A teenage girl whose broken foot healed seven years ago is living in constant agony because of a rare condition which tricks her brain into believing she is still injured.
Kiera Ward, 17, takes a daily cocktail of 39 painkillers even though the fracture is fully healed and the pain is all in her head.
She broke her foot during a playground game of tug-of-war aged 11 but doctors believe the trauma of delays in her treatment triggered a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).
The ailment causes her brain to experience phantom pain as if the injury is still there – and Kiera lives in excruciating pain 24 hours a day.
She said: ”The pain is unbearable, I can’t describe to anyone else how it feels.
”There are so many days where I can’t get out of bed or where I’m with my friends and I just burst into tears because I can’t take it any more.
”The hardest thing is that my foot isn’t hurt, my brain is just telling me it is. There’s no reason why this is happening.”
Kiera, from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, broke her heel bone in September 2004 on a school trip to Kilbowie, near Oban.
She was playing tug-of-war when she fell under a group of classmates.
No one realised she was badly injured until two days later when she could not walk.
The schoolgirl was taken to hospital, where doctors did not X-ray her but said she had ligament damage and sent her home with instructions to rest and take ibuprofen.
Two weeks later, she was in such pain her parents took her to Wishaw General where the fracture was found.
The delay in her treatment could have sparked Kiera’s Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which sometimes affects young, sporty girls for reasons no one understands.
She should have been off her crutches after six weeks but instead could not walk for 18 months.
It was not until September 2005 that she was finally diagnosed at Yorkhill Children’s Hospital in Glasgow.
The musical theatre student at Motherwell College said: ”I was devastated when they told me and it was so difficult to understand.
”There wasn’t much the doctors could do because the problem wasn’t my foot. I felt all on my own.
”All I wanted was for the pain to end. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on my worst enemy.
”I was screaming at my mum to please let them cut my foot off if it would make it stop.”
Kiera’s disorder is similar to so-called ‘phantom limb syndrome’, where someone who has lost an arm or leg still feels pain even though it’s not there.
She had seven operations from the age of 12 to 16. Local anaesthetic was injected into her spine to stop the pain in her foot and ‘reboot’ her brain into realising it had healed.
But the surgery, and an epidural, all failed. She still cannot walk on her foot and the CRPS has spread through her body to her back, arms and neck.
She has refused a wheelchair because walking does her no physical harm, although it hurts more than anything else.
And Kiera tries to keep going through her pain, which is so extreme she sometimes has spasms and needs morphine to cope.
She has been told there’s a chance her condition will last for life but is hoping for a cure.
In the meantime, the teenager has done a charity walk for Yorkhill Children’s Foundation and raised £3,000 for Alexandra Sawmill’s Pain Reserve Fund, which helps to control agony like hers.
She has set up her own fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/Kiera-Ward.
And, although her pain too often takes centre stage, Kiera is hoping for a career in musical theatre or photography and looking to the future.
The teen, who has two brothers, Dean, 22, and Anton, 19, and lives with parents Jacqui and Jim, both 45, said: ”Sometimes it is hard to think about anything except how much it hurts and every day is hard.
”But I try to keep positive, I try to have a smile on my face and I just hope for a day when I won’t be in pain any more.”