MANSFIELD — Mary Skinner first learned to county clog dance at 20 years old. She’s enjoyed it ever since.

“My husband and I danced always,” said 77-year-old Skinner, from Mount Vernon. “That was that was the love of my life, my passion.”

After the death of her husband, Skinner didn’t go out dancing anymore, but she’d still jig around the house, shuffling and stomping her feet to old country rhythms. 

That all changed last fall, when she felt so much leg pain that some days she could barely get out of bed. 

Skinner was suffering from painful diabetic neuropathy (PDN), a common chronic complication of diabetes. PDN is a type of nerve damage that causes numbness, tingling, burning and sharp pain in the legs, feet and hands. 

Skinner’s discomfort came about gradually, worsening over a period of five years before it became absolutely unbearable. 

“My legs were so bad, I couldn’t dance. I was walking 12 miles a day, I got to where I couldn’t walk,” she said.

“Some days it was all I could do to make it to the bathroom. I literally didn’t do anything but sit around the house and cry.”

Traditional treatment options for PDN include prescription medications, opioids and physical therapy. Skinner tried them all — nothing worked.

But she refused to give up hope. She began calling spinal care centers and got an appointment with Michael Stretanski, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and pain specialist at the Interventional Spine and Pain Rehabilitation Center in Mansfield.

Stretanski often treats patients like Skinner, who haven’t found relief from medications or surgery. 

“The joke is I’m a last resort doctor,” Stretanski said. “You don’t just end up in a spine and pain center because your family doctor sends you because you sprained your ankle.

“You’ve already been to orthopedics, to the ER, you’ve been through therapy. You’ve had two three surgeries, by the time you end up here.”

Stretanski recommended a high-frequency spinal cord stimulation (SCS) device called an HFX. About half the size of a Zippo lighter, the device is implanted under the skin, just above the belt line or in the buttocks area.

According to manufacturer Nevro’s website, the HFX is a small FDA-approved device that treats the shooting, burning and pins and needles pains associated with diabetic neuropathy.

The device uses a pain management approach called spinal cord stimulation, which involves mild electric pulses to the nerves that interrupt the pain signals to the brain. The device can send thousands of pulses per second, but patients don’t feel the stimulation. 

Stretanski said the technology is a good fit for those with chronic pain where the underlying cause can’t be treated with medication or surgery. 

“Spinal cord stimulators don’t fix things, we block the pain,” he explained. 

While spinal cord stimulation has only been FDA-approved for PDN for about two years, Stretkanski said the technology has been used to treat various types of chronic pain for more than 30 years. 

Once implanted, patients can use a handheld remote to turn it on and off or switch between customized programs for different parts of the body. 

Medical professionals can also adjust the programs as time goes on to compensate for changes in the body. 

The device can remain inside the patient until the battery dies, typically seven to 10 years after implantation, and be replaced afterward. The procedure is also completely reversible and a trial device, which is not implanted in the body, is available prior to surgery. 

Skinner underwent her outpatient operation at OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital last October. 

Not long after her implant, her quest for a healthy, active life took another hit. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and had to scale back her daily walks. 

Nevertheless, she’s worked her way back up to five miles a day. 

Every couple of weeks, she takes a nap or sits down long enough to charge the stimulator battery, wearing a velcro belt with a charger around her waist.

“I have to charge my battery, but I’m the bionic woman so I don’t mind that,” she said. “I don’t sit down long enough to charge it, so when I take a nap or go to bed I hook myself up.”

Skinner called the surgery a blessing. She feels like God has given her a second chance to live again.

“About three or four months ago, I had a song playing that (my husband and I) always danced to. I was cooking and all of a sudden my feet just started moving and I just started crying. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

“I can walk now. I dance all over the house. It’s really changed my life. I wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”

Diabetes: what you need to know

Approximately 37.3 million people in the United States have diabetes, which is about 11% of the population. Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. 

Your body breaks down most of the food you eat into sugar (glucose) and releases it into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.

With diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream. Over time, that can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, nerve damage and kidney disease.

Most diabetics have Type 2 Diabetes. People who are 45 or older, have a family history of diabetes or are overweight have a higher risk for Type 2 Diabetes. Physical inactivity, race, and certain health problems such as high blood pressure also affect your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

Sources: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Cleveland Clinic 

The Life & Culture section is brought to you by Knox Community Hospital.

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