In 1996, Wendy was 26 years old. She was passionate about rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, swimming, and skiing. “I was constantly moving,” Wendy recalls.
Then came the accident. While downhill skiing, Wendy took a bad fall, fracturing her left ankle. The fracture developed into neuroma and led to complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).
Each day, Wendy endured throbbing pain in her ankle. She could no longer walk easily. Anxiety and depression set in. Headaches and sleeplessness followed. Her job and college classes suffered.
“The pain turned me from a very outward person to a very inward person,” she says. “I felt hopeless, helpless, and scared that this was how the rest of my life would be.”
Wendy’s healthcare team tried a number of different therapies to relieve the pain, including medications, surgery, acupressure, spinal blocks, cortisone, and a TENS unit.
“Nothing worked,” Wendy says. “I was concerned about becoming dependent on the pain pills. More than anything, I wanted to function like a normal, healthy person.”
Wendy was referred to a pain-management specialist who told her about neurostimulation for chronic pain. The first step to determine if the therapy would work for Wendy was an outpatient screening test. Wendy was equipped with a temporary, external neurostimulator for 7 days.
“The screening test was like an unbelievable ray of sunshine,” Wendy says. “I got home in the afternoon, and that night I took just one pain pill. The next morning I got out of bed and started walking and it didn’t hurt! It was the first time in years!”
Days later, in August 2003, Wendy had surgery to implant the neurostimulator.
Prior to the surgery, Wendy’s physician discussed the surgical risks, including but not limited to anesthesia complications, infection, and epidural hemorrhage.
Fortunately, Wendy did not experience any complications. However, due to Wendy’s high-power demand (she keeps the device on all day long, every day), she has had to replace the device twice. The first time was in 2004, and again when she received a rechargeable device in 2005.
Wendy knows that an undesirable change in stimulation, described by some people as “uncomfortable,” may occur, although it’s uncommon. Others have experienced paralysis, erosion of the skin over the implant site, hardware malfunction or lead migration, and loss of pain relief.
Since the procedure, Wendy has begun regaining elements of her active lifestyle. She sleeps at night. She visits with friends. She has finished school and has a job. She goes hiking and biking.
“There are some things – like skiing – that I may not be able to do again because the injury to the ankle may never be fully healed,” Wendy explains. “But neurostimulation gives me 80% relief of my pain.”
“It’s amazing how much my sense of humor has returned,” Wendy continues. “It’s great to know that there are ways to lessen my pain.”
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.