Alternative to opioids changes life of Army veteran

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Clark Brown remembers his days in the elite Night Stalkers regiment, as a member of the Army Rangers. As an active member of Special Forces, he did things virtually no one else could.

“Somalia, the movie ‘Blackhawk Down’ that was all 160th Army Rangers.”

His unit also teamed up with Seal Team 6, now known As DEVGRU.

“You’re probably familiar with DEVGRU being flown in and getting [Osama] Bin Laden. Those were Night Stalkers that flew them in.”

But after his military career, as a retired member of Special Forces, he was unable to do things virtually all of us could.

“I couldn’t bend over to tie my shoes. Putting a pair of socks on was a major challenge.”

They say freedom comes at a cost, and Brown’s body paid the price. A training accident in Korea caused some of his earliest injuries. “We had an explosive device and it shattered my left foot and ankle.”

MORE: Option to Opioids: Managing Pain without Pills

Through his 20 years of helicopter missions, Brown had several hard landings and crashes.

“I’ve broken my back, my neck, and some other extremities, arm, leg and so forth.”

He had a new enemy, and was trying to confront it with conventional weapons.

“It was a debilitating pain. At the height, I was up to 195mg of morphine a day, and I would take anywhere from four to six Tramadol and about four Percocet just to get through the day.”

Instead of Blackhawks and Chinooks, VA doctors told Brown he’d be riding in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. It was time to aim in another direction.

Brown consulted with Dr. Victor Tseng of the Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Chesapeake. They discussed a spinal cord stimulator as an alternative to opioids.

“Not every patient can have it, but fortunately he was a good candidate,” Tseng said.

“This day and age with the opiate epidemic, we have a lot of patients, especially at the VA that are on high-dose opiate and narcotic management.”

Doctors attach wires to key nerves on the spinal cord. The rechargeable power source gets implanted in your lower back.

The stimulator scrambles the pain signals before they get to the brain – so the pain doesn’t *feel like pain. And now Brown takes opioids only rarely.

“It’s been a game changer,” Brown says. “My life now, my ability to interact with others, even interactions with family has increased tenfold.”

Clark Brown and his wife have sold their Chesapeake home. They’ve bought an RV and are touring the country.

So instead of Kuwait, Sierra Leone and Seoul — it’s New England, Florida and Arkansas for Brown and his wife Shelley. We interviewed him by Skype from their latest stop in Lake Havasu, Arizona. 

He says before the stimulator, his pain level was often a 10.

“(Now) on a daily basis I would rate my pain about a two, maybe a three.”

“To be able to see these types of results with the new spinal cord stimulator system is really profound,” Tseng said.

“You’re not as irritable, you’re not hopeless, it’s given you a new lease on life,” Brown said.

“I’m not saying the stimulator is ideal for everyone, but it worked for me.”

The first step for getting a spinal cord stimulator is getting a trial device. It will be connected to leads mounted on the spinal cord beneath the skin, but the power source is worn outside the body in a Velcro belt. That lasts typically for a week to ten days. 

If the trial stimulator leads to noticeable pain reduction, then the patient can get the permanent implant. Consult your doctor to see if you could be a candidate.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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