'A power pack keeps me going'
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
In the last five years, Cherry Marie Lopez has had three failed spinal surgeries.
Paralysed from the waist down from a freak accident seven years ago, Lopez, made history on May 10, when she became the recipient of the first neurostimulation implant ever tried in the Caribbean. Neuro stimulation is a proven therapy aimed at significantly managing chronic pain.
The technology, priced at US$45,000, was funded by the Ministry of Health of Trinidad and Tobago.
"I am being stimulated by the stimulator which sends pain signals to the brain which becomes confused, allowing me to be pain-free," Lopez told Flair.
The beauty about this operation is there is no intrusion from the implant, which is placed on the internal part of the spine. "They made small holes and inserted leads into the spine," explains Lopez, adding that surgeons opened the area of her back near the spine and they inserted the leads between the vertebrae. The leads are then connected to different nerves in the spine, and are kept alive by a battery-operated power pack.
A power pack is taped to the base of her back and she uses a hand-held control programmed to correct stimulation. Lopez says the power from the pack goes through the legs and up through the spine.
The manufacturers have ensured that the battery has a life of up to two weeks in the event of long electrical outages, and so Lopez only has to charge her batteries an average of every 14 days.
"I have a patient programmer, and big chargers that are attached to the patient programme," she says.
Since May 10, Lopez has been able to stand up and walk, something she has not been able to do since seven years ago when a 500lb gate escaped its runner and pinned her by the chest.
Her chest, abdomen and knees were severely damaged, "Usually you die with that type of injury, but thanks to God, I am still alive."
The incident happened in Twin City, Trinidad, the former anesthesiology technician tells Flair.
She has since lost her job and her friends, and had a lot of hardware implanted in her body, which her system has rejected time and time again. "When you become like that, you lose all your friends; they abandon you," she stated.
The impact of her injury had a devastating effect on her mother, whom she said died last December, "trying to keep me alive".
"I have lived by myself and it has been hard with no income, but I hung on to God and he supplied my meals daily. Faith has kept me alive. I went on the faith that said he never will give you more than you can bear," she professed with conviction. "In the worst times praise God." She exclaimed: "God is baad!"
With renewed hope, Cherry Lopez is encouraging other people suffering great pain to try the advanced technology. "I have tried everything else," she reiterated, adding that once a person sits in a wheelchair for four to five years, they automatically lose some of their senses, namely the sense of touch and colour.