Stimulation device helps ease pain from defect

Michelle McBrien, of Beacon Falls, pets a horse at her friend’s farm in Bethany. McBrien, who has a pars defect, recently had a stimulation device implanted in her back to help her walk without pain. –LUKE MARSHALL


BEACON FALLS — Michelle McBrien walked across a frozen paddock to a stable on a cold December day as though she never had a back injury. However, that wasn’t always the case.

In 2009, McBrien, a 45-year-old Beacon Falls resident, began to experience numbness in her legs after some gardening. At the time she attributed to her age. Then, three years ago, McBrien collapsed while entering her house.

“I reached up to the key pad and I dropped to my knees, and I couldn’t move,” McBrien said.

McBrien had been experiencing pain in her legs for a couple of years, but nothing that bad.

“It turns out I have a defect with my L5 vertebrae, which they call a pars defect. I knew nothing about it. I didn’t know that was possible,” McBrien said.

McBrien said people with a pars defect often don’t suffer from any problems related to it. However, since McBrien has a congenital condition that makes her nervous system weak, her body reacted poorly to the defect.

“The nerve bundle in the base of my spine just decided it was just going to be angry forever,” McBrien said. “It felt as though there was a compression in my spine. I had numbness in my feet all the way up to my knees. It never felt the same.”

Prior to this McBrien was extremely active, often working at a friend’s barn in Bethany, riding horses, and taking her daughter horseback riding.

“If I was up and about all day, by 6 p.m. I would have to sit and I couldn’t walk. I hurt. I was in so much pain,” McBrien said.

McBrien went for a battery of tests to see what was causing the pain.

“I was going to neurologists. I was going to spinal doctors. I was going to sports therapy doctors. I was going through all kinds of tests, all kinds of needles, all kinds of electric stuff going through the nerves,” McBrien said. “They couldn’t find what was wrong.”

McBrien said her pain doctor, Dr. Mark Thimineur out of Derby, recommended a spinal cord stimulation device.

Thimineur said the device inhibits pain by creating a small electrical field with a high frequency, around 10,000 hertz.

The device, which is surgically implanted in the back, uses small wire leads to send the electricity to the nerves, Thimineur said. The electricity does not block the sensation in the back completely, but rather interrupts the signal from the brain saying that the nerves are feeling pain, he explained.

The device has been tested for the past six years in Europe and for the past two years here in America with positive results, Thimineur said.

McBrien had the device, a Nevro HF10 Therapy device, implanted in December 2015. This specific device received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration in May 2015.

This is not the first time McBrien has been through something like this.

More than a decade ago, due to her congenital condition, McBrien was experiencing brain issues, including loss of speech. She underwent five brain surgeries and had a similar device implanted in her skull in 2005.

McBrien said the healing process after the therapy device was implanted in her back was a difficult one.

“It was hard. I’ve been through a lot of pain. I live in pain 24/7. The healing process I usually muscle through. I just couldn’t on this one. It hurt. But, within four or five months, I could come out [to the barn]. We clean this barn four or five times a week. I could muck stalls,” McBrien said.

McBrien said the pain eventually vanished, however she took things slow at first because she didn’t know how sturdy the device in her back was or how far she could push herself. Then, during the summer, she had a chance to find out as she helped her friends work on their new barn.

“That was the big test. We stained all of the stalls from ceiling to bottom. We were putting up turnouts. We were putting up fencing. And my back didn’t hurt,” McBrien said. “That was when I said, ‘This was so worth it.’ Until then I knew that I didn’t hurt all the time, but I didn’t know what the limitations were.”