Isaac Brown is a 5-year-old boy from Iowa who suffers from a rare genetic condition which makes him immune to pain, but not to the effects of his frequent injuries. Painful falls, deep cuts and other agonizing injuries that normally make children scream at the top of their lungs and cry out for their parents, don’t determine any kind of reaction from little Isaac. Even after he broke his pelvis by falling from playground equipment, he calmly acknowledged that something was wrong, but he didn’t feel pain.
Isaac was born with a conprivate part insensitivity to pain (CIP) and, according to his parents, the first years of his life years were especially hard as the boy “would just drop to the ground and smack his face on the table. He thought the fall was fun.” Unaware of the damage he was doing to his body, he also put his hands on a working oven burner andone time cut himself with sharp pieces from a mug he had broken. His parents sought medical help but were disappointed to find that his condition was untreatable.
The only advice medics were able to give the couple was to teach Isaac to recognize pain. He now knows that bleeding is bad but he is still unable to understand that there are different levels of pain which vary in intensity. While he understands that his father accidentally stepping on him is painful, he doesn’t recognize that a cat brushing against him, while it might be unpleasant to some, should not hurt. Unfortunately, Isaac’s response in both of these situations is the same “Ow” that his parents thought him to say.
However, when he broke his pelvic bone at the playground, the boy became aware that something was wrong, but wasn’t quite sure what. “He thought his ankle hurt,” his mother says. Because of this, she believes that “He does feel [something], but the pain has to be 20 to 30 times greater to what we would feel.” Apart from his inability to feel pain, Isaac also suffers from Anhidrosis – a rare condition that affects fewer than 100 people in the United States, which renders him unable to control his temperature or feel hot or cold. In the summer, when the temperatures are sky-high, he is forced to stay indoors or wear a cooling vest to help him lower his body’s temperature.
Because CIP is so rare, medics don’t know what causes it or what to advise parents with children who suffer from it. In an attempt to learn how to take better care of their son, Mr and Mrs Brown have also sought help online and found “The Gift of Pain”, a Facebook group created by desperate parents looking to give their kids the chance to a normal life. As members of this group, the parents of Ashlyn Blocker – a 13-year-old girl with the same disorder who has been featured in numerous news pieces when she was a bit younger, have set up a gathering called “Camp Painless but Hopeful.” Any family burdened with CIP can attend and learn more about the condition as well as ways of preventing their kids from unknowingly hurting themselves. Although Isaac has been kept quite safe by his parents without resorting to extreme measures, “other kids have had all their teeth removed because they would self-mutilate, bite their tongues, chew their fingers off,” Mr Brown says.