For immediate release
Contact: Emily Lemiska
Middletown, Conn. (Feb. 4, 2020)—Ernie Merritt, a resident of Saco and lifelong Mainer, is the 2019 Joselynn Badman Ambassador of the Year for the U.S. Pain Foundation, the leading nonprofit organization for people with chronic pain. The annual award is named for the late Joselynn Badman, an inspirational volunteer who lost her battle with pain in 2015.
“It was a difficult choice this year, and we had many qualified nominees,” says Nicole Hemmenway, interim CEO of U.S. Pain Foundation. “But Ernie’s long-time efforts to provide support and raise awareness for fellow chronic pain patients made him a clear choice. Beyond his dedication to the pain community, Ernie is simply an upstanding individual–his kindness and generosity despite his pain is an inspiration to us all.”
A military veteran, Merritt lives with back pain as the result of working as a pipefitter in the cramped hull of a ship. In 1996, at 33 years old, Merritt went to stand up after working all day in a confined space, and realized something was wrong with his back—he couldn’t stand up straight.
This precipitated a cascade of back surgeries, including disc removals and fusion procedures, but nothing really helped. Eventually, he was given a corset-like brace. Merritt, now 55, wears the brace daily to help him stand upright and move around, albeit painfully.
At the beginning of his pain diagnosis, Merritt struggled to cope. “I was not in the right mindset to make decisions about anything. I was lost. I was losing control of my life, and trying to control everything around me because I could no longer control my health.”
After several years of trying to find a new purpose, Merritt was introduced to a local chronic pain support group through his church. It was there that he began to build himself back up. “It was the first time I shared my pain and suffering,” he says. “It opened my eyes to beginning the process of building back my self-worth.”
Today, Merritt leads this long-time chronic pain support group, which is located in Old Orchard Beach. He also recently began collaborating with University of New England medical students to provide them an in-depth understanding of chronic pain from the patient perspective. In September, he obtained proclamations from the Maine governor recognizing Pain Awareness Month and recognizing substance use disorder awareness.
Although Merritt is shy by nature, he knows that sharing his story is vital to helping others. He was featured in U.S. Pain Foundation’s most recent INvisible Project magazine on chronic low back pain and osteoarthritis, which was published last fall, as well as its Pain Awareness Month video story initiative. You can read his INvisible Project story here and check out his video here.
Chronic pain has changed Merritt’s life, but he says, in some ways, it’s for the better. “It has given me the courage to stand up and talk to someone that I would never would have before, especially lawmakers,” he says. “I have become a much stronger person, driven to make a difference because of my chronic pain. I would not wish this pain on anyone, but I am proud of the individual I have become as a result.”
When he’s not advocating for people with pain, Merritt spends his time wood-working—specifically, making beautiful custom canes. He gives his work to charities and auctions to try to raise awareness for different conditions.
To learn more about the U.S. Pain Foundation or the Ambassador of the Year Award, visit https://uspainfoundation.org/.