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By ALexia Severson
Las Cruces Bulletin
For Aaron Villarreal, certified registered nurse and anesthetist (CRNA), pain is personal.
“I grew up with my grandma; she had really bad arthritis and I can see how, over the years, her hands deformed, and I know she was in pain,” Villarreal said. “She never complained, but I know she was in pain.”
Villarreal, who is also certified in nonsurgical pain management, hopes to help others living with pain through his new medical practice, Hygia Pain Institute (HPI), which opened at 3851 E. Lohman Ave., Ste. 4, on April 1.
What makes HPI unique is Villarreal’s holistic approach to pain management, which entails performing detailed physical, psychosocial and health assessments to arrive at a diagnosis and develop a tailor-made care plan to provide optimal results for each patient. He is also one of just 40 specialists in the country with a double board certification in pain management and anesthesia.
Villarreal said treating the patient holistically, rather than simply prescribing medication to treat pain, is important in light of the opioid crisis facing the country and New Mexico, which, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, had one of the highest opioid-related overdose death rates in the nation in 2017.
“For a long time, providers were kind of using the ‘same size fits all’ type of mentality, and then we got into the whole opioid crisis,” Villarreal said. This wasn’t fixing the problem, but creating a bigger problem, he said.
Through Villarreal’s approach not only do patients take responsibility by getting involved in their own care, but other health and wellness specialists are also brought into the process. This could mean instructing the patient to lose weight, practice yoga or meditate, or sending the patient to see a physical therapist, a chiropractor or a psychiatrist.
“Whoever I need to get involved for the better of the patient, that’s what I do,” Villarreal said.
This method takes into account all the factors that can contribute to pain, including mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder, he said.
“When your pain started, what was going on in your life? Were you going through a bad divorce? Did you lose your job? Did you lose a friend? That right there, many of the times, it’s a generator for pain,” he said. “So, when you take that into account, and you take the patient as a whole, and make a tailor-made plan for that one person, the outcome is a lot better, and we have all the literature to back that up.”
It is for this reason that HPI is equipped with a meditation area and approved for the administration of Spravato (esketamine), a nasal spray recently approved by the FDA for the treatment of depression.
In addition to these modalities, Villarreal also provides interventional pain techniques, including myofascial/trigger point/joint injections, radiofrequency treatment, nerve blocks and interlaminar/transforaminal epidural/facet injections for patients that need it. Pain medications can also be prescribed in addition to other forms of pain management when necessary.
HPI also has a live X-ray room for patient’s convenience and more accurate care and treatment.
Villarreal, who was born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and grew up in El Paso, is a graduate of the Advanced Pain Management Fellowship offered through Texas Christian University and the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). The new and competitive program prepares CRNAs with the pain management skills necessary to meet the needs of those living with chronic pain.
Mindy Wallace, CRNA and faculty at TCU's Advanced Pain Management Fellowship, said the fact that Villarreal opened HPI in a rural area like Las Cruces makes a big difference for the people who live there.
“It is exceedingly important to offer pain management to everyone, but especially in underserved areas where people often don't seek treatment for their chronic pain. They just suffer in silence,” Wallace said. “Aaron is willing and able to serve this population, which demonstrates his commitment to his community and to his profession.”
Villarreal said since opening HPI, people have been very welcoming.
“I want to build connections with the city, I want to do things for the city, I want to do things with the city, I just want to promote health all around,” he said.
Pain conditions treated at HPI include back, neck, migraines, headaches, cancer and visceral, spinal cord injury, fibromyalgia, arthritis and more.
No matter what kind of pain, Villarreal said he wants patients to know he’s “part of your team.”
“Some of these patients, all they want to do is be able to get up in the morning without pain so they can go for a walk,” Villarreal said. “Some of these people just want to have pain relief so they can play with their grandchildren. If I can make that happen, I’ll do everything in my power to do that.”
For information about HPI, accepted health insurance or to set up an appointment, call 575-205-0280 or visit hygiapain.com.
Alexia Severson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.