This story recounts the experience of a patient who is receiving Medtronic neurostimulation therapy (also known as spinal cord stimulation) for the treatment of chronic pain. Medtronic invited him/her to share his/her story candidly. Please bear in mind that the experiences are specific to this particular person.
In 1995, Grace was serving in the Air National Guard. One afternoon, while preparing for an inspection, she was moving equipment when she strained her back. Barely able walk, she learned she had a herniated disc, high grade stenosis, and spondylothesis.
Multiple surgeries, including a fusion, followed. Unfortunately Grace still had pain and spasms after back surgery. She was diagnosed with failed back syndrome. “I had paralyzing pain in my back,” Grace recalls. “It was like a domino effect in that it started in my lower back and then spread to my neck, down to my hips, and into my legs and feet.”
Grace was medically discharged from the Air National Guard, gave up her profession as an English instructor, and stopped working on her Master’s degree. She stopped playing softball and coaching her children’s Little League teams. Her pain fluctuated between 7 and 10 on the pain scale.
“My life just stopped for 12 years,” she says. “I couldn’t clean my house, do the laundry, or even get groceries by myself. My husband had to help me with everything. I was depressed and angry during those years.”
To control her pain, Grace tried a TENS unit, acupuncture, muscle relaxers, physical therapy, trigger point injections, epidural injections, anti-inflammatories, and oral pain medications.
Grace’s doctor thought neurostimulation therapy from Medtronic might help her. She underwent a screening test to see if the therapy would help control her pain.
“It was amazing. When they turned on the neurostimulator, I could immediately feel the stimulation and I knew it would work for me,” she says.
In 2002, Grace had the neurostimulation system surgically placed. In 2007, Grace experienced a complication where her lead moved and it had to be replaced.
The neurostimulation implant is surgically placed under the skin. Surgical complications are possible and may include infection, pain at the site of surgery and bleeding into the epidural space. Once the neurostimulation system is implanted, device complications may occur and include corrective surgery, jolting, leads breaking, and movement of the leads within the epidural space, which may require reprogramming or surgical replacement of the leads. These events may result in uncomfortable stimulation or loss of therapy.
Today, Grace is an avid bicyclist and she teaches indoor cycling. “With the neurostimulator, I am able to increase my strength and be more active,” she says.
Most important, she is back to enjoying life with her family. She participates in her children’s athletics and her husband no longer has to care for her and handle all of the household tasks.
“We can have fun again and my family isn’t always feeling bad for me,” she says. “I may not have the life I used to, but it is an equally good and satisfying life. There is hope beyond the pain.”