For people suffering from chronic pain, the treatment of choice in the past was often opioids. But a device that is implanted in the body can offer relief without the use of drugs.

Spinal Cord Stimulation works by implanting small electrical leads along the spinal cord. The leads provide electrical impulses to the nerves, which act to block the pain signal from reaching the brain.

Dr. Andrea Trescot describes how the stimulator works

“So it’s sort of like taking the phone off the hook and now the phone can’t ring,” said Dr. Andrea Trescot, an Anchorage Interventional Pain Management Specialist. “The body doesn’t have call-waiting so the brain doesn’t ever get the signal that it’s got the pain.”

That approach was interesting to Christy Runestad, a 37-year-old Anchorage woman who has suffered debilitating and unexplained nerve pain since the birth of her second child five years ago. Runestad said she’s lost feeling in over 40% of her body, walks with a cane and seems to be getting worse despite many types of treatments and different doctors.

“Anything that was possible to try, I’ve tried it,” she said.

Runestad said she avoided stimulators in the past because of concerns over the bulky lithium batteries that were implanted in the body to control the devices. It’s why she was particularly thrilled to try a type of stimulator that is new to Alaska.

The StimWave stimulator has an external battery pack and receiver

The Freedom Stimulator, manufactured by Stimwave, is billed as the first wireless device of its kind. On Thursday morning, Runestad became one of the first Alaskans to give it a try.

Dr. Trescot inserted the electrical leads along her spine, but the battery pack and receiver remained unattached, to be tucked into a belt that Runestad would wear around her body. Runestad said the device was easy to regulate.

“If it’s too strong you turn it down, if it’s not strong enough you turn it up,” she said.

Recharging the batteries can be done with a standard USB cord plugged into the wall.

Runestad said a trial run of the device decreased her pain considerably — still, she knows that it isn’t a cure.

“It’s not going to make me all better. It’s not going to cure anything, but this way I don’t have to suffer while we figure it out," she said.

Runestad is planning a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona to see if she can get to the root of her pain. She said without the stimulator, she probably wouldn’t have been able to withstand the plane ride. She’s started a GoFundMe account to raise money for the trip and said she’s looking forward to playing with her children without pain.

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