Spinal implant provides alternative for those with chronic pain

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DEPTFORD, N.J. (CBS) The FDA recently approved a new device that could help some people cope with chronic pain without using prescription pain killers -- It's a small, implantable spinal nerve stimulator.

Connie Hanafy had a passion for riding dirt bikes. Then, minor leg surgery sidelined her with crippling pain. Steroid shots, seizure medications, nerve blocks, and physical therapy did not bring relief. Because of her own family history of addiction, Connie refused prescription painkillers.

"The pain is constant -- it's shooting. It's every type of pain you could ever imagine, all in one," Hanafy said.

So unbearable, the single mother of two considered amputating her leg. Then Connie learned about a spinal stimulator that zaps pain. She decided on surgery to implant the device in her back. She is sedated but awake, giving real-time feedback so the stimulator wires can be placed in the right spot on her spine.

Spinal nerve stimulators use electrical pulses to block the pain signal to the brain. They've been used for decades, but previous models were bulky and needed frequent charging. This summer, the FDA approved the smallest implantable device -- about the size of a pacemaker .

In the recovery room, Connie feels a tingling in her leg. "I feel it oh, I can feel it," she said.

Youssef Josephson is one of the first doctors trained to treat patients with Medtronic's new implant. "Most patients will report at least a 50-percent reduction in pain," Josephson said.

Two weeks after surgery, Connie's pain has dropped from level 9 to 2.

Reporter Tara Narula: So is there something that you want other people who might be suffering with pain to know from your story?
Connie Hanafy: Prescription medication, although it does help people, that's not the only answer. And if that's not something you wanna do, seek out other options.

She has a long road ahead but she has her life back.