Health care gadgets boost quality of life

Butch Grignon, of the Village of Bonita, tees off at Bonifay Country Club. Grignon underwent knee replacement surgery.

Man-made technology has long given the human body a boost. As research progresses, the devices that replace damaged joints, ease ongoing pain, stabilize irregular heartbeats and monitor blood sugar spikes are improving as their popularity grows. The United States has the largest medical device market in the world, valued at $156 billion, according to SelectUSA, a program led by the U.S. Department of Commerce. By 2023, it is expected to grow to $208 billion. The national trend has trickled down to The Villages as more residents opt in to these devices.

Joint Replacements

Improvements in joint replacement, for instance, are helping older adults get back on their feet more quickly and for longer periods.

Wilfred “Butch” Grignon received an artificial knee from The Villages Health three years ago.

“I got to the point where I couldn’t even kneel down or walk,” the Village of Bonita resident said. “It becomes a quality of life issue.”

Following surgery, Grignon said he was in and out of the hospital in one day, starting physical therapy soon after.

“I was back playing golf after three weeks,” he said.

Such recovery stories are common locally, said Brian Wisowaty, a physician assistant in orthopedics at The Villages Health, thanks to improvements in surgical procedures and a push for beginning physical therapy as soon as possible.

“(Residents) are all so active and ready to do things and their outlooks on life are so wonderful,” he said. “Our main goal here is to reduce pain and get them out there doing what they love.”

Patients also can expect their new joints to last longer due to better durability of the plastics and metals used.

Grignon expects his knee will last another 30 years.

Despite technological advancements in devices, Wisowaty said patients shouldn’t rush to surgery without considering less invasive options, which also are becoming more prevalent.

Grignon, for instance, also has received injections in his other knee.

Pain Treatment

Like patients seeking alternatives for those surgeries, people living with chronic pain are increasingly turning to devices in lieu of opioids.

Neuromodulation, where an implant delivers electrical pulses to change how pain signals travel from the spinal cord to the brain, is a therapy that’s been around for more than 50 years, said Dr. Ajay Antony, an anesthesiologist with University of Florida Health.

“Essentially, you can think of it as a pacemaker for pain,” said Antony, who has patients from The Villages.

There have been huge changes to these devices within the last decade, Antony said, because higher levels of research have led to upgrades in how energy is delivered and targeted to specific areas of pain.

“These minimally invasive therapies for chronic pain are definitely going to be used more frequently,” he said. “One reason is that they work better than they did before. The other reason is we’re learning more and more about the dangers and, really, the lack of efficacy of longterm opioid therapy, which had been the mainstay of treatment for chronic pain for many, many years.”

In September, Felice Favicchio became the first person in Florida to receive a new neurostimulation implant for people living with chronic back pain. Antony performed the procedure.

Like artificial joints, the neuromodulation devices are lasting longer.

Antony credits research on the amount of stimulation needed to effectively relieve pain.

Lower doses allow devices like Favicchio’s to stay powered for 10 years without needing to be charged.

Favicchio said his back pain started after a work injury when he was 24 years old.

Surgery helped some, but the pain became unbearable about 10 years ago. Getting out of bed became a daily struggle.

With two small incisions and a 90-minute procedure, the implant changed that.

Favicchio, of Gainesville, has started taking 3-mile walks again, something he hadn’t been able to do in years. He hadn’t been able to play with his grandchildren much before — now he’s able to chase them.

“It’s like putting water on a fire,” he said. “The pain is gone.”

Pacemakers

Two weeks ago, Carl “Dick” Croy’s heart got a helper.

After the replacement of a valve in his heart, the Village of Bonita resident received a pacemaker at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.

Though he still has cardiac rehab ahead, Croy said he’s already feeling better.

“It’s been a real wonder,” he said. “I just feel good.”

The heart has its own electrical system to control heartbeat, and pacemakers are used in order to help control a slow or irregular heartbeat by delivering electrical pulses.

Pacemaker technology continues to improve, said Dr. Robert Herman, a cardiologist with The Villages Health.

They have better battery life and use smaller leads, which are the wires delivering pulses to the heart, he said.

“The devices work smarter,” Herman said. “The new devices can be tested to see if the patient can be paced with less energy.”

This leads to a longer battery life. How long batteries last depend on individual use, he said, but some can last up to 15 years.

Croy, 87, said he’ll be happy with even a few more years thanks to his pacemaker.

Glucose Monitors

Lee Stump, who has Type 2 diabetes, also is among those benefiting from advanced medical technology. 

Stump had to prick his fingers to check his blood sugar levels for 20 years.

The worst part, the Village of Charlotte resident said, is not the brief flash of pain from the needles, but the possibility of a crash.

When that happens, Stump said he gets dizzy, can’t process what’s going on, and has trouble speaking. He spends the rest of the day recovering.

“When you crash, your day is pretty well shot,” Stump said.

He said he was crashing one to two times a week. A medical device changed that.

Stump recently received a continuous glucose monitor, which allows him to check his level at any time without pricking his fingers.

He implants a hairlike sensor beneath the skin every 10 days. The sensor measures glucose levels and sends data to display on a device such as a smartphone.

Stump hasn’t experienced a crash since he started using it.

Ann Hendon, diabetes educator and registered nurse, said the introduction of such devices has been huge for patients with diabetes.

“You actually have the ability to see what is going on all of the time,” she said.

Jan Cresap, of the Village of Silver Lake, started using a monitor in September.

“You feel like you’re more in control,” she said.

A potential downside is cost, Hendon said, as not all insurers will pay for the newer technology. Insurance typically only covers monitors for people who check their blood sugar four times per day and take insulin, like Cresap.

Senior writer Ciara Varone can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5395, or ciara.varone@thevillagesmedia.com.