Robert Youcha is a retired paramedic who suffers from a spinal cord injury. Several painful medical procedures and an arsenal of prescription medications have not relieved his severe intractable pain. Medical marijuana would be an invaluable tool to treat his unyielding pain.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and committee members. My name is Robert Youcha; I, am a 50-year-old father of 27-year-old twin daughters; and I reside in St. Francis with my wife of 31 years, Michele.
My interest in helping others began at an early age with the Four-H club and Boy Scouts. On my 15th birthday in 1973, I joined the Wantagh-Levittown Volunteer Ambulance Corps and First Aid Team. I volunteered at the local hospital emergency room after obtaining my EMT certification in 1975. My career path was simple; I enjoyed helping my neighbor and fellow man, and I was able to function under high-stress emergency conditions and deal with the horrors of the job, so I chose to pursue a career in emergency medical service.
After marrying in 1978, my wife and I moved to Minnesota, where I began volunteering with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department Emergency Squad — assisting local law enforcement and fire/rescue agencies by responding to 911 calls for help. Along with serving in EMS for 25 years, I also worked as an EMS educator, State & National Registry Examiner responsible for the training and testing of 1st Responders, EMTs, and paramedics. While doing so, I have received numerous citations and commendations for service above and beyond the call of duty.
In 1998 my career came to an abrupt and premature end, changing my life forever. While responding to an emergency call, the ambulance was involved in a crash. I sustained serious permanent injuries to my spine and knee. I was now the one in need of help. After months of treatment both in and out of the hospital, I required multiple surgical procedures and many invasive attempts to relieve my pain without success. I was left with metal implants and permanent nerve damage leaving me in constant severe pain and constant muscle spasms. With a diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome, a spinal cord injury, the damage and pain are permanent.
After almost 11 years of severe intractable pain, it is a daily struggle to walk, sit, stand, lie down, or sleep. I continue to take high-dose timed-release morphine four times a day and immediate release Dilaudid four times a day. Painkillers do not kill the pain. They only decrease its perception by the brain through sedation, and the effects do not last very long. In addition, these drugs come with many adverse side effects, which compound my medical problems. These potent medications just make me sleepy. I fall asleep mid-conversation for a minute or two, but the pain never goes away. The chemical drugs are frequently changed or mixed in an attempt to overcome the built-up tolerance and loss of efficacy. Doctors are always fearful of the potential risk of overdose and dependency. Anti-inflammatory drugs should not be used by patients with heart disease such as myself due to a variety of risks. But I was getting desperate, having considered taking my life once before because of pain; I needed something new.
Many attempts to relieve my ongoing pain have been unsuccessful. I have undergone multiple painful spinal injections with corticosteroids. I tried Radiofrequency Ablation, which is an attempt to burn the nerves by placing a needle at the nerve end near the spinal cord. This failed after three attempts due to the close proximity of the metal implants in my spine. Then one day I met a fellow spinal cord injury victim who had the same symptoms as I did. He told me that using medical marijuana along with his pain medications helped ease his suffering. I began researching this and found out about the positive effects of medical marijuana. I found out that it is being used in the U.S., Canada, and Europe with mostly positive results. I approached my doctor with the dilemma. Since marijuana was illegal and unavailable, my only option was to try Marinol. Although not the same, it had its benefits and its shortcomings. Marinol is a marijuana derivative made from Delta-9-THC. This drug allowed me to use less than my previous dosage of 190 mg of morphine and Dilaudid four times a day, even though the pain was increasing due to a worsening condition of my spine. Marinol is not the same as the natural plant; it is too sedating and makes one groggy. But it was worth the side effects, and I slept more. Then to my amazement, my insurance provider, Hennepin County, decided to stop paying for the Marinol. Costing $5,000 per month, it was too expensive for me to pay out of pocket. I was flabbergasted by the price and felt a bit guilty about the cost to the public since I was injured while serving the public. It is highway robbery to charge anyone that price for any drug. I was forced to continue suffering. I could not use marijuana because it was illegal, and I could no longer use Marinol because I couldn’t afford it.
Please understand, this pain has changed my life and the lives of those around me. It has caused me to consider taking my life on more than one occasion in order to stop the pain, but I could not do that to my wife or children. Please help me, and others like me. I would not wish this pain on my worst enemy. Help me fight my pain by passing this bill. By voting in favor of the medical marijuana bill, you would be adding an invaluable weapon to the arsenal of treatments for intractable and unyielding pain.
I continue to volunteer when I can, now as a ham radio operator with the American Red Cross disaster services ARCCOM team, Amateur Radio Emergency Service, and Metro SkyWarn, as a storm spotter. I volunteer mostly from home these days, but continue to do whatever I can to help others. That is why I am here today, asking you to help some of the most vulnerable members of our society, the suffering and dying. Please vote yes on the medical marijuana bill.
Robert Youcha Paramedic (ret.)
St. Francis, MN 55070