Eight years later, shooting survivor finds relief

SEATTLE -- It's been nearly eight years since a gunman shot six women inside the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Naveed Haq forced his way into the building on July 28, 2006, and roamed the halls looking for targets when he came face to face with Christina Rexroad.

Testifying at his trial, Rexroad described the moment, "He turned and looked at me he had a gun in his hand and I don't know if he said anything or not, and then he shot me," she said. Haq chased Rexroad into a conference room, shooting her again.

She lost so much blood, she died on the operating table. Doctors revived her, saving her life. Years later, she turned to surgery again, desperate to save the quality of her life. She suffers from chronic pain that sent her spiraling into depression. Pain radiated through her back and down her legs. She relied on a walker to get around. She barely slept and couldn't work.

Dr. Marshall Bedder of Pacific Medical Center implanted a spinal cord stimulation device made by Boston Scientific. First there was a trial run, and then Rexroad opted to have a permanent unit. The device sends electrical pulses through leads connected to her spine, masking the pain with a tingling sensation.

Months after the surgery, Rexroad was taking much less pain medication and moving more. Dr. Bedder saw a significant change. Not only was Rexroad off her walker, he felt she had boosted self-esteem. And Rexroad said her pain was more than cut in half.

"As a pain physician, we have to be really happy with those gains, with whatever gains we can make," Dr. Bedder said. "When we hit 50, 60%, that's big. Especially when it assists the patient in their overall rehabilitation."

For Rexroad, managing the pain is a constant work in progress. "We've been doing a lot of walking and it's starting to hurt, so I'll turn up the program where it hurts in my leg, my hip, my side, across my back, and then we'll just keep walking again," she said. The implant has multiple programs she can activate, controlling the intensity of the electric current.

She described her life before as "just existing" and life now, as exciting. "I am able to do more things and that's what's exciting," she said.

Spinal cord stimulation has its critics, with some calling the pain relief a placebo effect. A recent study at Oregon Health Science University found in some patients, the effects wore off in six to 12 months. "We found in our study and others, that patients continued to take narcotic pain killers even after they have had this type of device implanted," Dr. Richard Deyo said.

While Dr. Bedder would like to see Rexroad be able to cut her medication even more, he's pleased she's able to cut back with the implant. And he pointed out, the device is not a first line of defense. He has patients try medication, physical therapy and possibly injection therapy first.

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