New spinal cord stimulator implant provides relief for chronic pain sufferer

Posted Thursday, May. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Years of chronic back and leg pain took more than just Wes Woodworth’s career in the U.S. Navy.

The high levels of pain medication Woodworth relied upon to function left him lethargic and his memory fuzzy. He instantly forgot conversations with his wife. Walking could be a struggle.

Even with medication, the intense daily pain the 37-year-old man experienced kept him from enjoying routine activities with his family and forced him back into bed.

“I walked around like a zombie. I was so doped up on pain meds,” said Woodworth.

After scores of doctors and several surgeries failed to fix the nerve damage causing his pain, Woodworth finally found lasting relief this spring through Dr. Vivek Mehta, a pain management physician on staff at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital.

In April, Woodworth became Mehta’s first patient to receive a Precision Spectra spinal cord stimulator implant, a surgically implanted device that controls nerve pain through electrical impulses. Mehta is among the first physicians in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and one of only a handful in the country using this latest technology to help patients manage their chronic pain.

“He said I had been in pain long enough and he was going to fix it. There’s nothing I can ever do to repay him for what he’s done. It was life changing,” said Woodworth, who said he now has the energy to walk and exercise and help his wife Debi more with her custom mosaic table business.

New, improved model

An estimated 100 million American adults live with chronic pain, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine. For the past 10 years, Mehta said he has treated hundreds of patients with spinal cord implant stimulators, which have been available since the 1970s.

The new models, however, have double the number of lead wire contacts – 32 instead of 16. Those wires are implanted underneath the skin along the patient’s spine through a minimally invasive procedure in locations that specifically address the patient’s pain.

The attached stimulator, implanted near the patient’s hip, also features more sophisticated programming than the older models, Mehta said.

Using a wireless, hand-held remote, patients can control the intensity of the electrical pulses to mask the pain in their back or upper or lower extremities that has been caused by trauma, injuries or prior surgeries. Mehta said.

“This is the cutting edge of pain management,” Mehta said. “It is replacing the painful sensation completely with a gentle, massaging, vibrating sensation.”

Sick of pills

After four surgeries on his right leg last fall, Woodworth was walking hunched over in pain when he first turned to Mehta for help last December.

During the visit, Debi Woodworth spotted a model of the Precision Spectra in a display case and asked if Mehta if the device could bring the long-lasting relief they were seeking.

“Everyone wanted to give him pills. He was sick of it,” Mehta said. “When I told him there were other options, he and his wife started crying.”

Since the procedure, Woodworth said he has been able to work in the yard with his father for the first time in years and enjoy a fishing trip with his brother, even beating him to the water’s edge with his fishing pole and tackle box.

In the past, he would have required help walking along the rocky shore.

Mehta said the device, which can last 10 years or longer, will eventually allow Woodworth to be weaned off all of his pain medications.

“It’s completely removing his pain and giving him quality of life,” Mehta said. “He’s a veteran. He deserves better than this.”

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock

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