Dennis Kinch displays the souvenirs he’s picked up along his Route 66 trek to increase pain awareness as a spokesperson for the National Pain Foundation. Kinch made a pit stop in Tucumcari earlier this week. (Photo by Ryn Gargulinski)
Dennis Kinch not only walks despite being in constant pain — he walks because of it.
And it’s not like this Massachusetts-born man is taking a simple trek to the corner store.
Kinch is walking the 2,400 miles of the infamous Route 66 to raise awareness of chronic pain.
He made a pit stop in Tucumcari earlier this week where he visited Dan. C. Trigg Memorial Hospital to hand out brochures, postcards and speak with anyone who wanted to talk.
“In small towns like this it’s very informal,” Kinch said. “I just swing by to say ‘Hi.’”
In some of the larger clinics of the more than 50 he already visited since he began his trek in September, he said he’ll give more formal talks on the topic of pain and the organization that is sponsoring his walk, the National Pain Foundation. Kinch is the forerunner of their “Where’s Dennis?” campaign, a grassroots effort to increase pain awareness.
“I am a pain sufferer myself,” said the man who has spent the last five years in constant agony and 15 years prior to that in a dull ache. “I went through the ringer — the pain cycle, medical confusion. I lost everything, the whole American dream, my kids. I was homeless.”
Luckily, Kinch said, he ended up homeless in Boston, where he qualified for treatment at a top pain clinic.
“I found out what my diseases were,” he said, after several years of pain with no diagnosis. Kinch suffers from Paget’s disease and ankylosing spondylitis, the former of which degenerates the bone; the latter a type of arthritis that affects the spine and body joints, according to the NPF.
“I found out I was lucky to be walking,” he said.
Kinch said that was the turning point in his pain journey, a trek he likened to the stages of grief, one he said has turned into a spiritual quest.
As if in validation of his motives, Kinch said one enlightened moment happened just last week, when he realized he was at the midpoint of his walk on his 51st birthday. He said he actually forgot his birthday until he reached the Texas-New Mexico border — at 12:50 a.m.
“I looked at my watch and said ‘Oh no, I ain’t gonna make it’ because I thought I just missed having my birthday fall on the exact day I hit the midpoint of my walk.”
But then he crossed into New Mexico — where the clocks are set one hour earlier.
“I was on the wrong side,” Kinch said of his crossing over from the negative depths of depression to the positive side of hope. “After visiting more than 1,000 patients, I see how lucky I am.”
In addition to ending up at one of the top pain clinics in the United States where he was well-educated with pain classes and with his own in-depth research, Kinch said he was equally as fortunate in another area.
“I have a physical therapist that doesn’t kid around,” he said. “She just point blanked me with the stuff I needed to hear.”
Not that hearing the truth is always pleasant, he said, but it’s what helped him climb from the morass of despair and it’s what he passes along to the hundreds — if not thousands — of
other pain patients he reaches out to educate and support.
Even if the truth is unpleasant, he said his Route 66 walk has been a total joy — even with two tornadoes and a week-long cold snap.
He said not once has he wanted to quit, unlike the first pain walk he did from his native Attleboro, Mass., to Washington, D.C., last spring.
“On my first walk I was constantly faced with wanting to give up,” he said. “It was like walking the gauntlet.”
He said the point of that journey was to “bang down the doors” at the nation’s capital to help change laws regarding medication and insurance practices. Instead, his quest has turned into the grassroots movement to help change things through education and awareness.
“I wanted to do something big,” Kinch said, “while I still could. It’ll get worse. My disease crumbles the bone. You do what you can, when you can.”
Kinch is expected to reach Los Angeles and the end of his Route 66 journey in May or June.
In the meantime, he is making another pit stop in Albuquerque where he will fly to four California cities for speaking engagements, then back to Albuquerque to continue his walk.
“Dennis is an inspiration to all who live with chronic pain,” said NPF Executive Director Mary Pat Aardrup, adding there are about 50 million Americans afflicted. “The number one problem that chronic pain sufferers face is validation. Dennis’ walk is meant to make people aware of this very real and very serious health problem.”
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