When Cristyan Warner was eased into the hot tub for the first time, he began to feel constant pain lessen. It has been four months of suffering, questions, and fear.
“It was the first time I’d seen him smile on months,” his mother Ally Warner says. “This has been physically and mentally devastating for him.”
Cristyan went from local high-school athlete to bed-ridden teen overnight. On September 20, 2022, he woke up in such pain that it hurt to move. He couldn’t get through a school day.
The pain intensified. Many doctor visits and tests later—even involving University of Michigan Hospital, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Mott Children’s Hospital—Cristyan was diagnosed with Avascular Necrosis. Interruption or reduced blood supply causes the condition, which results in death of bone tissue and collapsing bones.
In Cristyan’s case, the disease impacted his femurs. In February, he underwent an extensive surgery at DeVos to place cadaver bone graphs in hopes that the new stem cells would improve his incurable condition. He is now amid 90 days of being non-weight baring, wheelchair bound. Still, there’s great pain. And because of his youth and the addictive nature of narcotic pain medications, doctors are avoiding their use.
Through a referral from Carol Francis, a health department nurse working with Cristyan’s younger sister, Ally and Ben Warner became part of HDNW’s Community Connections program. Jodi Mundy became the family’s community health worker tasked to help connect the family to area resources. She discovered that Cristyan’s physician from Mott had prescribed hot tub use to alleviate pain and allow weightless movement.
Insurance would not pick up the cause—or cost. So, Mundy did. She prepared a letter to the community asking for support to purchase a hot tub and have it installed at the family’s Emmet County home. With his younger sister suffering from an immune disease, public hot tubs could not be considered.
“From this diagnosis, Cristyan experiences chronic pain,” Mundy wrote. “This is a lifelong diagnosis.”
She also reached out to the owner of Luxury Bath and Spa Bob Reed to check on the cost of a hot tub and whether he could help with a discount. Bob offered to match community contributions up to $4,000, meaning that his Petoskey-based business would cover 50% of the hut tub’s cost.
Donations came pouring in. Within 10 days, Mundy reached the $4,000 goal. Money came in from the Warners’ friends and employer, as well as area businesses and churches. Reed already had the installation plan in place, and the hot tub is now operational on the family’s back deck.
“He just lives in it,” Ally says. “When he gets in, his pain level will drop from a seven to a four within an hour. It increases his range of motion. He’s able to ride a pretend bicycle and does other exercises while weightless—in hopes of saving at least one of his hips.”
In May, Cristyan will carefully—with doctor supervision—try to stand, testing to see if the bone grafts “took.” If not, he’ll be headed for hip replacement surgery.
While there’s a long road ahead, the Warners find some comfort in knowing that they’re not on the journey alone. Their Northwest Michigan family is offering its own kind of strength and support.