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Ron's Pain Management Story

by UPMC Susquehanna

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The pain burned from Pastor Ronald Bixler’s knees to his toes. It became unbearable. Ronald, 61, would sometimes lie on the couch, unsure what else to do.

Unable to get out and have fun, he felt bad for his wife, Lisa. He wondered how he could enjoy time visiting his active, 18-month-old granddaughter. While Ronald never missed a Sunday service, visiting congregation members became more difficult. The pain seemed to increase when he rested and woke him up at least eight times each night.

“I’m pretty tough,” says Ronald. “But this pain literally stopped me in my tracks.”

According to the Institute of Medicine, chronic pain affects more than 100 million Americans—more than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. Ronald’s pain was a lingering effect of multiple surgeries following a car wreck 20 years ago plus peripheral neuropathy from diabetes. While pain medication helped a little, it created other difficulties, such as constipation and moodiness. Stories in the news about opioid addiction and overdoses made Ronald concerned about their long-term impact. So when Lisa, a secretary at Williamsport Regional Medical Center, suggested he try the Pain Management Center, he was ready.

Turning to Technology

Ronald met with Dr. Rohit Singh, who first tried nerve block injections. When those weren’t successful, Dr. Singh suggested neurostimulator therapy. If Ronald responded well to a one-week trial, he could have a generator implanted.

Neurostimulation works similarly to a pacemaker for the heart. Two small electrical leads (wires) implanted under the skin and above the spinal cord deliver mild electrical impulses. This spinal cord stimulation interrupts pain signals traveling to the brain and creates a pleasant, gentle tingling that replaces the feeling of pain in the back or legs.

To activate the electrical pulses with the generator, which was taped to Ronald’s back for the trial, he uses a handheld device about the size of an iPad with Bluetooth technology. That same technology enables medical professionals to program and adjust a patient’s therapy. The technology continues to improve, and now there are models that do not need to be recharged and can be upgraded remotely.

“This treatment involves technology that has existed for nearly 40 years and is widely used in Europe,” says Dr. Singh. “Improvements over the years are making it a more popular option, especially as doctors and patients are looking for alternatives to narcotic pain medicine.” The technology is FDA-approved and covered by most insurance plans.

The trial went well, and the Pain Management Clinic arranged for Ronald to go to Hershey Medical Center to have a neurostimulator implanted in a same-day, outpatient surgical procedure. The results were immediate, with 75 to 90 percent relief.

“What was really neat was Dr. Singh’s joy to see me being helped. He was so pleased and so excited that I was feeling better. I really felt that he cared.”

“Several congregation members noticed the difference right away and commented that I looked more relaxed. I feel such a relief from my pain,” says Ronald. “What was really neat was Dr. Singh’s joy to see me being helped. He was so pleased and so excited that I was feeling better. I really felt that he cared.”

A Pain-Free Future

Ronald activates the stimulator at least once every day. He will continue to follow up with Dr. Singh to ensure the neurostimulator is working properly. As with a pacemaker, he will need a procedure in about five years to replace batteries in the generator. While the implantation is completely reversible, Ronald can plan to keep the neurostimulator for the rest of his life.

“My patients are having excellent results,” says Dr. Singh. “They enjoy a better quality of life with no restrictions for driving or working. Even underlying conditions like diabetes are shown to settle down with this type of therapy, so it has a positive overall effect.”

Patients need to meet certain requirements for the neurostimulator. The treatment is being used for a variety of conditions, including chronic back pain, peripheral neuropathy and complex regional pain syndrome (reflex neurovascular dystrophy).

Ronald is working with UPMC Susquehanna foot care specialist Dr. Steven Hawley to address some diabetes-related complications. Once he is fully recovered, his plans include taking walks with his wife, mowing the lawn and visiting his congregation members. Most importantly, he’s looking forward to traveling with his wife to Tennessee to visit their granddaughter—a visit he’ll be able to enjoy now that his pain is under control.

Say Goodbye to Pain

The Pain Management Center has your pain management needs covered from head to foot. To learn how we can help you, please call (570) 326-8457.