Mavrides-Calderon (11) turns pain into power


Emily Salzhauer, Staff Writer

This summer, Isabel Mavrides-Calderon (10) started a movement called Turn Pain Into Power, which advocates for people with rare disabilities and chronic pain like herself. “I think that it’s really important to empower people with chronic pain and show them that it’s not a weakness,” she said. She has been publishing her own articles and using Instagram to publicize her message. 

Mavrides-Calderon’s desire to advocate began in 2016, when she suffered from a back injury while practicing gymnastics. She has been coping with chronic pain ever since, she said. In 2019 she had spinal fusion surgery, but her condition did not improve. After the surgery, Mavrides-Calderon was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a genetic mutation that affects the collagen gene.

After her diagnosis, Mavrides-Calderon experienced ableism — discrimination against those with disabilites — firsthand while at the grocery store with her mother. “As we left, the cashier screamed at me and called me an entitled, lazy teen for not helping my mom,” she said. “In reality, I couldn’t bend or carry heavy things because I had just had surgery. People shouldn’t assume that they know the reason why someone is or isn’t doing something.”

To spread her message, Mavrides-Calderon created the Instagram account @powerfullyisa. “I try to post educational posts about how people should treat people with disabilities and how people can make their world more accessible,” she said. “The whole premise of the account is to give able-bodied people and disabled people ways they can make the world a more accessible and inclusive place.” 

On her Instagram, Mavrides-Calderon educates others about the stigma surrounding chronic pain for women, she said. According to a survey conducted done by the National Pain Record, 90% of women with chronic pain say the healthcare system has discriminated against them because of their gender, Mavrides-Calderon wrote on @powerfullyisa. “A lot of times when women complain about pain, they are told that they are hysterical or they are overreacting,” she said. 

Mavrides-Calderon has also been featured on the WEGO Health Foundation, Fight Like A Warrior, and Femme and Focus, all of which are groups that promote awareness for people with chronic pain and disabilities. Mavrides-Calderon said she enjoyed being interviewed by these organizations because it gave her an opportunity to share her message with many viewers.

One way members of the school can help support her cause is by examining their behavior and language to see if it is unintentionally ableist, Mavrides-Calderon said. Self-reflection is especially important because many people do not realize that they are playing into ableism, she said.