Pacemaker stops chronic pain

Neurosurgeon keeps patient awake during surgery to pinpoint pain

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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DENVER, Co. - We are all familiar with pacemakers for the heart, but the devices are also used for a variety of health problems.  Pacemakers for pain have been around for decades with limited success, but some patients are finding relief, if they are willing to be awake during part of the surgery.

"It was like a stabbing pain that just would never go away," said Ashlee Lipinski.

"There was so much pain. It was just debilitating," said Ashlee's mom, Kim Lipinski.

Mother and daughter were both suffering with chronic pain.

Neurosurgeon Dr, Giancarlo Barolat,, with Presbyterian/Saint Luke's Medical Center, is a pioneer in using pacemakers to help control chronic pain. Barolat has perfected the science of testing the devices while the patient is awake during surgery, so they can tell him exactly where the pain is coming from.

"They can tell me very precisely where they feel the pain and whether they feel the stimulation," said Barolat.

He implanted the pacemakers of Kim and her daughter Ashlee.

"I did not remember it what so ever," Kim said.

An electrode is implanted on the nerves, or spinal cord, in an area strategically designated to relieve the pain. The electricity that passes through the electrode is generated by a pacemaker implanted under the skin. 

The patient can adjust the electrical impulses with a remote control.

"I would say mine is 90 percent successful," Kim explained.

The procedure does not cure pain, but has a 50 to 75 percent chance of providing relief and that's enough for Kim and Ashlee.

Barolat says the pacemaker for pain can also help people with chronic headaches and back pain who have not responded to conventional treatments.

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