Health: Leeds surgery feat making relief of chronic pain 10 times better

Dave Thomas, from Crofton, has suffered with chronic pain for almost 40 years. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Dave Thomas, from Crofton, has suffered with chronic pain for almost 40 years. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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Crippling chronic pain is a fact of life for some people – but Leeds doctors are tackling it en masse.

For the likes of father-of-two Dave Thomas, from Crofton, Wakefield, intense and burning pain has plagued daily life for decades.

In 1977, aged 23, Dave was involved in a life-changing road accident when he was mowed down by a drunk driver. He suffered horrific injuries that almost led to his left leg being amputated below the knee.

Surgeons rescued his foot but the trauma had caused lasting nerve damage that still affects him today.

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A search for something to dull the pain has so far led him to have spinal cord stimulators, units implanted under the skin to pulse electrical signals to the spinal cord and trick the nervous system into relieving pain, fitted on three occasions with varying success.

Clinicians at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust have pledged to help those with such constant pain during a day of 10 scheduled 90-minute stimulator implant procedures aimed to give hope to a pain-ridden minority on Saturday.

“I’m never going to be pain free because I have nerve damage but the upside of the exercise is to reduce the pain to what I regard as acceptable and livable,” he said. “I’m hoping if I could reduce my perception of pain by 50 per cent, for me, that would be a success.

“It would be mind-bending and to all intents and purposes I would have a new life.”

Three years ago Dave, who is a retired ward manager, noticed his pain levels skyrocket. He had developed a tumour on his spine that was pressing on the nerves affecting his foot. Surgery removed the growth but his pain remained, sparking his pursuit of spinal cord stimulation.

The NICE-recommended devices, which cost around £15,000 each, are seen as a last resort that the NHS deem are a one-off investment that prevents further hospital visits and drug therapy.

Dr Dudley Bush, a Leeds consultant anaesthetist with an interest in pain management, organised the mammoth day of procedures to deliver treatment to 10 people dealing with extreme pain without wasting vital time in theatre.

He said: “These [devices] are not delivered lightly. Patients only get these once other options have been explored. They are for patients with severe neuropathic pain which is significantly impairing their quality of life or activities. It’s potentially life-changing for these people.”

He added: “It also demonstrates the efficiency of doing the group as opposed to 10 separate surgery days.”

Leeds is one of four centres that deliver the most spinal cord stimulator implants in England every year, with around 100 patients benefitting.

SPECIALIST UNIT TACKLING SYMPTOMS

Leeds Neuromodulation and Pain Management Centre at Seacroft Hospital provides a ranges of specialist pain services and is a regional centre looking after patients with long-term pain living right across Yorkshire and beyond.

Patients are referred to the service by their GP and then given an assessment before a treatment plan is put together. Treatments are tailored to the needs of individuals.

For further information on the centre visit www.leedsth.nhs.uk/a-z-of-services/pain-management.

Dean Johnstone, chief executive of Minds Ahead and joint leader of the centre of excellence in Leeds.

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