It’s been a big year for Joe Grewal.

The 61-year-old retired motor mechanic and banana grower has had his life transformed by a revolutionary new pain control device which was inserted into his spine a year ago at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH).

Celebrating the anniversary milestone with his medical team at the hospital today, Mr Grewal told how the Saluda device had given him back his future after decades of chronic back pain.

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​Mr Grewal was the first patient in the world to receive the device which uses electrical impulses to block pain signals from reaching the brain. Unlike earlier devices, the Saluda adjusts for movement automatically, rather than relying on the patient to turn the impulses up or down depending on pain.

"It’s brilliant – it has completely changed my life," Mr Grewal said.

"I can do so much more. I can walk to the beach. I can tinker around with cars with my 26-year-old and that’s a father-son activity I really cherish.

"Before this happened life was pretty dismal and I couldn’t really see a future. The constant pain was really miserable and it affected every aspect of my life including my relationships.

"I was in some dark places. I was depressed and even suicidal, but now everything has turned around."

Mr Grewal, from Coffs Harbour, said years of heavy manual labour had ruptured discs in his back, prompting seven previous spinal surgeries.

"Hauling banana bunches which weigh 70 or 80 kilos probably wasn’t such a good idea," he said.

"All that hard yakka put a lot of stress on my spine."

Mr Grewal was joined today by his pain specialist Dr Charles Brooker and more recent Saluda recipient Deb Morales, 54, of the Sydney suburb Wakeley. Mrs Morales is one of a further 35 Australians to have had a Saluda device implanted since Mr Grewal a year ago.

Dr Brooker said research by RNSH staff had contributed to the development of the device and they were excited about the potential of this technology.

"A number of our patients have had the device implanted and are very happy with their pain relief," he said.

Mrs Morales was a life-long sufferer of spondylolisthesis, where a vertebrae slides over the bone below it, causing crippling back and leg pain. In her case, the affected vertebrae was pressing on a nerve.2

Previous surgery provided some relief but eventually her condition worsened to the point where she lost all feeling in her left foot, relied heavily on medication, and was forced to have four months off work.

The mother-of-two received a Saluda implant three months ago and said her life has been transformed.

"Before this happened, the pain was absolutely debilitating," Mrs Morales said.

"I spent a lot of time sitting in my recliner. That sort of pain impacts every aspect of your life.

"From the moment the Saluda device was turned on, I could feel the difference. The pins and needles, the stabbing pain, the burning … it pretty much all went away.

"I am walking normally. It’s amazing. It’s life-changing."

Saluda Medical founder and CEO John Parker said it was very gratifying to see the difference the device was making to people’s lives.

"It’s a long road from the lab to reality and we could not be more pleased that all the effort that’s gone into developing this device is turning lives around," he said.

Dr Parker said another 30 patients would receive the device in an extension of the Australian study into its effectiveness.

"In the USA, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved the device for investigation – in other words, a trial similar to the one underway in Australia," Dr Parker said.

"If all goes well, the device will then be on the market in the United States. We also expect to have it on the market in Europe next year."

In Australia, the device is expected to be widely available in 2018, if the trial continues to be successful.


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