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Woman Finds Relief From Debilitating Pain With Implantable Device

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Nan Nelson poses outdoors on a sunny day

As a psychiatrist, Nan Nelson knows about pain. She sees it in her patients. She treats it. And as a patient herself, she feels it. It all began with a fall in 2015 that resulted in a dislocated elbow and surgery, leaving Nan with severe neuropathy in her arm and hand. Her struggles were exacerbated by a second injury to her left arm three years later that left her unable to use either arm. Learning to live with the pain was a challenge that impacted every part of her life. She wondered if her days of treating others were coming to an end.

“My hands buzzed and bothered me. You know, like when your hand is ‘asleep,’” Nan said. “I lived in fear. Any activity – picking up charts, writing prescriptions, using a computer, and everyday personal activities – I was hopeless, helpless, sad, and losing my faith in medicine. I didn’t want to live on pain medicines. I wanted to help others, but I couldn’t help myself.”

Nan says she felt useless and had to rely on her children for everything. Nan tried everything she could to help with the pain, but nothing worked. Wanting to find a solution that was right for her, she visited Dr. Michael Schaefer, division chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at University Hospitals. Dr. Schaefer introduced Nan to a small implantable pain management device called the Bioventus StimRouter.

“A low intensity nerve stimulus is delivered through the skin to a small wire then directly to a nerve. This decreases pain by blocking the portion of the nerve that carries signals back to the central nervous system,” said Dr. Schaefer. “It interrupts transmission of the nerve signal and inhibits nerve sensation in the spinal cord, basically confusing the nervous system.”

A Remarkable Decrease in Pain

Nan experienced a dramatic response – 75 percent pain relief. She describes the sensation as a buzz that stimulates the area next to the nerve so that her brain doesn’t focus on the pain. She now has a stimulator in her other arm that also had nerve damage.

“The router makes the pain tolerable. I need to be able to live. I’m irritable and it’s hard to find quality of life without it,” Nan said.

The Bioventus StimRouter helps treat post-stroke shoulder pain, diabetic neuropathy, post-amputation neuropathy, and other peripheral nerve pain related to surgery and trauma. Dr. Schaefer says these all result in nerve pain that doesn’t respond well to narcotics treatment.

“Nerve pain in general is difficult because it can be very intense – electric shooting, squeezing and cramping. And it often is more chronic because the tissue isn’t soft. It’s hard to heal and tends to be unpredictable at rest and with movement. This leads to a vicious cycle of pain, interrupted sleep, and difficulty coping,” said Dr. Schaefer. “Nan had an exceptional outcome.”

Nan calls it a Godsend: “Truly. Dr. Schaefer is warm and kind and generous. He really listens, and he’s not going to judge and say you’re making this up. I’m so thankful.”

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