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Health Beat: Pacemaker stops pain

Health Beat: Pacemaker stops pain

DENVER - We are all familiar with pacemakers for the heart, but the devices are also used for a variety of health problems.

Pacemakers for pain have been around for decades with limited success, but some patients are finding relief, if they are willing to be awake during part of the surgery.

"It was like a stabbing pain that just would never go away," said Ashlee Lipinski.

"There was so much pain. It was just debilitating," said Kim Lipinski.

Mother and daughter were both suffering with chronic pain.

Dr. Giancarlo Barolat, a neurosurgeon, is a pioneer in using pacemakers to help control chronic pain. Barolat has perfected the science of testing the devices while patients are awake during surgery so they can tell him exactly where the pain is coming from.

"They can tell me very precisely where they feel the pain and whether they feel the stimulation," said Barolat, of Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center.

Barolat implanted the Lipinskis' pacemakers.

"I did not remember it what so ever," Kim Lipinski said.

An electrode is implanted on the nerves, or spinal cord, in an area strategically designated to relieve the pain. The electricity that passes through the electrode is generated by a pacemaker implanted under the skin. 

The patient can adjust the electrical impulses with a remote control.

"I would say mine is 90 percent successful," Kim Lipinski explained.

The procedure does not cure pain, but has a 50 to 75 percent chance of providing relief, and that'' enough for Kim and Ashlee Lipinski.

Barolat said the pacemaker for pain can also help people with chronic headaches and back pain who have not responded to conventional treatments.

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