August 2011 Rockstar: Rita MacDonald

Rita and Kathryn the year Kathryn was diagnosed.

Spending just a few minutes with Rita MacDonald as she describes the past three years of her life will quickly bring you to tears. What most people would see as an unbearable situation is a way of life for Rita and her daughter, Kathryn. Her positive attitude and resilience are what make Rita our August Rockstar at

In April 2008, her daughter was stricken with unusual and excruciating pain after a  simple knee injury during a basketball game. Many visits to local doctors, hospitals and specialists left Rita and her daughter with unanswered questions. Some doctors even tried to write it all off to Kathryn “faking the pain for attention” – but Rita knew her daughter and she knew something was horribly wrong.

She was right.

As a determined, fearless mother, Rita continued to push, probe and research. She became her daughter’s advocate and support when others turned away. When some local doctors and medical professionals turned their heads to Kathryn’s problem, Rita never gave up. Visits to Johns Hopkins and many other local health facilities, along with hours of research and persistence, eventually led them to a diagnosis.

Thanks to the outstanding expertise and attention from an outstanding physician at Children’s Hospital of Richmond, they finally found answers to Kathryn’s problem. Dr. Christopher Kim expertly diagnosed Kathryn with ‘reflex sympathetic dystrophy’ (RSD) sometimes also known as ‘complex regional pain syndrome’ (CRPS).

According to the Pain Management Center, Department of Anesthesiology at the University of California, CRPS is a pain syndrome accompanied by “excruciating pain and diverse autonomic dysfunctions…disproportionate to any inciting and recovering event.”  This encapsulates the overall problem with diagnosing the disease since there is no easily discoverable physical event or trauma that necessarily leads to the overwhelming pain.

Kathryn was just 10 years old when she was diagnosed.

Dr Eugene Monasterio and Sandy Timok, Physical Therapy of Children’s Hospital of Richmond were also instrumental in Kathryn’s treatment, but Rita knew that Kathryn needed even more medical help for the acute and chronic pain that ravaged her tiny body. Once again in the face of grim news, Rita persisted and researched to find additional  incredible medical expertise and support locally with Dr Nadeem Kahn, an incredibly supportive pain specialist, who has made the greatest difference in Kathryn’s treatment.

Children's Hospital of Richmond has offered treatment options for Kathryn.

Unfortunately, there is no cure so the battle against the excruciating pain her daughter endures has continued intermittently for the past 3 years – sometimes for weeks on end. Thankfully, the Richmond Children’s Hospital now offers support and help for those with RSD/CRPS through physical therapy and other treatments, and Rita can’t say enough about them.

Rita has also been beside Kathryn and Dr. Kahn during dozens of spinal blocks, intense medication administration, and painful physical therapy and rehab. She continues to be her greatest supporter and cheerleader, knowing that Kathryn may live with pain for the rest of her life.

Kathryn is tutored at home as a home-bound student for the majority of her education. She continues to work hard and excel at school, in spite of the pain and medications. Much of her determination and motivation are the result of Rita’s constant vigilance and persistence for her to live her life as normally as possible – in spite of excruciating pain on many days.

In the midst of it all, Rita is the attentive mother to a son at VCU, a devoted wife, and a full-time professional hairdresser. She works a full-time schedule as an independent hairstylist, making it possible to adjust her schedule and always be available for Kathryn when needed. She works long hours and never complains.

Rita organizes her schedule to take Kathryn to frequent doctor’s visits for spinal blocks, therapy, and evaluation. She does it all with the attitude that “things could be worse”.  And she meets everyone with a smile in spite of how she may be hurting inside for her daughter.

Rita has worked tirelessly for others too, offering support, encouragement and information as others with this condition have turned to her after hearing her story. She always seems to have time for anyone who needs it – and thanks to her incredibly strong faith in God, she and her daughter are making the best of a bad situation. recognizes Rita for her strength, resilience, commitment, persistence, and devotion to her daughter, her family and her friends. She and her young daughter rock!

For more information on RSD/CRPS, visit the NCBI website.

Note: for more information: Pain Management Center, Department of Anesthesiology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, LA, USA.

Rhonda is the mother of two adult daughters and a grandmother to five wonderful grandchildren – and our only grandmother on staff. She spent 25 years in corporate healthcare managing prenatal and disease management programs. She is the Content Manager for Richmondmom and contributes her expertise as both a mom and grandmother – while sorting out the many opportunities for our valuable advertisers.


  1. OMG! My daughter was diagnosed with RSD this year and I have struggled and fought to get her the medical attention she needs. I have to agree with Rita; The Children's Hospital has been great!

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