Sergeant ‘Zaps’ Away Spinal Cord Pain

May 06, 2009
Fayetteville Observer

Staff Sgt. Zach Collett has a remote control to mute the crippling pain he felt for years in his back and legs.

During a house raid in 2005 in downtown Baghdad, Collett kicked in a door that led to a basement.

The 195-pound Soldier was carrying 110 pounds of equipment, and his momentum carried him to the bottom of the stairwell 10 feet below.

Two discs in his lower back exploded. The 20-year-old military policeman wouldn’t realize it until the raid was over, when he couldn’t lift his legs to get back inside his Humvee. Two surgeries wouldn’t dull the misery, which he described as bolts of pain shooting through his back and legs as if he were constantly standing on a transformer. Percoset helped him make it through the day, but the pain was constant.

But this remote — which controls a small battery in his back hooked to electrodes implanted in his spinal cord — made most of his pain disappear.

“This thing is a miracle,” said Collett, who had the operation last month. “My friends noticed that I was a completely different person. I was pain-free. I wasn’t grumpy and wasn’t having mood swings or this or that.”

The procedure is called spinal cord stimulation. About 10 Soldiers decide to try it each month at Womack Army Medical Center’s pain clinic.

Spinal cord stimulation has been around for decades. But as technology has made the parts smaller and smaller, it has recently become practical for Soldiers. The procedure is used only if other options for reducing the pain fail.


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