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'Socks for Smiles' campaign brings joy to boy with chronic pain

Easton Mengel, 9, was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome after injuring in his knee during football practice last fall

A misdiagnosed football injury has turned Easton Mengel’s life into a 'living hell,' as he is now in such constant pain that he can barely get off the couch.

Mengel, 9, is similar to most boys his age. He is passionate about war history, internet memes, SpongeBob SquarePants, and playing football. However, his time on the gridiron came to a screeching halt last October when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee during practice. 

His parents took him to the doctor, but due to medical neglect and “through a serious of fails on our health-care system’s part,” Mengel developed an ailment called type 2 Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CPRS), explained his mother, Britten Hepting. She thinks her son wouldn’t have developed CPRS if health-care staff had done their jobs properly.

“His brain reprogrammed itself,” she said. “His nervous system doesn’t work properly anymore, so it sends the wrong signals to his body. So that turns into pain.”

The family would go through a frustrating five-month ordeal before Mengel eventually received physiotherapy. He now performs his physio in a pool, while his family bought him a pop-up hot tub to also ease his discomfort. Hepting joked that it became expensive to fill up the bathtub three times a day. 

CPRS causes chronic pain all over Mengel’s body, with his legs the most severely affected. He has described the feeling as if he is being burned or stabbed all over his body, according to the Facebook page Socks for Smiles

According to the McGill Pain Index, CPRS is rated 42 out of 50 on the pain scale, which makes it the most painful chronic pain condition. This pain is higher than cutting off one’s toe or giving birth. 

“The pain my little boy is in is just indescribable,” Hepting said, adding Mengel suffers from seizures since the pain is so bad, while she can’t hug him to comfort him. 

CPRS has left Mengel bedridden — mostly on the couch — and unable to play sports, hang out with friends, or do anything he used to enjoy doing. He also missed more than 90 days of school. 

“This has been a living hell for us,” added Hepting.  

Easton’s sister Oakley has been vocal about supporting her brother. 

“Watching such a bright soul lose so much hope — as he is bedridden — can be so heartbreaking,” his sister Oakley wrote on Facebook. “I know if he could right now, he would be out in the field as the little football star he is.”  

Hepting bought Mengel a pair of humorous socks to cheer him up, and from there, the Socks for Smiles campaign was born. Since launching earlier this year, many people — including in Rotterdam, the Netherlands — have sent Mengel socks to boost his spirit. So far 69 pairs — or 138 in total — have been received. 

Residents can support this campaign by sending socks; liking the Facebook group; and sharing the group with others.

This campaign has been incredibly worth it, Hepting said. Mengel may have bad days, but will be instantly cheered up when a package arrives in the mail for him to open.  

The family is using the Socks for Smiles campaign to raise awareness about Complex Regional Pain Syndrome since there is very little research being done on it, Hepting said. She wonders how one of the most painful ailments known to mankind could be so little understood. 

Hepting intends to contact Premier Scott Moe to raise this issue with him. She wants him to know funding for research is needed; she doesn’t think it’s fair that Mengel had his life stolen from him at age eight.

“My child lost his complete identity because of this. He used to be such an athletic child,” she added. “He was happy all the time. He lit up every room he went into. Now he’s just, like, a shell. So we need funding for research. And it’s not going to happen unless people know about it.” 

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