Chronic nerve pain medical first for Ballito

Dr Michael Sparks inserts one of the metal rods beneath Eileen Welsh's scalp.

A medical procedure designed to help alleviate chronic nerve pain was recently performed for the first time in South Africa by Ballito’s Dr Michael Sparks.

Eileen Welsh (76), who lives in Johannesburg, underwent the procedure at Dr Sparks’ dental surgery on February 13.

Welsh had had a tumor removed from behind her ear – and later developed shingles in the same area. This led to her being diagnosed with Postherpetic Neuralgia, a complication of shingles which is caused by the chickenpox virus. Postherpetic Neuralgia affects nerve fibres and skin, causing burning pain that lasts long after the rash and blisters of shingles disappear.

This left Welsh with constant pain behind her left ear and along her lower jaw line.

“Even just a breeze against my skin hurt something terrible,” Welsh told The Courier.

Welsh had tried a whole range of pain medications to manage her symptoms, but these were either ineffective or left intolerable side-effects. Her family described her as being constantly disoriented, shaking, spaced out, tired and nauseous due to the medication.

At times her pain was so unbearable that she was forced to visit an emergency room and be put on a morphine drip.

Fortunately for her, her daughter Jane Adams grew up with Susan Daniels, a South African expat and managing director of UK-based Algotec Research and Development Ltd, an innovator of this ground-breaking new treatment and who in turn is sister-in-law to Dr Sparks.

Eileen Welsh, Dr Michael Sparks and Susan Daniels in Dr Sparks’ offices last week.

“We diverted a NeuroStimulator PENS therapy device to South Africa, which was due to ship to Australia, so that we could treat Eileen,” said Daniels.

The Neurostimulator PENS (Peripheral Electrical Nerve Stimulation) therapy device uses frequency dependent electrical currents to modulate the brain’s perception of the pain signals.

The procedure is not yet publicly available in South Africa, but Daniels has high hopes for bringing it here in the future.

Daniels said PENS therapy can be used to treat any chronic peripheral neuropathic pain, including headaches, post chemotherapy pain, phantom limb pain, and post hernia pain, among others.

“It is a very low risk procedure that involves 25 minutes of electrical stimulation under the skin and directly to a peripheral nerve.

“We have successfully treated more than 20 000 people throughout Europe who suffer from chronic peripheral neuropathic pain.”

Daniels, Welsh and Dr Sparks all came together for the procedure – where two 50mm electrodes were inserted under the skin near the affected nerves.

Electrical stimulation was then used to modulate the signal from the nerves in question to the brain, thereby reducing the perception of pain. Just before the procedure Welsh admitted that she was a bit nervous.

“I saw a very big needle,” Welsh said with a shaky smile.

The procedure was performed without any hiccups and Welsh said that she immediately noticed some difference.

“I can move my head more freely and there’s less pain around my ear,” she said.

The pain Welsh described immediately went from a 5/10 to a 4/10 after the treatment and continued to decline all the way to a 2/10 during the week that followed.

“Mom has been off all pain meds for over a week now. The side effects of the pain meds are completely gone and she is a different person now – back to her old bubbly self,” said Welsh’s daughter Jane.

“We can hold conversations with her now and she is 100% clear throughout.”

There was a slight increase in Welsh’s pain over the weekend, possibly because she was doing things she had not been able to do for months – like wearing her reading glasses or just standing in the wind, both of which would normally exacerbate the pain.

“Mom is finally living life again – she has been so ill from pain and the side effects of her meds since November 2016. Her quality of life has improved 110% and the relief for my dad and the whole family is beyond words.”

Welsh’s pain did eventually start returning but a second round of treatment seems to have been enough to make the procedure a success.




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