By William K. Alcorn
Timothy Hartman of Boardman was the first in Ohio and one of the first in the nation to get relief from debilitating chronic pain with the help of motion-sensor technology used in smartphones and computer games.
The 44-year-old retired Army veteran had been in severe pain for years.
Nerve damage after surgery to repair two herniated discs in his spine caused pain starting in his lower back and shooting down through his buttocks and both legs.
The pain was of such intensity that it destroyed his ability to enjoy life and made him a regular visitor to emergency rooms to get shots to relieve the unrelenting misery.
Then he got relief and his life back via old technology with a new twist that harnesses motion-sensor technology.
Implants manually controlled by patients to interrupt pain signals to the brain have been around for many years, said Dr. Tracy L. Neuendorf, Hartman’s surgeon and medical director of Doctors Pain Clinic based in Boardman.
Hartman, who served in Iraq, gets pain relief, and convenience, from a new device, Medtronic’s AdaptiveStim/¢ with RestoreSensor/¢ neurostimulation system.
The new technology twist is that Medtronic’s device provides pain relief automatically by adapting stimulation levels to the needs of patients with chronic back and/or leg pain.
The device, likened to a heart pacemaker, was implanted in Hartman’s back. Wires from the device are connected to the spinal cord to block pain signals to the brain.
Implants to manage pain have been around for a long time, but had to be manually controlled by the patient, said Dr. Tracy L. Neuendorf, a board-certified interventional pain-management specialist and medical director of Doctors Pain Clinic based in Boardman.
With traditional neurostimulation systems, when a change in body position results in an increase or decrease in the intensity of stimulation as a patient’s spinal cord moves closer or further away from where the wires are connected, patients need to make frequent manual adjustments to their stimulation levels using a hand-held programmer, Dr. Neuendorf said.
The Medtronic system is initially programmed for six positions — upright, lying down on stomach or back, lying on both sides, and upward and mobile. After that, the device automatically adjusts for pain caused by other motions and positions and remembers the adjustment when next needed, the doctor said.
Hartman was the first patient in Ohio and one of the first dozen people in the nation to get the new motion-sensing technology.
The procedure, which costs about $30,000, was done Dec. 7, 2011, at St. Joseph Pain Management Center in Howland.
While it is expensive, Dr. Neuendorf said studies have shown the surgery pays for itself in 12 to 18 months because of the use of fewer medications and fewer visits to the hospital emergency room for pain treatment.
Doctors Pain Clinic only sees patients that are referred by a physician. Ideally, the patient has tried conservative treatments and traditional surgery and found they don’t work, said Dr. Neuendorf, who is also medical director of the St. Joseph Pain Management Center.
Before the implant, Hartman’s pain medications had progressed from Percocet starting in 2005 to OxyContin to morphine then Fentanyl, which is some 100 times more potent than morphine and very addictive.
Since the surgery, he said his pain medication use has decreased 50 percent.
He walks three times a day without significant pain. Before the implant, he said he was only able to walk a short time and distance. Now he can stay seated long enough to drive longer distances without great discomfort.
“I haven’t been back to the gym yet. That will be the ultimate test. The last time I went to the gym I ended up in emergency,” said Hartman, who said he was physically active before his back injury.
Hartman grew up in Boardman and graduated from Boardman High School in 1986. The father of two, John Hartman in Texas and Miranda Hartman in the Army, he retired from the Army in November 2007. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. Leo University in Florida and was attempting to finish his master’s degree in business administration at Tarleton State in Texas when the pain interfered.
“It’s very gratifying to get patients off their pain medications and see their personalities, changed because of the pain, get back to normal,” Dr. Neuendorf said.
Chronic pain is a disabling condition, he said.
“This new technology will help people enjoy the activities of daily living without having to worry about adjusting stimulation levels. This new system does it all for them,” the doctor said.
It is also a permanent implant.
A charger in the form of a belt that wraps around the body is used to recharge the battery about once a week, depending on use, through the skin. The battery needs to be surgically replaced every 10 years.
Patients vastly prefer the tingling sensation produced by the implant to the pain, the doctor said.
“I’m more mobile. I have gotten seven consecutive hours of sleep for the first time in years. I’ve cut my use of pain medications. It has changed my life,” Hartman said.