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New Implanted Device Treats Incontinence & Other Conditions

A new implantable neurostimulator--or pacemaker device--called Interstim therapy for Urinary Control, can alleviate symptoms of urinary incontinence, which affects as many as 30% of elderly women. A small stopwatch-sized device is implanted in the abdomen, connected to a thin wire that delivers mild electrical pulses to the sacral nerve controlling overactive bladder.

But gastroenterologist Dr. Brad Dworkin of Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla says the device holds considerable promise for other conditions, too.

Sherry Gaffin is one patient who has benefited from the device. The 37-year-old Warwick mother has a serious condition called gastroparesis, in which food can sit in the stomach for hours or even days without getting digested. Many patients end up hospitalized on a feeding tube.

"When I would eat, I would get nausea and eventually I would wind up vomiting and it got to the point where I couldn't hold anything down," she says.

Sherry’s weight dropped to a dangerous 98 pounds.

"I would basically do my best to survive," she remembers. "I was, at one point, literally living on Saltines, broth, and water."

When medication failed, Sherry learned of the newly FDA-approved InterStim Therapy system and had it implanted laparoscopically. The device works by stimulating muscles that allow the stomach to contract and empty better.

Dr. Dworkin says the device is 80% effective but cautions it is not the ultimate answer.

"It is not a total cure," he concedes. "It doesn't work for everybody. There are some patients whose stomachs just will not react . . . even at this level of stimulation."

The use of pacemakers for bladder and digestive disorders is still very new and reserved for the most severe cases. Patients must undergo a trial test before having surgery to make sure they can tolerate the stimulation. The procedure costs about $20,000. Some, but not all, insurances cover them.

Sherry has had the device for about 7 months. Even though she cannot feel it working, she is eating more normally and has regained some weight.

"I'll go days now without getting sick," she says. "There's some days when I will have an attack [and] other days when I'm fine, but it's 1,000% better."

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