September 01, 2020

Years of Back Pain Led Kansas Woman to Life-Saving Physician

When Nina McGrath, 70, was in her early 20’s, she was involved in a car accident that prompted more than five decades of severe pain in her back. After years of provisional care, including steady visits to chiropractors and multiple steroid injections, McGrath made an appointment with board-certified pain management specialist Michael Gaume, MD.

This decision saved her life.   

“For years, I went through every test imaginable to check my heart and back and was referred to a neurologist who diagnosed me with degenerative arthritis,” said McGrath. “When I met with Dr. Gaume, he wanted a second opinion on my MRI, and lucky for me he did this because he saw I had an abdominal aortic aneurysm that was slightly over two inches in size.”

Making this the priority, Dr. Gaume referred McGrath to a surgeon, who was able to provide treatment and remove the life-threatening risk of rupture.

“I credit Dr. Gaume with saving my life,” said McGrath. “To find this aneurysm, realize what it was and get me referred to the treatment I needed, I know that I wouldn’t still be around if it weren’t for him. I fully believe that.”

After recovery from this unanticipated surgery, McGrath once again turned her attention toward finding pain relief for her back and reunited with Dr. Gaume.

“Initially, we tried different types of shots for my back to see if that would help after the aneurysm,” said McGrath. “But when that wasn’t successful, I asked about the spinal cord stimulator, a device that I had recently been told provided very good results.”

Knowing her history of different pain relief trials, Dr. Gaume determined that this would be a step in the right direction and set McGrath up with a temporary device to assess its impact on her pain.

“In spinal cord stimulation, the technology is similar to a pacemaker for the heart, but instead, for the spinal cord,” said Dr. Gaume. “Before the device is permanently implanted, a trial wire is placed under the skin with the patient wearing the device for seven to 10 days. During this period, we determine its effectiveness and pain relief with a goal to alleviate at least 50 percent of pain before considering implanting the device entirely under the skin.”

After one week, McGrath felt significant improvement in her ability to walk and in agreement with Dr. Gaume, decided to move forward with permanent placement of an implanted spinal cord stimulator. However, four days away from surgery, COVID-19 made its impact, cancelling elective surgeries, including McGrath’s procedure. 

“While I had to wait three months and limit much of my activity, I finally got the implant on June 30, and for me, it was well worth the wait,” said McGrath. “I can now get out and walk because the vibration from the stimulator, which I control through a remote, blocks pain from going up my spine, which provides relief.”

For Dr. Gaume, seeing such early success through McGrath’s journey has been a great reward.

“Nina was an ideal candidate for this procedure and has done very well following her spinal cord stimulator implant,” said Dr. Gaume. “Following both the trial wire placement and the permanent implant, she was able to go home the same day and within two to three months, I anticipate she’ll be able to return to full, normal activity.”

While anxious to get back to some of her favorite activities, like tending to her tall bearded iris and swimming, McGrath is content knowing she can simply walk without the fear of debilitating pain.

“Prior to this surgery, stairs were very hard,” said McGrath. “If I went upstairs, I would stay about 45 minutes before I’d go back down. Now, I can go up and down two or three times in succession.”

Additionally, McGrath added that walking from the entrance to the back of a store had previously been a challenge but now looks forward to being able to walk the track of her local high school very soon.

“I am so thankful for Dr. Gaume,” said McGrath. “He is a wonderful person, and I give him my highest reference possible. For every patient, he goes a step further by looking at your overall health, not just the reason for your visit, which is why I would recommend him over any other doctor I’ve ever had.”

Dr. Gaume and fellow pain specialist Guy Giroux, MD lead the experienced Pain Management Clinic at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus. For more information about our pain specialists or services, visit kutopeka.com/services/pain-management-center or call 785-295-8385.

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