, "some nerve gone awry," he said.
To tackle his pain, Hackenburg met with Abla-Yao once a month, with his pain coming fully under control in November. For him, the solution was medication, and he was thrilled with the results of his care.
"Love is a strong word but I'm pretty close to that with her," he joked of Abla-Yao, before becoming serious. "She's quite personable with patients and what she prescribed for me works. Quite honestly, I went from being in pain most of the time, unable to sleep, unable to really function very much, to eventually going back to normal. Close to normal," he amended.
And while he still has to take the medication, Hackenburg will meet with Abla-Yao again in February, to see if he can begin weaning off of it.
For now, he's just content to have his normal life back. And he has proof: "This morning I was out - we live in a wooded area - so I was out cutting brush most of the morning," he said.
That's more than many even aspire to. For Abla-Yao, stories like Hackenburg's are why she practices.
"I think (this) is an approach we should have been taking all along," Abla-Yao said, of the individualized pain treatment plans that improve so many of her patients' quality of life.
"In the past, patients would say 'Oh, my mom and dad had (pain), we just have to live with it (too),' " Abla-Yao said, "But why? If there is help out there, to help you feel better, live more productively, to be able to be more independent, why can't we do that for you? Why do you want to live in the dark and suffer and take it as it is?"
While Abla-Yao's professional focus is on pain at any age, she's noticed that many of her patients are older or elderly.
It's understandable, she said. "Those are the folks who have worked hard all their lives, and now some of the pain has started to creep up because of arthritis or ... because they have never taken care of themselves in the past. And now I think they're ready to be taken care of, to get better."
That's where Abla-Yao's practice comes in. While the number of patients she sees fluctuates, Abla-Yao takes care to schedule enough time for each patient, so that they may feel cared for and so that those in the waiting room can meet promptly with her for their appointments. And while she has seen real successes with her patients, Abla-Yao is careful to say she's not a miracle worker.
"I think the real goal is to function as close to what (patients') goals and desires are, where they want to go," Abla-Yao said. "And oftentimes I'm going to tell patients, 'I'm not going to cure you, nor am I going to be able to have you go back to being able to do what you could do in the past. You may have to have modifications, and here's how I'm going to help you to achieve that, so you can be better, and you can be able to live more independently.' "
But sometimes the results are remarkable. Paula Skelton, 63, started seeing Abla-Yao in November, after being referred by Dr. Carmen Spinney. A sufferer of diabetic neuropathy in her legs, Skelton had been taking various pain medications, but was still confined to using a walker and scooter.
Under Abla-Yao's guidance, Skelton now uses a TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, Unit, a clip-on device that's attached to four electrodes on her back. The electrodes manage the pain signals her brain sends to her limbs by instead sending an impulse to the nerves in her legs.
"I was in bad enough pain, I didn't care what she recommended, I was gonna do it," Skelton said. She assumed she'd need acupuncture. But, according to Skelton, Yao ruled that out immediately, recommending the TENS Unit instead.
"Before I had this, I had a walker," Skelton said. "Now I'm going to be able to do things in the building with people, and I can go to church, and I can sit and do my puzzles."
Skelton has seen dramatic improvements under Abla-Yao's care. She hasn't used her walker since the day she acquired the TENS Unit, which she rents and Medicare pays for. She'd also been seeing a chiropractor for a sciatic nerve problem, but hasn't been back since seeing Abla-Yao.
While Skelton still suffers from coronary heart disease and other ailments, she's able to move around like never before, including on a family visit where, with her grandson's help, she was able to climb up and back down a flight of steps. It was something unimaginable for the previously walker-bound Skelton. Now she's looking forward to the future.
"I can't wait till next summer, to see what I can do," she said. "I can get up and do something if I want to. There's real freedom in that for me."
Skelton's experience speaks directly to what Abla-Yao emphasizes in her practice.
"Pain is a special thing that needs to be addressed just as seriously as anything else to improve the patient's overall quality of life," Abla-Yao said. "And patients do not need to be fearful, coming here, that I'm going to be sticking them with needles. They don't. They're here for me to talk to. And if there's (a method) that we can both agree on, then that's what we will do."