Shocking relief: Using electricity to combat chronic pain

Posted at 4:26 PM, Sep 06, 2017

We all know opoid addiction is a real problem in our country. But what if there was a way for people suffering from chronic pain to find relief without pills?

Enjoying the outdoors is something Shilo Smith wouldn't have been able to do just a few months ago. And a TV interview?

"This would have been impossible," Smith says. "You would not have talked me into this."

That's because looking at the sun, or any light would give her an excruciating headache.

"It would escalate to the point where I would be shaking," Smith says. "I would be sweating eventually I would start to lose gross motor control and it was hard to even stay standing or walk because the pain was just so severe that my body was shutting down."

Enrolled in medical school, it forced her to live and study in darkness.

Smith found Dr. Giancarlo Barolat, a neurosurgeon at Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver who pioneered a procedure called Neurostimulation.

"Basically what I tell the patient is that I give them their own pain control unit," Dr. Barolat says.

He implanted electrodes under Smith's skin on the nerves that were sending pain signals to her brain.

"Basically it scrambles the pain signals so the brain goes, 'Oh this is tingly ok we can live with the tingling we cannot live with the pain.'"

The electrodes connect to a pacemaker which is implanted in the patient's chest, and can be used to help people who have severe, long-lasting pain in any part of their body.

Once implanted, patients like Smith use a remote to control the electricity delivered through the device based on their pain.

"I kept saying over and over again, I finally got my life back. I finally got my life back," Smith recalls.

Now, pain free, Smith is hiking mountains and has finished medical school. She has this advice for people pushing through their pain.

"Don't wait for others to lead you to something like this," Smith says. "Be proactive in your health care."

Steps she said have led her, and will hopefully lead others, to a life full of light.