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Friends with Iron Wills

Colleagues and friends Dr. Terri Dallas-Prunskis and nurse Sue Bartoszewski helped each other heal from different kinds of pain.unknown.gif

“We have walked together in the shadow of a rainbow” is what Native Americans say when two  people have shared a wondrous sight or experience. Dr. Terri Dallas-Prunskis and Sue Bartoszewski have taken that walk.

The two women met in 1992 when Dallas-Prunskis and her husband, Dr. John Prunskis, formed a partnership with Centegra Hospital-Woodstock to develop a pain center within the facility. Ten-year staff nurse Bartoszewski was assigned to help coordinate the center.

Dallas-Prunskis had arrived at Centegra along a rather circuitous route. When she was completing her residency in anesthesiology at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., she knew that anesthesi-ology “wasn’t enough” for her. Part of her unrest came from seeing her godmother suffer from breast cancer and believing there should be “some way to block nerves and decrease the pain.” So Dallas-Prunskis applied for and was awarded a fellowship at the University of New Jersey School of Medicine in the emerging field of pain management. She loved the work and found her calling.

Then, the University of Chicago recruited her, and she worked for that institution for seven years, developing and directing their comprehensive  pain  management  center. While working there, Dallas-Prunskis received her certification by the American Academy of Pain Management in 1990.

After she married and moved to the Barrington area, the commute to Chicago was no longer workable. That is when she began her partnership with Centegra and met local nurse Bartoszewski.

For about 10 years, Dallas-Prunskis and Bartoszewski had frequent contact. However, when Centegra chose to remove the pain center, Dallas-Prunskis and her husband established pain institutes in multiple venues, with the main office of the Illinois Pain Institute in Elgin. For a few years, she and Bartoszewzki saw each other only when the doctor returned to Centegra with courtesy staff privileges. During that interval, Bartoszewski’s life was taking on a whole new look.

Bartoszewski Begins To Train  

One day in 2007, while Bartoszewski sat watching her son compete in an Ironman triathlon, she felt the energy surrounding the race and had a sudden realization. Although at 55 years old, overweight, and suffering from mild hypertension and blood pressure issues, she whispered to herself, “I really want to do that.” This woman who, in her own words, “had never been an exerciser or an athlete,” began a heroic journey.

Bartoszewski started training slowly, with a seven-minute treadmill walk and a one-minute run. When she accomplished those goals, she called her son and bragged. By 2008, with her family encouraging her, she prepared for and ran her first 5K in Crystal Lake. “After I crossed that finish line, I’ll bet I didn’t stop smiling for days,” she said.

“I was exhilarated and so proud.”

In the summer of 2010, as her love for running and competing grew, she began experiencing pain that she tried to live with. She often had to sit or lean against a wall for relief.

Continued Pain — and a Solution

One day in late summer 2011, Bartoszewski decided to consult Dallas-Prunskis. “Dr. Dallas-Prunskis was the first person I thought of when I was experiencing pain that I could not relieve,” she explained.


Together, they outlined a series of steps to solve Bartoszewski’s problem. They began with an MRI followed by radio frequency (RF) lesioning — a well-tested procedure that targets the branch nerves that serve the joints of the spine (facets). Essentially, a portion of nerve tissue is heated to cause an interruption in pain signals and, thus, reduce pain in a specific area. Following the procedure, Bartoszewski was advised by the doctor to resume her normal activity — in this case, training for triathlons and half-Ironman events — and to journal her pain levels and areas of improvement.

After three to four weeks, Bartoszewski’s back pain returned. The RF lesioning was repeated and, again, she felt some relief and documented her progress. As she continued training, the pain returned once more, this time in a different region, the sacroiliac/leg joint. The pain was so intense that she could not complete simple tasks like grocery shopping. So, on the third return to the pain institute in early 2012, Dallas-Prunskis and Bartoszewski agreed to use a relatively new procedure, developed by Kimberly-Clark, called SInergy Cooled Radiofrequency. This procedure had been developed specifically to address pain between the hip joint and femur.

What Is SInergy Cooled Radiofrequency?

The Cooled RF procedure is similar to RF lesioning, but larger lesions (nerve burns) result and in a different area of the back. The patient is under mild sedation and can respond to the doctor while X-rays help pinpoint where the doctor should direct the steel probe.

During this procedure, Dallas-Prunskis’ confirmed good hands — a gift for visualizing a patient’s anatomy and administering the treatment in the correct sites — were vital. For if successful, the procedure would provide a reduction in medication usage, sustained pain relief and an improved quality of life.

Bartoszewski noticed excellent results immediately, and the pain did not return, so she resumed her intensive training. In September 2012, she won her age group of Ironman Wisconsin: a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.

Both Bartoszewski and Dallas-Prunskis concede that as Bartoszewski’s training for highly competitive events intensified, her physical condition changed. She lost 75 pounds, her strength improved and blood pressure lowered. All of these factors relieved stress on her body in general and on her back and hip in particular. However, both women agree that without the SIenergy Cooled RF procedure, the pain in Bartoszewski’s sacroiliac joint would not have dissipated.

Paying it Forward

In 2010, several years before Bartoszewski needed the Cooled RF to restore her lifestyle, Dallas-Prunskis lost both of her parents. Although the doctor had always engaged in daily spiritual worship and physical exercises, such as biking, roller skating and lifting weights, she needed additional motivation to reduce stress during that rough patch in her life.

One day, Bartoszewski showed Dallas-Prunskis a medal she had earned and urged the doctor to add running to her exercise regimen. Shortly thereafter, Bartoszewski received a call from Dallas-Prunskis.  “It’s all your fault, Sue,” she said. “I’ve started to run on the treadmill.”

When Dallas-Prunskis added a triathlon to her schedule — an event that challenged her to overcome her childhood fear of swimming —Bartoszewski was on hand to provide more than encouragement. She offered inspiration and information to Dallas-Prunskis on fueling during running: how to hydrate, how to take in electrolytes and how to feed the muscles every 40 minutes. In fact, Dallas-Prunskis began depending upon a high-caloric concoction called “Sue’s Goo.”

“People come into our lives at just the right time,” Dallas-Prunskis said.

Dallas-Prunskis and Bartoszewski are indeed two lives that intersected and both were changed thanks to their connection. They’re truly two health care professionals and two extraordinary women who have “walked together in the shadow of a rainbow.”

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