Chronic back and radiating leg pain is one of the more debilitating and agonizing conditions facing many Americans today. Those suffering from longstanding nerve pain typically initially attempt a myriad of conservative treatment measures to treat their pain including physical therapy, steroid injections and powerful pain medications including Soma, Gabapentin, Oxycodone and Oxycontin. Those individuals who fail to have breakthrough pain relief while utilizing conservative measures usually next resort to back surgery where orthopedic surgeons or neurosurgeons attempt to stabilize their spines through decompression and/or fusion surgeries. Sadly, even these invasive procedures often times fail to alleviate the debilitating pain symptoms for many patients. Desperate for pain relief after years of agony, these patients have long turned to spinal cord stimulators as a final attempt to cure their back pain.
The Baltimore spinal injury lawyers at Bennett & Heyman, P.A. are here to discuss the risks and complications of spinal cord stimulators as an antidote for chronic pain. If you suffered from paralysis or other injuries from a spinal cord stimulator in Maryland, call our law offices today at (410) 727-2168 for a free consultation.
What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
A spinal cord stimulator is an implantable medical device that treats chronic back and leg pain through the emission of electrical impulses near the spinal cord. This continuous low-voltage electrical current is delivered to spinal cord nerves in an attempt to block the sensation of pain from reaching the brain. Spinal cord stimulators have been used continuously since 1967 for the management of chronic pain, most predominantly in patients who have been diagnosed with Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (patients who have failed both conservative and surgical pain management. Spinal cord stimulators are designed to target both axial and radicular pain and even resolve this chronic pain in some patients. Spinal cord stimulator systems are comprised of a pulse generator (a rechargeable battery pack that is implanted in the patient’s hip) and a wire that connects the pulse generator to a “paddle” (sometimes referred to as a lead) on which the electrodes are arrayed. The paddle(s), in turn, are surgically placed either percutaneously through a needle into the epidural space or are placed through a laminectomy into the epidural space (the outermost space within the spinal canal) directly above the spinal cord at the desired spinal level and sutured in place.
The paddles are of various sizes and configurations depending on the extent of pain coverage that the surgeon is attempting to provide. Most stimulator paddles contain between 8-32 electrodes, typically arrayed in a single line or rows of two. More recent stimulator systems have an option to utilize dual paddles whereby two paddles are implanted to greatly broaden (over multiple levels of the spine) the amount of pain coverage that the stimulator system provides to the patient.
Spinal Cord Stimulator Injury Statistics
For years, spinal cord stimulator manufacturers and doctors have championed spinal cord stimulators as a panacea for patients suffering from chronic back pain or FBSS. Spinal cord stimulators are easily one of the fastest-growing products in the medical device industry, gaining even more frequency of use as patients and physicians try and avoid overuse of opioid medications while treating chronic pain. Manufacturers and doctors alike insist that spinal cord stimulators are safe – citing the nearly 60,000 that are implanted annually – and capable of providing significant and widespread pain relief for patients.
Over the course of the past five years, however, the number of reported incidents involving spinal cord stimulators reportedly injuring patients has skyrocketed. In fact, a recent report by the FDA found that among the 4,000 types of medical devices tracked by the FDA, only metal hip replacements and insulin pumps have received more injury reports than spinal cord stimulators. While many of these injury reports involve well-known and recognized complications such as infection, minor blood loss, or equipment failure – that cause no significant injury, closer analysis reveals that doctors and surgeons are also causing an increasing number of serious injuries to patients while attempting to implant the stimulators, including paralysis and even death. For patients who believed that they were receiving a medical device that could change their lives, return them to the workforce and live a life without substantial pain, this sudden and tragic turn of events is life altering and devastating. Sadly, most of these patients thereafter require a lifetime of care and potentially incur millions of dollars in medical expenses.
How Spinal Cord Stimulator Injuries Happen
During these cases, our attorneys point to the fact that the epidural space (the area within which the stimulator is placed) is only millimeters wide with the spinal cord lying immediately below it. We point out that the spinal cord itself is essentially the consistency of wet pasta, and therefore, can be easily injured if contused by surgical instruments or the paddle leads with any degree of force. What we have discovered is that in many of these cases where serious injuries (paralysis) have occurred, is that the surgeon encountered resistance within the epidural space as he/she attempted to place the stimulator paddle.
This resistance is usually caused by the presence of pre-existing scar tissue within the epidural space – scar tissue which is not visible on pre-operative x-rays or MRIs. This scar tissue often impedes the pathway of the paddle – making it impossible for the paddle to be placed at the desired level of the spine. What we have unfortunately seen, is that when this occurs, some surgeons attempt to force the paddle through the scar tissue, actions which result in the paddle buckling and/or deviating downward into the spinal cord, contusing/bruising the cord and causing permanent injury. Instead of attempting to blindly force these paddles through the scar tissue, our expert surgeons testify that the safest approach, and the one that carries with it the least risk of injuring the spinal cord, is to extend the patient’s laminectomy up to the level of the scar tissue, so as to open the site and remove the scar tissue under direct visualization.
Can I Sue for Spinal Cord Stimulator Complications in Maryland?
Naturally, in these cases, the surgeons often defend themselves by arguing that there is no evidence that the cord was bruised or contused during the surgery (because they were the only ones there) and/or that any injury that occurred was coincidental, non-traumatic in nature and just an understood risk of the surgery. Our attorneys have been able to successfully debunk these arguments through the use of post-operative MRIs which show how the injury looks at various time intervals after it initially occurs. We often retain neuroradiologists who are able to differentiate (based on the characteristics of the spinal cord lesion/injury) whether the injury was caused by trauma (contusion/bruising) or was the result of an unanticipated/unavoidable type of injury (i.e., a contemporaneous injury to the blood supply to the cord).
At Bennett & Heyman, our lawyers have successfully resolved multiple spinal cord stimulator injury cases around the United States, recovering millions for clients who have suffered paralysis and other serious injuries at the hands of surgeons who negligently attempted to implant one of these devices. During the representation of our clients, we have learned that the central safety rule for all surgeons when implanting a spinal cord stimulator is to protect the spinal cord at all costs. Many surgeons simply fail to do so, choosing less safe intraoperative alternatives, when other surgical techniques could have easily prevented a devastating injury.
Baltimore, MD Spine Injury Attorneys Offering Free Consultations
Patients who have suffered paralysis during the course of a spinal cord stimulator procedure face a lifetime of pain, suffering, emotional distress and financial loss. Each of our clients in this regard have required frequent hospitalizations for various spinal cord injury-related complications such as UTIs, bedsores, and pneumonia; have experienced and continue to experience severe neuropathic pain throughout their body, have suffered falls, fractures and muscular injuries as a result of their disabilities and require continuous physical/occupation therapies. Their lives are turned upside down. They are unable to work because of their pain and disability. They incur hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, in medical care costs. Their families often suffer along with the patient as the emotional heartache associated with a loved one’s injuries and the stress associated with caring for that individual are so great and unrelenting. At Bennett & Heyman, our lawyers take great pains to account for all of these losses and put together a strong case on liability, causation and damages, taking into account all of these harms and losses. Our goal is to secure a recovery for your loved one that allows them to have the best possible care for the remainder of their lives.
If you or a loved one have been injured during the course of a spinal cord stimulator implantation or revision procedure anywhere in the United States, call our team for a free consultation at (410) 727-2168.