Spinal Cord Stimulation
When Ginny started working as a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital in the early 1960s, she found herself part of a team around a neurosurgeon named Frank Mayfield.
"My dream job was to work on the neuro floor at Good Sam," recalls Ginny, now 79. "I was fascinated with the brain and spinal cord and all the problems that could arise. Dr. Mayfield was always a willing teacher."
Dr. Mayfield, of course, is the founder of Mayfield Brain & Spine, the region's leading neurosurgery practice. That's where Ginny found herself in January after six months of intense pain in her sacroiliac joint, which connects the hip to the sacrum. She was being deprived of her beloved gardening and other things she enjoyed. Even physical therapy didn't help much.
In an attempt to relieve the pain, Ginny tried several steroid injections from another physician. In the final days of 2020, she received a trial spinal cord stimulator and responded well. That's when she was referred to Mayfield neurosurgeon George Mandybur, MD, to implant a long-term stimulator.
"I was glad, because I wasn't going to have anyone else do this but Mayfield," she says. "Without Mayfield, I wouldn't have the quality of life that I have. I had all the confidence in the world that would happen."
In late January, Dr. Mandybur implanted the spinal cord stimulator in Ginny's spine at the Mayfield Spine Surgery Center in Norwood. A small device, about the size of a small cookie, delivers electrical pulses to the spinal cord, masking pain signals before they reach the brain. It is used most often to help patients after conservative therapies have failed and who would not benefit from additional surgery. Ginny said the relief has been immediate and consistent, allowing her to do the things she loves to do, from quilting to working in the garden.
"I felt that was probably my best option after other things had failed to give me lasting relief," Ginny says. "It does feel very liberating. I can do things I couldn't do a few months ago. I can stand and I can cook and I can quilt. That all was very uncomfortable before."
Neurosurgeons have used spinal cord stimulation for decades, but recent advances produce faster and more efficient technology – up to 10,000 beats per second, Dr. Mandybur said. The stimulator jams pain signals from going to the brain, providing relief for the patient while not exposing them to the risks of further surgery. It is implanted in the spine to stimulate the spinal cord, with a battery implanted under the skin, similar to a pacemaker.
"When you can't repair the nerve, what we end up doing is blocking the signal so the patient feels less pain," Dr. Mandybur says.
Patients who are not good candidates for surgery for one reason or another often can benefit from a spinal cord stimulator, Dr. Mandybur says. In Ginny's case, she was no stranger to back pain and treatment. She already had undergone multilevel lumbar fusion in 2018. The relief from the pain injections didn't last. She told Dr. Mandybur that her pain typically worsened as the day progressed and was worse with standing or physical activity. Ginny said the stimulator has provided instant relief. She also said it sustains her faith in Mayfield that started more than four decades ago.
"Today, I'm able to enjoy family activities with my husband and do the things I love to do," Ginny says. "I think Dr. Mayfield would be very proud of the institution he founded."
~ Cliff Peale
Hope Story Disclaimer -"Ginny's Story" is about one patient's health-care experience. Please bear in mind that because every patient is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Results are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.