Zoe Gellert: Chronic Pain Warrior & Teenage Entrepreneur
When Zoe Gellert was 11 years old, a 40 pound concrete paver fell onto her foot. After the injury should have healed, Zoe was still feeling intense pain and the swelling in her foot had not subsided. She was experiencing tingling, burning and stabbing sensations, skin and nail dryness, and sensitivity to even the lightest touch, making it impossible to bear weight on her foot.
The lack of answers was really hard for Zoe but she remained positive and stayed active. She began physical therapy, went to school, went on class trips, and even took a trip to Florida for spring break. About 30 days after the initial injury, Zoe attempted physical therapy, but having someone touch her foot was too painful. It was at this point that the therapist suggested that she may have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). CRPS is a form of chronic pain that causes a person to experience persistent, severe and debilitating pain. It typically develops after an injury, surgery, heart attack or stroke and the pain it causes is disproportionate to the severity of the initial injury, surgery or illness.
Zoe worked hard at outpatient physical therapy and learned to embrace the pain instead of trying to fight it. Raised in a family that prioritizes giving back, Zoe was motivated to help other kids with CRPS and began a campaign to raise awareness and funds for pediatric CRPS research and treatment advancements. It was at this moment when Zoe’s Heroes, which has raised more than $50,000 for the cause, was launched.Zoe’s parents began scheduling appointments with specialists to identify the cause of her pain. She saw a neurologist, physiatrist, pain anesthesiologist, and psychologist all of whom confirmed the diagnosis of CRPS. The team recommended that Zoe begin physical and cognitive therapies to help her manage the pain. She was admitted to the hospital for 28 days where she completed a program of physical and occupational therapy that resulted in her walking out of the hospital with just a small limp. While she regained strength and balance and could now put weight on her foot, the pain still lingered.
While still in outpatient therapy, Zoe found comfort and relaxation when playing with a bucket full of small beads during her therapy sessions. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Zoe’s therapy sessions became virtual so she ordered beads that she could use at home. But when the beads came, she found a new passion—making jewelry. Zoe found that the tactile work was beneficial to her therapy and was soon encouraged by friends and family to turn her passion into a business.
Shortly after Zoe’s jewelry business started, her family learned about the Chronic Pain Management Program at Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH). This four-week inpatient program employs a multidisciplinary approach to increase function, decrease pain and sensitivity, and promote the use of adaptive coping skills. While each child’s treatment plan fits their individual needs, the schedule usually involves a combination of aquatherapy, physical, occupational and recreational therapies, psychological counseling, and mindfulness and meditation. Additionally, the program weans children from any pain medications they were prescribed and teaches them alternative coping mechanisms to manage their pain.
When Zoe came to CSH in August, 2020 to begin the four-week Chronic Pain Management Program, she brought her beads with her. She continued beading and making bracelets with inspirational words like fearless, courage, strength, and be your own hero. With her days at CSH consisting of 8 hours of intense therapy, finding time to bead was not easy, but Zoe was cheered on by her therapists to complete the 72 bracelet orders that had come in.
As her business grew, Zoe’s natural inclination to philanthropy inspired her to donate a portion of her monthly sales to charity. While at CSH, Zoe chose to donate all of the proceeds from the month of August to the CSH Chronic Pain Management Program so that more kids can be helped as much as she was.Zoe reflected on the support that her therapists gave her during her stay at CSH, “I think the pain management team here at CSH is amazing. Everyone cares about you and they care about your recovery and about every single mini step you take in the right direction.”
Zoe recently visited CSH in New Brunswick with a check for $7,000 and explained why it was so important to give more than just a portion of her proceeds to CSH. “Every month, I choose a charity to donate a portion of my proceeds to,” she said. “Giving back to CSH was something I felt that I needed to do. I was getting back as much as I was giving and I decided that CSH would receive all of the proceeds from my jewelry sales that month.”
Zoe is currently a senior in high school and is looking forward to going to Tulane University in New Orleans this fall. Giving back is an important Gellert family value and Zoe hopes that her business continues to grow so she can give back to more organizations with missions that are meaningful to her.