Robert Fortier

Bob Fortier of Hilton Head Island has suffered from chronic pain for more than 20 years. After looking for a support group and realizing there were none within hundreds of miles, he decided to start one.

The 71-year-old retired engineer said the pain started when the disc between his L4 and L5 vertebrae burst. Fortier said a spinal disc is similar to a baseball in that its outer layers consist of a leather-like material and the nucleus in the middle is soft.

“In my case, I wore through all of the layers of leather,” Fortier said. “In a singular moment – I was actually putting my socks on – the last layer went, and the nucleus came out, and extruded up and down my spine. And, of course, I hit the deck.”

Fortier said when you have a catastrophic failure of a disc like he experienced, the whole structural system fails over time. Now he also has diagnoses of complex regional pain syndrome and peripheral neuropathy.

If he hurts himself, the pain stays with him for a long time. For example, he had hip surgery a couple of years ago and the post-op pain has never left him.

Fortier said between 2000 and 2015, he had a spinal cord stimulator installed and tried most of the opiates that are on the market. Unfortunately, he had to keep increasing dosages and trying new medications because they just weren’t working.

In September 2020, he had a pain pump installed. The pump is filled with a mixture of morphine and fentanyl. Fortier sees his pain management doctor every four to six weeks, at which time the doctor uses a syringe to refill the pump. The relief so far is marginal, but it helps him sleep. He and his doctor are still working on finding the correct dosage. In the meantime, he continues to take oxycodone for pain.

About 15 years ago, Fortier was diagnosed with clinical depression. “That was a dark, lonely place to be,” he said. “And pain can bring you there.” Thankfully, Fortier was able to dig himself out of the darkness and began to get better.

Fortier knows he’s not the only one in the Lowcountry with chronic pain. He also knows he wants to share the knowledge he has gained along his journey and support others on theirs, while also bringing in experts to discuss the latest research and treatments.

Fortier received positive feedback after giving two presentations on chronic pain for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of South Carolina Beaufort.

A participant’s comment was a catalyst for him. “One woman in particular wrote, ‘I was in tears listening to you because you’re the first person who has validated my pain,’” Fortier said. “I just said, ‘I have to do this. I can’t sit around and complain that there’s no group here. If there’s no group here, get off your sorry butt and start one.’”

Fortier is now a certified support group facilitator for The American Chronic Pain Association. His new group, the Lowcountry Chronic Pain Support Group will meet via Zoom, at least in the beginning. He hopes to be able to host the first meeting in mid-May.

“Because I’ve had this 20-year journey and I’ve acquired, through experience and through study, a lot of information, it would be an utter waste of my efforts to keep that all to myself,” Fortier said. “It’s kind of like music – it’s to be shared. So I’m hoping that in sharing, other people can benefit from my journey. And I would feel utterly selfish if I didn’t do it.”

For more information on the group, contact Fortier at 843-290-7556 or

Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.