This fort wadsworth area pain management specialist utilizes advancements in science and regenerative medicine to offer non surgical relief
by Amanda McCoy • Photos by Amanda Domench
When Dr. Anne Marie Stilwell, an interventional pain management specialist with the Still Well Regenerative Medicine Center, graduated from medical school at the University of Rochester, there was no such thing as a fellowship in pain management in all of New York.
Although she already had an impressive list of accomplishments under her belt including conducting lab research on the causes of Reye’s syndrome, a children’s malady that is now nearly eradicated the young physician had not yet determined what her specialty would be. After graduation, she accepted an internship in obstetrics and gynecology at a hospital on Long Island, and it was there that she came to a realization that would push her toward a new area of focus even if it was one that technically didn’t exist yet.
“While working on labor and delivery, I realized that my passion was in relieving the labor pain of the mom as much as delivering the infant,” she explained. “I knew what my true calling was, and so looked to transfer to an anesthesiology position.”
Along with Timothy Gilman, her college sweetheart and now husband, Stilwell relocated to Manhattan, where she soon began an anesthesiology residency at New York Hospital/ Cornell Medical Center. She worked under the tutelage of Dr. Howard Rosner, director of the Pain Center, and he became her mentor. “He reminded me on a daily basis, ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional,’ ” she said.
Stilwell’s interest in interventional pain management continued to grow, and she discussed the possibility of getting credentialed in the practice by the American Board of Anesthesiology. Within a year, the request was granted, and she became the first recipient of the hospital’s Tri Institutional Pain Medicine Fellowship now considered one of the top such programs in the country.
Stilwell grew up on Staten Island as one of seven children. All of her siblings pursued professional careers; in their ranks are a doctor, a business vice president, computer specialists, an attorney, and a CPA. When Stilwell was barely a teenager, her father, Stanley, had a heart attack and died. That tragic event set her on a lifelong mission to become a physician.
“My brother Stanley [an internist] was in the emergency room when my dad was brought in on that 100°F August day,” she recalled, “and the conversations I had with my brother after that event made me determined to try to prevent any other girl from going through the trauma of losing a dad at such a young age.”
Stilwell’s mother, Anna, worked tirelessly to send her daughter to a top prep school and college to prepare her for a career in medicine. When Stilwell was still an undergrad at the University of Rochester, she was accepted into its medical school. The dream was on its way to becoming a reality.
Once Stilwell had completed her pain management fellowship and her husband had finished law school, the couple returned to Stilwell’s home borough. (“It was always my dream to take care of my family, friends, and community,” she said.) From there she started the Pain Management Center at the then St. Vincent’s Medical Center of Richmond, where she remained for 11 years before deciding to open her own practice in the Fort Wadsworth section.
Today, the physician and mother of four treats patients in pain for a range of reasons, including work related injuries, traffic accidents, degeneration from aging, athletic injuries, and terminal diseases. Her treatments include such common treatments as cortisone injections into the spine and facet joints, radiofrequency ablation, decompression of discs, nerve blocks, spinal cord stimulators, and medical management using a host of regimens, including medical marijuana.
“These treatments are highly successful in relieving pain,” she said, “and I enjoy dealing with patients on an individual basis. I believe that a detailed conversation allows me to figure out the cause and institute the right treatment.”
Sometimes, she said, cortisone and gel injections can do only so much, and that is what led her to an emerging area of modern medicine, one where she is seeing remarkable results: regenerative medicine treatments, including stem cell therapy and injections of platelet rich plasma.
Patients who were no longer getting results from their routine pain treatments and wanted to avoid surgical solutions started asking Stilwell about stem cell treatments. As more asked, she said that “I felt called to action, so I read journal articles and sought out the seminars around the country that could educate me in this fascinating new science.”
Stem cells can be extracted from a patient’s own bone marrow, from fat through liposuction, or from the umbilical cord of a newborn. These cells are then injected into the problem area.
“The stem cells, which haven’t turned into any particular cell yet, carry signals for growth,” she explained. “When you inject a stem cell or platelet, they go to the site of the injury and release growth factors that cause a body to heal itself.”
Pain relief is not immediate, Stilwell explained, but patients usually begin seeing results in a month or two. There are no guarantees, she cautioned, but she’s seen excellent results in 80 percent of patients.
Since the therapy is still in its infancy and being studied at major research centers, it has not yet been approved as a mainstay treatment. But since it’s a minimally invasive procedure and typically performed in an office setting, it does not require the use of anesthesia or a hospital or facility fee.
“It’s a quiet therapy that’s really just coming out, but I’m so enthusiastic that this is going to be the future of helping people,” she said. “As a pain doctor, I want to use surgery as a last resort. This is a new treatment that gives people yet another choice. After seeing someone be able to move their shoulder comfortably or walk up steps with their degenerative knee without pain, I foresee regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy as a go to treatment for many ailments over the next 10 years, not just for pain. I am so excited to be able to offer my patients another treatment to make them feel better.”
Once a month, Stilwell offers a free seminar to educate the community on stem cell therapy and other biologic treatments, including exosomes and platelet rich plasma. “People can call to register to attend and get more information to see if this regenerative treatment may help them,” she said.