The following story tells of the experience of one person, who is receiving Medtronic intrathecal therapy for the treatment of severe abdominal pain. As you read it, please bear in mind that the experiences are specific to this particular person. Results vary. Not every response is the same.
"Nobody should have to go through what I did," says Alison of East Northport, N.Y. "Pain encompassed my whole life."
Although she never would have chosen the role, 37-year-old Alison -- a nurse and mother of three children -- became a firsthand expert on pain. Her experience began on a snowy hill one day in 1977, when she was 16 years old. Her toboggan collided with a tree, resulting in a ruptured spleen and emergency surgery. The operation to remove Alison's damaged spleen proved to be just the beginning of a long cycle of chronic, debilitating pain.
Due to scar tissue - adhesions that form in the body after surgery - Alison suffered with bouts of severe abdominal pain for 15 years. She underwent more than 10 surgeries and other treatments to relieve the pain, including oral medications and nerve blocks. Most treatments worked temporarily - but her intense pain always returned.
Alison consulted with various physicians, some of whom told her the pain from the scar tissue was imaginary. She felt hopeless and considered suicide.
"All I could think about was getting through the pain," Alison says. "It was very rough on the whole family."
In the spring of 1996, a physician specializing in pain management told Alison about Medtronic intrathecal pain therapy. Intrathecal pain therapy uses a small pump that is surgically placed under the skin of the abdomen to deliver morphine directly into the intrathecal space (where fluid flows around the spinal cord). The medication is delivered through a small, soft tube called a catheter that is also surgically placed.
The spinal cord is like a highway for pain signals on their way to the brain, where the feeling of pain is experienced by the body. Because Medtronic intrathecal pain therapy delivers medication directly to where pain signals trave, pain can often be dramatically controlled, with only a fraction of the dose required with oral medications. This helps reduce side effects.
In May 1996, one month after a successful screening test, Alison underwent surgery to begin Medtronic intrathecal pain therapy. She experienced no complications and went home the day following the procedure.
"Today my life is a total turnaround," Alison says. "My pain is gone, and I'm doing what I love to do. I take care of my house and three children, I coach two soccer teams, and I love being able to go out and have fun again. I've ridden roller coasters, and I've even been back on a sled!"
Alison occasionally experiences a minor, dull ache in her abdomen, which she takes care of with naproxen sodium tablets (Aleve) available without a prescription. She has experienced no side effects from the therapy; however, they can happen. For example, because the pump and the catheter are surgically placed, surgical complications such as infections are possible. The catheter could become dislodged or blocked, or in rare cases, the pump could stop working. This could cause a reduction in or loss of pain relief and may require surgery to correct. Drug-related side effects also can occur. They may include itching, urinary retention, and constipation.
Alison hopes to return to work - using her nursing background to help other patients with pain. Her plans include starting a pain support group with the help of her doctor.
"My fourth-grader said to me, "Ma, you're doing everything you want. You're not lying in bed anymore," Alison said. "He's right. My child is not taking care of me. I take care of things myself. I'm living life on my terms."
As you read this, please bear in mind that Alison's experience is specific to her. Results vary; not every response to therapy is the same.