All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for June 2004

Every step a gift

After years in wheelchair, procedure done here puts man back on his feet,1626,ECP_4476_2934195,00.html

June 3, 2004
Judy Jenkins
The Gleaner

1 p.m., April 22, 2003.

That time and date are forever etched in Stephen Poole's mind, and chances are some other people will remember them, too.

Those others are the Methodist Hospital Rehabilitation Unit therapists and patients who witnessed an event Stephen considers a miracle. As he recalls, "There were a lot of tears, a lot of clapping, and a lot of joy that day."

At that moment, on that Earth Day, he walked for the first time in seven years. He didn't walk particularly well -- "I staggered like a drunk man" -- but he walked. At his insistence, he did it without a walker or the help of the unit's staff.

Prior to that, Stephen, who has multiple sclerosis, had been in a wheelchair for years and because of severe spasticity had been unable to do even the most basic things for himself. He couldn't feed himself, bathe himself, shave himself, or use the bathroom unattended.

Because of his wheelchair confinement, his weight had mushroomed from his previous trim, 142 pounds, to 255 pounds on a 5-foot, 6-inch frame.

Today, Stephen is 105 pounds lighter and walks with the easy stride of someone who has never had a problem. He's up early every morning, working out on an exercise machine and doing "crunches" and pushups.

The 50-year-old is dancing again, too. Dancing has been a passion of his since he was a toddler, and when he took to the dance floor at his niece's wedding last fall, he received a standing ovation.

This incredible transition began seven months after Stephen moved back to Henderson, his hometown. It was in March, 2003 that his local neurologist, Dr. Michael Mayron, said the 12 words that changed everything: "Stephen, I think I can get you back on your feet again."

At that point, the physician told him about Medtronic ITB (Intrathecal Baclofen Therapy) and the surgery it required.

Though Stephen hadn't responded to oral baclofen, a muscle relaxant medication used to decrease spasticity, the doctor believed there was a good chance he'd have a different experience with ITB. That involves the surgical implantation of a pump and catheter that carries the exact amount of medicine needed to the area surrounding the spinal cord.

After screening indicated Stephen could, indeed, benefit from this therapy, the procedure was performed by Dr. Ricardo Maddela.

Stephen's spasticity had been so bad he couldn't control the movement of his head or arms. Three weeks following his surgery, he amazed everyone on the hospital unit by taking those first steps.

He finds it incredulous that he lived for years in Portland, Ore., and hadn't learned of ITB. "I had to come here, to little Henderson, Ky., to get this procedure done," he said Monday. Since his return here he has lived with his mom, Christine Taylor, but is about to get a place of his own.

Mayron says Stephen "is our poster boy" for ITB, and his story is so remarkable that Medtronic plans to use it on the Minneapolis company's Web site

Medtronic features a number of patient success stories for its various implantable and interventional therapies.

Mayron said that "a lot of patients know about Stephen, and I have to advise them that not everybody ends up like he has." Stephen, who was diagnosed with MS in 1996 but had experienced some symptoms for several years prior, "still had a lot of strength in his arms and legs. When the spasticity was reduced, his strength was still there."

ITB, which can be helpful for patients with MS, cerebral palsy, stroke, brain injury or other neurological disorders, has been used here since the late 1990s. It can have side effects such as nausea, headache and dizziness, and abrupt cessation can cause serious medical problems.

Stephen, who was a bar and restaurant manager prior to his illness, believes everything happens for a reason, and says his years in the wheelchair "made me a better person." Before that, he said, he had been "selfish, materialistic, greedy. I like me better now."

Though he still lives with the fatigue his MS causes, he has applied to become a volunteer in the hospital rehab unit. He says he wants to "give back" and help others because of the help that's been given to him.

He also says he will never again take his blessings for granted. "I never realized how important the little things are ... just being able to brush my teeth or shave. And walking ... I'll never take another step for granted."

Copyright © 2004, The Gleaner