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After years of excruciating pain that drove him to thoughts of suicide, John Roach decided to gamble on a controversial new treatment—a ketamine-induced coma.

Suffering from a debilitating neuromuscular disorder called reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), John, 50, is one of about 100 chronic-pain patients resorting to a radical new treatment in search of relief—a medically induced coma using ketamine, a surgical anaesthetic and hallucinogen sold illegally as "Special K." Advocates say ketamine comas can be a godsend for some. Dr. Robert J. Schwartzman, neurology chairman at Philadelphia's Drexel University College of Medicine, sent more than 60 patients to Germany and Mexico, since coma therapy isn't FDA-approved. Some 200,000 people suffer from RSD, in which ordinary pain escalates to crippling levels.

John, a jovial retired phone-company worker, had tried surgery, physical therapy and heavy doses of pain medication, including OxyContin, codeine and fentanyl. When nothing worked, he thought of ending it all. Back home now, John is amazed that he's been virtually pain-free. Getting regular ketamine booster injections (at non-coma levels) from his physicians, Schwartzman and Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, he has removed a protective compression sleeve he wore for years and can once again wear his watch and wedding ring. Best of all, he can walk hand in hand with Rosemary and scoop up his granddaughters for hugs.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

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