Stimulated Relief

Implanted device halts back and leg pain.

During Victoria Wrobel’s lifetime, she’s had three back surgeries and four procedures to open her skull and expose her brain. She’s very accustomed to doctors and hospitals – and to pain. The back surgeries were performed to alleviate disabling pain caused by overuse, but they failed to bring Victoria lasting relief.

Dr. Maulik Bhalani of Florida Pain Medicine in Brandon treated Victoria Wrobel’s lower back and radiating leg pain with spinal cord stimulation.

can bend at
the waist without
pain thanks to her
spinal cord stimulator

“I’ve had lower back pain for a long time,” Victoria offers. “It’s been going on for close to thirty years. I tend to do things I shouldn’t do to my back, like lift hundred-pound boulders with a board to make a terrace in my backyard. Most of those years, I just lived with the pain.”

Over time, Victoria’s back condition deteriorated until she could no longer live with it. It was then she began her treatment odyssey that included the three failed back surgeries. After that, Victoria coped with the pain for a while, but an incident in 2016 initiated a downward spiral that forced her to seek major treatment again.

“In May of that year, my husband and I visited our son in Atlanta, which is a seven-hour drive,” Victoria describes. “I had our eleven-pound poodle on my lap the whole trip, so I was sort of crunched the entire ride. My husband just had surgery and wasn’t allowed to lift anything, so I lifted the suitcases and put them in the car.

“By the time we got home, I couldn’t put any weight on my right leg. Horrible pain shot from my spine down my leg all the way to my toes, and my toes actually curled. It was intense.”

The spiral continued, and by the end of 2016, Victoria’s back and leg pain became disabling. She finally reached her tipping point.

“I was really having problems with my right side,” she relates. “I had to use a cane to walk. I couldn’t bend over to put on my socks. I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t put my leg on the brake quick enough to stop. I couldn’t even get into bed and position myself. My husband had to help me cook because I couldn’t stand very long. We were supposed to go on a cruise for our fiftieth anniversary but had to cancel because I couldn’t walk.

“I was taking oxycodone for the pain and was up to four or five pills a day. I told my husband I couldn’t go on living this way. I couldn’t stand not being independent, having to rely on him to drive me everywhere. I didn’t want to live on opioids for the rest of my life just to sit in a chair without pain.”

While talking with a neighbor about her back issue, Victoria learned how the neighbor’s doctor worked wonders for her. The neighbor recommended Maulik Bhalani, MD, a board-certified interventional pain management specialist at Florida Pain Medicine. In January 2017, Victoria made an appointment at Florida Pain Medicine.

Dr. Bhalani’s initial suggestion was to treat Victoria’s pain with epidural steroid injections, which brought her only temporary relief. He and Victoria agreed that the injections weren’t the best treatment option for her. Dr. Bhalani, however, had an idea for long-term pain relief.

“At that point, Dr. Bhalani suggested that a spinal cord stimulator might be the answer to my pain,” notes Victoria. “With a stimulator, the doctor would implant a device somewhere in my back and connect wires to my spine, then the signals of pain to my brain would be deleted.”

Pacemaker for Nerves

Spinal cord stimulation is an excellent therapy for patients with many types of pain, notes Dr. Bhalani. In addition to severe back pain, stimulation is useful for neuropathic pain, residual pain from back surgery, pain from shingles and postherpetic neuralgia, and pain from complex regional pain syndrome.

“Spinal cord stimulation is like a pacemaker for the spinal nerves,” Dr. Bhalani explains. “Just like a pacemaker for the heart changes the signals within the heart so that it beats more effectively, spinal cord stimulation changes the signals from the nerves to the brain.

“The stimulator intercepts pain signals at the level of the spinal cord and changes them before they are sent to the brain. Instead of the sensation of pain, the brain returns signals of a soothing, vibrating, massaging sensation so patients no longer feel pain. There are even models of stimulators capable of turning off the pain signals completely.”

One of the benefits of spinal cord stimulation is that patients go through a trial period before the permanent stimulator is implanted. This is done to determine how much relief the stimulator will provide before the patient undergoes implantation surgery.

“One of the beautiful things about spinal cord stimulation is that patients get to try it before they buy it,” verifies Dr. Bhalani. “With spinal cord stimulation, patients get a trial for five to seven days during which the stimulator is external, not implanted.

“If the trial helps the patient with their pain, they go to the permanent spinal cord stimulator that is surgically implanted. The trial is like test driving a car, but instead, it’s test driving a medical procedure.”

Dr. Bhalani and all of the physicians at Florida Pain Medicine are specially trained in spinal cord stimulation therapy.   

Working Through It

The spinal cord stimulator Dr. Bhalani implanted in Victoria’s back is located about waist high. It’s situated so that it doesn’t touch ribs or hip bones. It’s small enough that no one can tell it’s there. Victoria can tell it’s there because it’s eliminating her back and leg pain.

“The spinal cord stimulator is phenomenal,” Victoria marvels. “I still have some residual discomfort from the three back surgeries, but the pain going down my right leg to my toes has totally disappeared.”

This pain relief has enabled Victoria to significantly reduce the amount of opioid pain medication she takes. It also allows her to get back to the everyday activities she was forced to abandon.

“Since I got the stimulator, I’m walking more without the cane,” she reports. “I can drive again. I can stand in my kitchen and make dinner. And I mean big dinners with hours on my feet. I wouldn’t be able to do that without the stimulator.

“I can also do some basic work around the house. I can now do laundry and reach into the washing machine and dryer, pick up all the clothes and fold them. I couldn’t do those things before. I had to sit down on the couch, and my husband would bring the laundry to me.”

Victoria has dealt with nearly every type of physician during her life. She says Dr. Bhalani stands out from the crowd.

“Dr. Bhalani is a very gentle individual, and he really cares for his patients,” she states. “Whenever he comes into the room for an appointment, he answers all of my questions. And he came up with the right procedure to treat my pain.

“I highly recommend Dr. Bhalani and Florida Pain Medicine.”

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    • Florida Pain Medicine

      At Florida Pain Medicine, your interventional pain and diagnoses experts, their mission is to help you “RESTORE FUNCTION & RELIVE LIFE.” Florida Pain Medicine offers complete, compassionate, and comprehensive pain care. They provide the la... Read More

    • Maulik Bhalani, MD

      Maulik Bhalani, MD, is the founder and CEO of Florida Pain Medicine. He earned a Bachelor’s degree at Creighton University in Omaha, NE, and medical degree at Creighton University School of Medicine. Dr. Bhalani completed a residency in anesthe... Read More

    • Stephanie Epting, DO

      Stephanie Epting, DO, graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology and completed her medical degree at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed her residency at the New York Univ... Read More