People & Tech: UW medical advance gives woman her life back

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UW medical advance gives woman her life back

By Jamie Lynn Published: Jun 2, 2012 at 4:54 PM PDT Last Updated: Jun 2, 2012 at 6:55 PM PDT
SEATTLE – A local woman who has suffered from debilitating pain for more than a decade has a new lease on life after some outstanding avdancements in medicine at the University of Washington.

The problems all began when Kirsten Switzer was injured back in 1996.

“I was stepping out of my car in a parking lot,” she recalls.

As she stepped out of her vehicle, Switzer was struck by a minivan.

“Closed the door on my leg and caused what turned out to be nerve damage,” she explains.

The nerve damage was later diagnosed as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD.

“I had to use a cane, and I was in my 20s,” she says.

Things quickly went downhill. Everyday tasks, like standing and walking, were painful.

“I was taking very serious narcotics like morphine and things like that to deal with the pain,” Switzer says.

In 2000, she received a medronic implant in her spine. It’s controlled by a handheld remote, and at a click of a button can monitor pain. For years she was relatively pain-free – that is until the battery died.

So, earlier this year, Switzer became the first patient at the UW Medical Center to receive a newer version of the spinal cord nerve stimulator.

It’s a procedure that uses an electrical current to treat chronic pain. A small pulse generator, implanted in the back, sends electrical pulses to the spinal cord. These pulses interfere with the nerve impulses that make you feel pain.

“This is kind of a computer – a very sophisticated computer, implanted computer,” explains Dr. Michael Gofeld of the UW Medical Center.

Another advantage of the new implant is that it can be customized.

“To make sure that it adjusts correctly when I move, that there’s good coverage,” Switzer says.

And there’s no need for a remote control.

After living in pain for more than a decade, Switzer says the new device has changed her life.

“I’m able to work and exercise,” she says. “I’m a very, very active person, and I’m able to still live that lifestyle. I am very grateful to have found this.”

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