Negligent Implantation of a Spinal Cord Stimulator Can Lead to Paralysis and Lifetime of Care
Sadly, chronic back pain is an everyday nuisance for millions of Americans. Generally speaking, persons with back pain usually initially opt for conservative measures designed to alleviate their pain; i.e., seeing chiropractors, receiving steroid injections, pain-killers. When these measures fail, however, many patients choose to proceed with the insertion of a spinal cord stimulator. A spinal cord stimulator is an implantable, paddle-shaped medical device that treats chronic pain through the emission of electrical impulses near the spinal cord. These impulses produce a tingling sensation that alters the perception of the pain. The device is implanted into the epidural space (outermost area of the spinal canal, above the cord and dura) through either a percutaneous approach (using a wide-bore needle to insert the stimulator into the epidural space and advance it to the proper location) or through a surgical laminectomy/laminotomy approach (requiring the removal of the bony spinous process and the insertion of the stimulator into the epidural space through an incision in the ligament that protects the spinal cord. The stimulator is then sutured into place and is controlled by a pulse generator that is usually implanted in the patient's hip. The device can be controlled remotely by the patient as his/her pain dictates.
While there are numerous risks associated with this surgical procedure (as there are with any surgical procedure), paralysis is not recognized as an accepted complication in most instances. Accordingly, if a patient suffers some degree of paralysis, they physician may very likely have committed malpractice / medical negligence. As an initial matter, the standard of care for a neurosurgeon who is placing a stimulator is to first and foremost protect the spinal cord from injury while placing it in the epidural space. In the context of a patient who has previously had a stimulator placed, this risk is all the more magnified. For example, in such patients, a surgeon should expect to encounter scar tissue/epidural adhesions in the epidural space at the time of surgery. This scar tissue makes it difficult to insert the paddle stimulators to the desired spinal level. To the extent that a physician "pushes" too hard against the scar tissue, the stimulator may "buckle" or deviate downward into the spinal cord contusing it and causing paralysis. In addition, in some instances as a physician attempts to "free up" up the scar tissue with surgical tool to create a path for the spinal cord stimulator to move into place, a careless motion with the tool can result in contact with the cord and subsequent paralysis. Sadly, under either scenario, the result is a lifetime of needed care for the patient due to the irreversible paralysis.
At STSW, our office has successfully recovered millions of dollars for clients who have been paralyzed in the course of a spinal cord stimulator procedure in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area. If you or a loved one have been victimized by a physician performing this procedure, call our attorneys for a free consultation at (410) 385-2225.