By the time Patrick Boland was 12, he’d been living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) for about four years, ever since a sprained ankle that wouldn’t heal turned into a life-changing diagnosis.
“In sixth grade, I would go to every practice and just sit there and watch,” the 16-year old said. “It would be cold and the wind would blow, and the pants would touch my leg and I would sit there and cry because of the allodynia (a high sensitivity to touch). It was rough. There were days I didn’t know if I would play again.”
CRPS, a condition where the central nervous system becomes sensitized, had Boland confined to a wheelchair at the time. The lack of mobility at 12 came just a year after Boland, as a young kid mustering up the strength to deal with the body-wide “burning, stabbing and feeling of dry ice” that comes with CRPS, officially started Ferocious Fighters.
The non-profit began as an elementary school project but quickly developed into something more serious. Patrick sent out 70 care packages to others suffering from CRPS in that first year; about six years later, Ferocious Fighters has connected over 1,250 families dealing with the condition across 19 countries, with over 1,120 care packages distributed.
“When Patrick was 10, he was alone, depressed and felt completely isolated,” said Meg Boland, Patrick’s mom and the non-profit’s president. “He started Ferocious Fighters so other kids wouldn’t feel that way.”
Even with his non-profit having launched, Boland was certainly feeling that way during sixth grade, as the one sport left he could play — football and taekwondo had been taken away due to his condition — unfolded in front of him and all he could do was watch. But thanks to a bevy of hyperbaric oxygen chamber sessions that year, one of many treatments he’s done in order to contain his CRPS, Boland found his way out of his wheelchair and back to the field.
“After his 15th treatment, he stood up,” Meg Boland said. “And after his 18th treatment, he went to baseball practice, barely walking again. By the time the first game of the season came around, he was playing. And I can’t tell you how much baseball had to do with finding his way out of that chair.”
As baseball got Boland walking again, it’s also allowed the Mountain Vista junior to normalize his life as much as possible despite CRPS and a host of other medical conditions.
Boland — who attends online school through Colorado Connections Academy but plays for the Golden Eagles — is a first baseman and right-handed hitter with pop. But where the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder is making his biggest impression most recently is on the mound. With a fastball that can reach 80 mph as well as a changeup, slider and cutter, Mountain Vista freshman coach Jackie Campbell said Boland projects as a varsity pitcher in the next two seasons.
“He’s the first kid at the diamond, and he’s always the last kid to leave, and no one on our team quite has the enthusiasm and love for the game that he has,” said Campbell, who coached Boland as a freshman in 2019. “Plus, he’s country strong. He’s got a size 18 shoe. There was a game last year during the fall league where he hit back-to-back triples off the wall and knocked in all our runs. Then he came in to close the game on the mound, throwing pretty hard.”
All with a daily burden of pain. Every three months, Boland undergoes an intense ketamine infusion designed to help alleviate his chronic pain. There have been times that he has pushed himself to the point of nausea, Campbell said, a fact not surprising considering the teenager’s proclivity for working out, up to three times a day, and his labor-intensive, early-morning job unloading trucks.
The constant motion keeps Boland’s mind off his pain.
“CRPS is a move it-or-lose-it kind of deal,” Meg Boland said. “”There’s nothing I can do to take his pain away. If I could, I would do it in a minute, but it’s impossible — so all I can do is help him figure out how to use what he’s experiencing to make a difference for himself and for other kids. He has with the example he sets by being active, playing baseball and achieving his goals, because that helps other kids go, ‘Screw that, I’m not letting (CRPS) win either.’”
Those within the tight-knit Ferocious Fighters community are certainly taking notice. Horizon senior Jami Cardenas was first diagnosed with CRPS 11 years ago, and the condition and its corresponding pain had her “feeling like no one outside of my family loved me” when one of Boland’s first care packages arrived at her doorstep.
“When I first got my package, I had no clue it was coming and what was in it, and it brought so many tears,” said Cardenas, 18. “At that moment, I wasn’t able to walk, so knowing that I wasn’t alone in the fight — and that someone else had (CRPS) — was amazing. I was on crutches and out of school at the time I got mine, so it was a big thing to get that and realize someone else understood exactly what I was going through.”
Like Boland, Cardenas keeps her mind off her chronic pain — which also began with a sprained ankle as a young child and is what she describes as “constantly feeling like sitting in a fire pit, while someone is stabbing me and hitting me all day long” — by playing golf for Horizon and managing for the Hawks’ boys and girls soccer teams.
Another Ferocious Fighter, 37-year-old Laurie Pelletier of Highlands Ranch, has been dealing with CRPS since the late 1990s and her full-body pain returned in adulthood after she stepped on a nail. As someone who was ridiculed as a teen while dealing with the condition, she lauded the increased awareness that Boland’s fight has fought to CRPS.
“I spent the majority of my life never knowing another person with it, and people thinking I was faking it, and that there was no way the pain could be that bad and this and that,” Pelletier said. “So for those kids to have that outlet, where they can have a peer to talk to or connect with or whatever, it’s an amazing organization for those kids.”
Meanwhile, as Boland continues his fight for himself and others while eyeing the dream of playing college baseball, there remains one place where CRPS cannot get him.
“I don’t even notice the pain when I’m pitching,” he said.