The Examiner

Student Uses Life-Altering Injury to Help Others Change the World

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Horace Greeley High School junior Zoe Gellert presents a $7,000 check last fall to Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., money she raised from making bracelets. Gellert had a nearly three-week stay at the hospital last August as a result of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

Zoe Gellert’s life-altering experience happened in sixth grade. In February 2016, while outside Seven Bridges Middle School in Chappaqua that she attended at the time, another student somehow kicked a 40-pound concrete paver onto her right foot.

Despite not suffering any broken bones, Gellert felt excruciating pain.

“I had sprained an ankle, I had a broken toe in the past, but it was not pain I ever felt before,” Gellert recalled of the incident. “I instantly couldn’t walk. I was in so much pain my foot started to change colors. It took three, three-and-half months to get a doctor to be like, ‘Oh, maybe this isn’t something like a regular hurt ankle.’”

After her foot didn’t improve and physical therapy proved too painful, Gellert, now a Horace Greeley High School senior, was eventually diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), persistent and excessive pain and inflammation that is disproportionate to the extent of a person’s injury or illness.

Seeking relief from the debilitating pain, Gellert’s parents sought treatment that spring, spending four weeks in a hospital to essentially learn how to walk again, she said.

“Then I lived my life, tried sports again,” Gellert said. “(But) the CRPS spread throughout my body and then just this past summer I went into Children’s Specialized Hospital for 20 days to rehabilitate again. I pushed myself, got some strength back, all of that before I went into my senior year getting ready for college.”

Dr. Katherine Bentley, a pediatric physiatrist and director of the Pediatric Chronic Pain Program at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., said the pain can come from nerve or tissue damage or from an illness that amplifies the discomfort and prevents a person from properly functioning.

The syndrome is not lingering discomfort that can be reasonably associated with an injury or illness but a debilitating pain where a person can’t complete basic tasks. Its causes are not fully understood. Bentley said an estimated 15 to 20 percent of adolescents live in some sort of pain that is greater than what any CAT scan or MRI reveals.

The program at Children’s Specialized Hospital, which caters to children, teens and young adults from babies to 22 years old, requires a two- to six-week stay, Bentley said. Therapy includes aquatic, occupational, recreational and physical therapy, psychology, child life therapy and parent education and support.

“We’re finding that people with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, and especially we’re dealing with children now, too, if we teach them about their pain and the way that their brain is like on overdrive and they understand why their pain is happening, they improve a lot more,” Bentley said.

Gellert said she voluntarily entered the program last August so she could enjoy her senior year, make decisions about college and enjoy sports again. In the fall, Gellert played on her school’s varsity tennis team and will attend Tulane University next year.

During last year’s three-week stay, she underwent a rigorous schedule almost every day. She would start with a half-hour of swimming, then 30 or 60 minutes of yoga or meditation, two hours each of physical and occupational therapy and an hour of cognitive therapy.

Gellert said the first three days were probably “the worst three days of my life.”

Despite the therapies, there is never a day where she doesn’t hurt. Pain is not confined to the injured foot but radiates up and down her legs and into her back.

“There are no days when I’m not in discomfort,” Gellart said. “There are days when it’s a much milder sensation, but then there are days, and everyone has them, when I can’t do it, where I can barely get out of bed. I’m in so much pain I just need a break.”

Gellert has found comfort in making jewelry by beading bracelets. Each bracelet has one of four messages – Courage, Fearless, Strength or Be Your Own Hero. She was encouraged by family and friends to turn the effort into a business, which she did in 2020.

Gellert has been donating a portion of each month’s proceeds to a designated charity. From her beading at the hospital last summer, she donated all $7,000 she earned to the Children’s Specialized Hospital’s Pediatric Chronic Pain Program.

Bentley said that Gellert channeling her energies and focus on helping others has been an outstanding outlet, which has helped effectively connect her to her treatment. The hospital is grateful for her generosity, Bentley said.

“Zoe used that connection in such a great, bright, helpful way, which we would encourage all kids to do because she was able to do something for the world because of this,” Bently said.

The public can visit Gellert’s jewelry-making endeavors at or at on Instagram.

Editor’s Note: In the original posting of this story, the name of the program that Zoe Gellert attended was misidentified. Its correct name is the Pediatric Chronic Pain Program. Also, last summer was Geller’s first visit to the Children’s Specialized Hospital; she was hospitalized elsewhere in 2016.

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