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Dozens of operations later, implant eases pain for teen

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NORTH CHARLESTON (WCSC) -

At just 16 years old, Rachel Fannin has already endured 51 surgeries.  But she is hopeful that her latest will be her last.

Fannin is the first patient to be implanted with the Precision Spectra Spinal Cord Stimulator in the entire country.  Jason Highsmith, MD, a neurological surgeon at Trident Medical Center, performed the operation at the center's facilities on January 9th.

"It's released a lot of my pain and it feels much better," Fannin says.

The Florence County teenager suffered a severe laceration four years ago, after a fish aquarium she was cleaning had shattered.  Since then, Fannin has endured constant pain because of a damaged nerve.

The device, which was created by Boston Scientific, relieves pain by delivering electrical pulses to the spinal cord.  Instead of feeling pain, patients experience a different sensation.

"You've overridden the brain with other sensations that are more pleasant: pressure, rubbing, massage -- all those things that feel better, you're sort of sending to the brain - this device does a similar thing electronically," Dr. Highsmith says.

Fannin is able to increase or decrease the tingling sensation with a hand-held patient programmer, which she keeps in her purse.

"It kind of feels like a little massage just going through your leg," Fannin says.  "I guess you kind of get used to it after awhile and you don't even notice it.  It helps, a lot."

The surgery is covered by almost all insurance plans, except Medicaid.  Dr. Highsmith recommends that people experiencing chronic discomfort visit a pain management physician.  He says there are various alternatives to decreasing pain levels, including therapy, nerve blocks and injections.

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