Pictured (L to R) are Senita and Mitch Summe in their Warsaw home, holding the remote controls to their spinal cord stimulation implants. Photo by Jordan Fouts, Times-Union.
Pictured (L to R) are Senita and Mitch Summe in their Warsaw home, holding the remote controls to their spinal cord stimulation implants. Photo by Jordan Fouts, Times-Union.
After years of dealing with chronic pain, Mitch and Senita Summe were willing to try anything.
Degenerative disc disease runs in the family for the Warsaw couple, in addition to fusion surgery which only made Mitch’s pain worse and Senita’s arthritis. They underwent operations in the past few years, received countless steroid and gel shots and were downing close to a dozen pills a day.
“I even thought about ending my life, I was in that much pain,” Mitch said in their home on the south side of Little Chapman Lake. “It’s bad to say, but I know what kind of pain I was in and I was so tired of it.”
A doctor recommended spinal cord stimulation, a small implanted generator that delivers pulses to the nerves to mask pain signals. They learned more about it, weighed the pros and cons and agreed to give it a shot.
“As bad as I was, I’d try anything. It wasn’t like, ‘Is it worth it or not?’ but, ‘Man, I got to try,’” Mitch said.
They say they’ve been almost completely pain-free since both had the procedure on the same day in late June. No more pills, they didn’t have to quit their jobs or go on disability, and they can enjoy things like camping, bike riding and being with family again.
“I can do things at work instead of relying on the other guys,” said Mitch, a state highway maintenance worker for 31 years. “My goal was to at least get to my retirement, and this is gonna make it possible.”
“We don’t hurt. Honestly, we just don’t hurt,” said Senita, who works in a home improvement store plant nursery. “I can pick my grandson up, I can get down on the floor with him.”
They noted it was a surprisingly simple half-hour outpatient surgery – they went out for pancakes immediately afterward, and back to work a few days later.
“We were the first husband and wife to have it done at the same time, that’s pretty cool,” Senita said. “They said we were the first in the Midwest to get the new one.”
They explained how the pulse generator, a small battery-powered box roughly the size of a cellphone, is implanted near the base of the spine, off to one side and just under the skin. Thin wires send pulses to the affected nerves, which produces what the Summes described as a tingling, like a massage chair.
Each device is capable of up to four such connections – Mitch has two and Senita has three. They control them by remote, adjusting the power and location of the pulses.
Follow-up doctor’s visits have dropped off to only every six months, they noted, and the procedure cost less than what they spent on medication every four months.
Being able to get off prescription drugs was one of the major benefits of finding success with the implant, both remarked.
“It may not work for everybody, but it’s better than narcotics,” Senita said. “It doesn’t take all the pain away, but I’d say about 90 percent of it. I sleep better and I don’t get up in the middle of the night.”
“At times, 100 percent, and if I do hurt, I just turn it up,” Mitch said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for it.”