Spinal Cord Stimulators and Paralysis: This Should Not Happen
Today’s Wall Street Journal (4-16-14) contains a disturbing medical report. The article is titled, “When Spine Implants Cause Paralysis, Who is to Blame?”
Spinal cord stimulators are used to relieve back pain. Typically, a surgeon places electrodes along the spine. Extension wires run from the electrodes to a pulse generator which sends low currents of electricity through the wires to the electrodes. The companies which manufactuer the stimulators (Medtronic, Boston Scientific, and St. Jude Medical) believe the stimulation distracts the brain from fully recognizing pain signals sent from the spine. This gizmo isn’t cheap, costing $20,000 to $60,000.
Here is the problem: The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) database contains 58 reports of patient paralysis since 2013, with 48 such reports in 2012. The article goes on to report that a Duke University Medical Center study found that nearly 1 out of every 100 spinal stimulator patients experienced some degree of spinal cord or spinal nerve root damage.
The WSJ article indicates that doctors who implant the stimulators may be the problem: poor physician awareness of the risks of operating near the spinal cord and the lack of surgical guidelines for the procedure.
My Take: As many as 50,000 patients a year in the U.S. may recieve spinal cord stimulators. If you are one of those patients, you have a right to know what training and experience your doctor has with the implantation of these devices BEFORE you allow them to operate on you.