New Implants for Back Pain Sufferers

Reporter: Shannon Samson
Web Producer: Amber Griswold
For patients suffering from Degenerative Disc Disease or other disorders of the spine, total disc replacement may be the way to go.
It's possible, now that a new artificial disc has been FDA approved in the U.S.
One Evansville woman is a patient who received one of the implants.
Kim Elpers had one heck of a year last school year. The Evansville Diocese gave her its top teaching honor and she had back surgery, which doesn't sound like much fun until you know what she went through to get it.
Science teacher Kim Elpers can stand, sit and bend over now, all the things she couldn't do last year when Degenerative Disc Disease made being at work almost unbearable.
Elpers explained, "I couldn't get comfortable at home either. It wasn't comfortable to lay down. It wasn't comfortable to sit. It wasn't comfortable to stand. There was no way for me to get comfortable anymore."
Spinal fusion was an option, but the rods and screws would have limited her motion. Her other option was total disc replacement surgery, where the faulty disc is replaced with an implant.
Greg McComis, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon, said, "You put the implant in between the bones and instead of it being solid, they now walk or stand on that's normal motion."
Elpers told Newswatch, "I said, 'ok sign me up' and he said it isn't released by the FDA yet."
But that didn't stop her. Her science background made her determined to get into a clinical trial of the Charite Artificial Disc. And in January, she had the surgery in Louisville, six months before its FDA approval.
Elpers commented, "One week after having it, I was up, walking around and it was awesome."
Another type of implant, still in clinical trials, will replace discs near the neck.
Dr. McComis, explained, "It's a coil inside of a rubber sleeve and ...there is excellent motion."
These implants are revolutionary, but not perfect. Because parts of them are plastic, doctors aren't sure at this point if they'll last ten years or a lifetime.
But it's an experiment this science teacher was willing to be a part of, one that, so far, has made it comfortable to be in the classroom again.
Another downfall is the implants aren't for everyone. You can't get one if you have more than disc that is defective, if you've had previous surgery or if you smoke.
Plus, you have to be over twenty, but younger than forty.

Although the teacher had to go to Louisville for her surgery, Dr. McComis has been training and says he'll be ready to perform the surgery here this fall. He's already got 20 people on his waiting list.