GAINESVILLE, FL (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Just like your car or a bank vault, your body comes equipped with a high-end warning system. The trigger is pain and while it's a feeling no one wants, it's there to tell us something's wrong. But what if that warning system was always on high alert or what if it never worked at all?
"She did not cry when she was born, the nurse even said, oh what a good baby you have," John Blocker, Ashlyn's father, told Ivanhoe.
A good baby they said, one who grew into a precocious toddler with no fear.
"She would fall down or run into something and not even be phased by it," John Blocker said.
Soon the Blocker family realized baby Ashlyn wasn't just putting on a brave face. Their tough little girl was a little too tough.
"She was in her high chair and she literally put her pointer finger in her mouth and just ripped the skin right off, she wasn't upset, she wasn't crying," Tara Blocker, Ashlyn's mother, said.
That accident led to another.
"There was just blood everywhere, she had mutilated her bottom lip to no avail," Tara Blocker said. "Just chewing it while she was asleep."
"She had touched her hand on a hot pressure washer motor and she burned the palm of her hand and all the tips of her fingers," Tara Blocker said.
Doctors finally realized Ashlyn was her own worst enemy, literally, she simply can't feel pain.
"I was not looking where I was going and then I crashed and then my ankle got broken, I just kept on going," Ashlyn Blocker said.
It's called congenital insensitivity to pain. A pair of genetic mutations short-circuited the pain signals that go to Ashlyn's brain. She's just one of 20 documented cases in the U.S. Only 40 exist in the entire world.
"My mom just tells me I'm very, very special," Ashlyn said.
"We can really learn from individuals like this child, what it really means to be at the opposite end of feeling essentially no pain," Roland Staud, M.D., a Professor of Medicine at the University of Florida said.
Ashlyn is helping researchers study pain like never before. They want to know if there's a master switch for pain and how to turn it on and off. Does a lack of pain impact emotions, and can that person still show compassion towards others? But most importantly, this little girl may hold the key for the nation's 70 million chronic pain patients.
"If they could just have one molecule like Ashlyn has, they would have the perfect pain killer, and I'm thinking that's pretty wow," Tara Blocker said.
That pain killer may save someone like Robert Hinton.
"The extreme pain I get is like someone just dousing my body with gasoline and just constantly lighting a match. There are days where my spinal cord feels like someone's pulling it out of my body with tweezers," chornic pain patient Robert Hinton said.
A car crash led to a nerve injury which led to the a diagnosis of reflex sympathetic dystrophy. That's a chronic neurological syndrome that causes constant burning in the hands and legs.
"I swallowed 35 pills in one night and I said a prayer, I said God I want to go to heaven because I can't take this pain anymore," Hinton said.
Robert survived that and survives now by mostly grinning-and-bearing it, as treatment is limited. He does get powerful infusions of pain meds but those put him into a coma for days. Doctors say after this kind of pain has been present for six months, it becomes irreversible. Patients may also suffer muscle atrophy, loss of mobility and contorted limbs.
"I've gone through having more than 100 epidurals and nerve blocks just to get the pain where it's tolerable," Hinton said.
A man whose pain won't stop and a girl who can't even begin to feel pain at all.
"We want Ashlyn to have the best life possible and we're going to do everything under our power to ensure that. We're blessed to have her, there's a reason for her," Tara Blocker said.
Doctors have identified Ashlyn's gene mutation and may be able to tweak it using a form of gene therapy, but it's unclear if they would be able to create the right balance. Ashlyn's parents say they would never put her through the process.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
University of Florida Department of Medicine
Phone : 352-392-3261