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Pain-free technology gives new hope to spinal surgery patients

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO St. Luke’s neurosurgeon Dr. Steven M. Falowski prepares to place the Prodigy neuro-stimulation unit into the spine. Falowski is one of the investigators for a clinical study using the unit to treat chronic pain, and St. Luke’s is one of 20 hospitals chosen by St. Jude Medical Inc. to participate in the study.

It may take a year, but one area health network has taken a key role in what is expected to be approval of a pain management method by the Food and Drug Administration.

It may take a year, but one area health network has taken a key role in what is expected to be approval of a pain management method by the Food and Drug Administration.

St. Luke’s University Health Network based in Bethlehem is halfway through a six-month clinical study that implants a neuro-stimulation device referred to as Burst into patients during spinal cord stimulation surgery.

The minimally invasive procedure is done to alleviate chronic pain that often is in a patient’s arms, legs or torso. It frequently may be associated with failed back surgery.

“Basically, we put an electrode on the spine. Normally, with this kind of surgery we stimulate nerves that are creating pain. So, patients would get a tingly sensation,” said Dr. Steven M. Falowski, a neurosurgeon at St. Luke’s who performs spinal cord surgery at the Bethlehem and Quakertown hospital locations. “With the new device, a patient gets the pain relief without the tingling or any other sensation.”

During the procedure, a small device with a Prodigy battery pack and thin wires is placed along the spinal cord. The treatment is used to halt transmission of pain signals to the brain.

Since the start of the study, Falowski said, he has implanted the new Prodigy device with the Burst therapy into five patients, and the mechanism is programmed to give them no sensation when pain occurs.

So far, those chronic pain patients have had their pain medicine cut in half or no longer have to take it. He expects to enroll five to 10 more people in the study before it wraps in a couple of months.

The neurosurgeon has been with St. Luke’s for four years and has been doing spinal surgery for 10 years. He explained that he does 150 spinal cord procedures a year. His experience is one of the biggest reasons that St. Luke’s was one of 20 hospitals selected nationwide to take part in this clinical study by medical device manufacturer St. Jude Medical Inc. of Texas.

Falowski, who works closely with Scott Loev, director of pain medicine at St. Luke’s Spine and Pain Associates, said Loev assists with qualification of patients. This includes a series of treatments, and not everyone qualifies.

However, patients with chronic pain for years and those who have had prior back surgery are good candidates.

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