Embracing Diversity and Overlooking Disability

All of my life, I had been immersed in athletics and academics. I had been involved in varsity track, basketball, […]

All of my life, I had been immersed in athletics and academics. I had been involved in varsity track, basketball, and high school rodeo. My senior year I obtained a track scholarship to a superb private premedical school and won several world event and all-around titles in western equestrian speed events like barrel racing, pole bending, and stake race. I was a member of my high school’s academic bowl team, and I took every advanced math and science class available at my small country school in preparation for the pre-medical degree I so badly wanted. Even before my disability’s onset, I wanted to make a difference in patients’ lives by being a surgeon.

However, life changed abruptly during my senior year of high school and early college years. The severe, fast onset of spinal demyelination diagnosed as progressive multiple sclerosis eventually left me paralyzed from about mid-chest down and decreased my upper dexterity. Since I obviously couldn’t run, the track scholarship was off. Additionally, decreased dexterity made me question the feasibility of being a surgeon. During this time, I developed intense burning pain and severe spasticity which is sometimes seen with severe spinal damage. No medication I took, including oral baclofen, helped with the spasticity. My physician implanted a Medtronic pump for ITB TherapySM (Intrathecal Baclofen Therapy) to help with the leg spasms that made simply sitting in a wheelchair difficult. Without this therapy, school would not have been an option as writing and transfers were also difficult.

Due to the loss of the track scholarship, the radical adjustments to life in a wheelchair, and frequent physician visits, I decided to go to Oklahoma State University (OSU) in Stillwater, Oklahoma to pursue a B.S. in chemical engineering with a biomedical option on an academic scholarship. This degree sounded exciting. Though I didn’t know much about it, I knew it involved math, science, problem solving, and had “biomedical” in the name which meant medicine could be involved somehow. I fell in love with engineering—it was so practical and made so much sense. I served on the executive committee for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for 4 years; was a founding member of ChemKidz, a community service organization promoting science and engineering through practical experimental demonstrations; and I performed undergraduate research.

During the summers before my junior and senior years, I worked as a chemical engineer for two major petroleum companies. I was able to use my engineering skills to provide what were considered great contributions. Despite my love to solve engineering problems, my heart ached and longed for a career in the medical field where contributions are measured in lives and lives changed instead of just dollars. My Medtronic Neurological representative made an impact on me. He was so kind and knowledgeable with a smile that said “compassion.” I thought he had the perfect job, seeing and helping patients each day from the operating room to simple office visits. I wanted to make a difference like that.

During my senior year, I applied for fellowships to go to graduate school. I wanted to work for Medtronic Neurological and learned that many researchers had PhDs. So, I applied to some of the top biomedical engineering schools. I decided on the joint biomedical engineering PhD program at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University School of Medicine because of the unique opportunity to take medical classes and the outstanding neuroengineering program for which I received an IGERT (integrated tissues and neural engineering) fellowship. I received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to fund the remainder of my schooling.

I pushed hard to get a Medtronic internship during my first year of grad school — applying on the web, talking to Medtronic at career fairs, and applying for an internship through the IGERT program. My persistence and numerous emails finally paid off when I got the opportunity to come to Medtronic as an intern for the summer of 2005. It was awesome! It was everything I could have imagined and more. I was stunned by castle-like facilities, but more than anything I was amazed by the people. From housekeeping to the top executives, everyone was approachable, spoke with a welcoming smile, and had overwhelming compassion for their jobs and for the mission and goals of the company. Additionally, employees embrace diversity and overlook disability. I am flabbergasted by Medtronic’s dedication and contribution to programs to help the disabled.

As an intern at Medtronic Neurological I was constantly, happily busy, working on meaningful projects where I could make a difference. Besides report writing, I presented my work to various departments and divisions via presentations. I also had opportunities for personal development; I attended various training classes, technical seminars and forums. I also made personal visits to people doing research in an effort to obtain ideas and opinions on possible PhD projects.

I am now starting my second year of graduate research and am in the process of expounding my research ideas in preparation for my proposal. One thing I know for sure is that my PhD research will involve enhancing Medtronic Neurological therapies through engineering design and physiological determination of therapy and/or condition mechanisms. I have to thank my parents, especially my Mom, who has supported me emotionally and physically from the beginning; Medtronic Neurological for making my education and career possible via my life changing ITB Therapy and for the opportunity to be an intern; the numerous educators at OSU, Georgia Tech, and Emory who have had faith in my abilities despite my disabilities; and God who has allowed me to persevere.

The story above represents one individual’s experience with ITB Therapy. Results vary; not every individual will receive the same benefits. Side effects can occur. For more information, please see the below patient information.

Patient Information

LIORESAL® INTRATHECAL (baclofen injection 40 mg/20 mL, 10 mg/5 mL, 10 mg/20 mL, 0.05 mg/1 mL)

Completely read this information before you start using Medtronic ITB TherapySM (Intrathecal Baclofen Therapy). This information does not take the place of thorough discussions with your doctor. You and your doctor should discuss ITB Therapy before you begin receiving the therapy and at regular refill appointments.

What is Lioresal® Intrathecal (baclofen injection)?

Lioresal Intrathecal is a liquid form of baclofen, and is commonly used to treat severe spasticity. Liquid baclofen is used for injections and infusion into the intrathecal space (the fluid-filled area surrounding the spinal cord), using an implantable drug delivery system.

What is severe spasticity?

Severe spasticity is tight, stiff muscles that make movements – especially of the arms and legs – difficult or uncontrollable. Severe spasticity can interfere with an individual’s function and/or comfort.

Who is a candidate for Lioresal Intrathecal?

People who suffer from severe spasticity resulting from cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain injury, or spinal cord injury, and who suffer intolerable side effects from oral baclofen (pills), may be a candidate for Lioresal Intrathecal. A screening test will help determine if you will respond to the intrathecal medication. Talk with your doctor about whether Lioresal Intrathecal may be an option for you.

Who is not a candidate for Lioresal Intrathecal?

People who are hypersensitive (extremely sensitive) to oral baclofen should not take Lioresal Intrathecal.

What are the most common side effects of Lioresal Intrathecal?

The side effects of intrathecal baclofen include loose muscles, sleepiness, upset stomach, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness. As with most medications, overdose (drug dose is too high) or underdose (drug dose is too low) can occur. Talk with your doctor about the side effects you may experience from your treatment.

What do I need to know if I am using Lioresal Intrathecal?

Abruptly stopping intrathecal baclofen can result in serious medical problems and in rare cases has been fatal. It is important to keep your pump filled with medication by attending regularly scheduled refill appointments.

What are the signs of rapid or abrupt withdrawal from intrathecal baclofen?

Increase or return in spasticity, itching, low blood pressure, lightheadedness, and tingling sensation are often early indications of baclofen withdrawal. It is very important that your doctor be called right away if you experience any of the above symptoms.

In rare cases, severe symptoms may occur. These symptoms include high fever, altered mental status, spasticity worse than before you started ITB Therapy, and muscle rigidity. It is very important that your doctor be called right away if you experience any of the above symptoms.

What can I do to prevent baclofen underdose or abrupt discontinuation of intrathecal baclofen?

It is very important that you keep all of your refill appointments. This may require some planning prior to traveling. Maintaining a regular refill schedule will ensure the pump does not run out of medication and that any potential problems with the infusion system are diagnosed and corrected. Additionally, you should be aware of what your pump alarms sound like. If you hear the alarm, contact your doctor immediately.

Furthermore, it is very important that you know and understand the signs of baclofen underdose. Also be sure to tell your doctor right away if you experience any unusual symptoms, side effects, or changes in your condition.

What are the symptoms of baclofen overdose?

Although rare, it is possible for you to receive too much medication (overdose). A baclofen overdose may cause drowsiness, lightheadedness, respiratory depression (difficulty breathing), seizures, loss of consciousness and coma. If you experience any of the above symptoms, it is very important that you or your caregiver contact your doctor right away.

This provides a summary of the most important information about Lioresal Intrathecal. If you would like more information, talk with your doctor. You can ask for information about Lioresal Intrathecal that is written for healthcare professionals. You also can get more information by visiting www.spasticity.com.

Rx only. Lioresal® is a registered trademark of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation.