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When Doris Jessesski had spine surgery in 2004 at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, she thought her days of back pain were behind her. After the procedure, which involved a hemilaminotomy and spinal fusion, Doris lived free of pain for 14 years.
But in fall 2018, the discomfort came back in a big way. "It was very painful all the time," Doris says. "I'm a walker. I couldn't go walking. I'd be sitting down watching TV, and it hurt just to stand up."
Doris went to see Evan Nelson, M.D., in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic Health System ― Franciscan Healthcare in La Crosse, Wisconsin. After assessing Doris' condition, Dr. Nelson recommended epidural steroid injections and then sacroiliac joint injections to help ease the pain, which was being caused by a spine disorder called lumbar spondylosis. But the treatments didn't work.
Doris began taking opioid medications to manage her back pain. Dr. Nelson also recommended Doris see a Pain Medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester for further evaluation and treatment. In Rochester, Doris underwent another procedure known as radiofrequency ablation.
"We use specialized needles and radiofrequency energy to destroy the nerves from the facet joint to alleviate back pain," says Matthew Pingree, M.D., a Mayo Clinic Pain Medicine physician. "Unfortunately, she only had temporary relief from that."
It was time to try something different.
During a consult in February 2019, Dr. Pingree talked with Doris about another method to manage her pain. He suggested implanting an HF-10 spinal cord stimulator that would block the pain signals as they traveled from the nerves in the back through the spinal cord.
"There is some good evidence that this type of stimulation works well specifically for back pain."Matthew Pingree, M.D.
"High-frequency stimulation is different than other traditional types of spinal cord stimulation," Dr. Pingree says. "Unlike traditional types of stimulation, which are based on feeling stimulation in the location of pain, the HF-10 uses such high-frequency stimulation that the patient does not feel it. In addition, there is some good evidence that this type of stimulation works well specifically for back pain."
The treatment option appealed to Doris. "I had no idea that there were spinal stimulators, and when he told me about it, I really got excited," says the 75-year-old grandmother of 10. "When you have so much pain, sometimes you're grasping at straws. This offered some real hope, even though Dr. Pingree explained there was a chance that it may not work."
If her pain continued to worsen, Doris had been considering undergoing the invasive step of having a second back fusion surgery. After the discussion with Dr. Pingree, she decided to test the spinal cord stimulator first.
"I wanted to try this before I did anything else," Doris says. "You can't undo back surgery."
Doris used a temporary spinal cord stimulator during a weeklong trial in April 2019. It worked. When she realized the device could relieve her pain, she decided to move forward. She had a permanent stimulator implanted in June 2019. Since then, Doris is back on her feet and thankful for her renewed freedom.
"Dr. Pingree is friendly and personable. He's up front in letting you know what you can expect. I would go back to Mayo any time."Doris Jessesski
"Before, I would stand on my feet for an hour, and I would be in a lot of pain," Doris says. "This has been wonderful. I can take long walks. I can bake, which I love to do. I'm glad I can do all the things I do with minimal or no pain."
That's just the kind of result Dr. Pingree aims for when treating chronic back pain. "It's always very satisfying to help patients achieve their goals and give them quality of life," he says. "My experience with HF-10 in treating debilitating back pain has been very positive, and we have had some excellent outcomes."
Now Doris is happy to share her experience and recommend the team in Pain Medicine to others. "I've been encouraging others with back pain to give this a try," Doris says. "Dr. Pingree is friendly and personable. He's up front in letting you know what you can expect. I would go back to Mayo any time."