Wracked with self-loathing, Minyard could stand it no longer. After two years in hell, he somehow pulled himself together and began a lengthy search for a pain specialist who could end his addiction and give him back his life. No functionary or bureaucrat could stop him. He walked through countless doctor's office lobbies to confront specialists until at long last he found one willing to help.
The answer, it turned out, was spinal cord stimulation. Minyard repeated during the Hill briefing, "This technology saved my life."
Spinal cord stimulation involves nerve stimulation that uses an electric current to treat chronic pain, often lower back pain like Minyard's.
Volunteering for a "test run," a pain specialist inserted a temporary electrode under Minyard's skin. During the outpatient procedure, the electrode was connected to the stimulator a patient can control. The layman's explanation is that the technique essentially tricks the brain into receiving a "pleasure" signal, Minyard said.
It worked! In fact, it worked so well that Minyard wanted to go straight to the operating room to have a permanent implant installed. "It was like a lightning bolt," he said. "It put me back in control of my life. Pain was no longer in control of me."
Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran
Justin Minyard works the crowd
after a presentation on medical
technologies for treating chronic pain.
(Source: George Leopold)
A permanent stimulator was implanted under his skin along with small coated leads that can be connected either to nerves or inserted in the spinal canal. Minyard said he uses the device to manage his pain rather than resorting to opiates. He's convinced the technology will work for other vets suffering from chronic pain.
Boston Scientific makes the spinal cord stimulator implanted in Minyard's back. Company officials attended the briefing. The Army veteran thanked them profusely during his stirring 15-minute presentation.
His pain under control, Minyard has turned to competitive cycling as a kind of physical and spiritual therapy. He typically rides more than 400 miles a week.
The veteran's biggest regret is the way he treated his daughter while he was in the throes of addiction. Today, he travels widely to help his fellow vets while raising awareness about spinal cord stimulation as an alternative to opiates in the treatment of chronic pain.
But every night he finds the time to read to his daughter over the phone or via Facetime. They've almost finished the first Harry Potter book, he added with obvious satisfaction.
Minyard ended by noting that the veterans of America's last two wars deserve access to the best, most effective medical technologies available. "I signed a contract. In return for my service, the government will take care of me if I get injured on the job."
The veteran's advocate is now applying the same gumption he summoned to break his addiction to pain killers in a lobbying effort designed to force the government to honor its obligations under that contract.
The pain specialist and the medical technology alone did not save him. In the final analysis, US Army Sergeant 1st Class Justin Minyard (Retired), recipient of the Bronze Star Medal awarded for acts of heroism, saved himself.
— George Leopold is a science writer based in Washington, DC. He also was the executive editor at EE Times for nearly 20 years.