New therapy for chronic pain helps area mom, but there’s a catch

Posted at 8:45 AM, Jan 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-12 08:46:34-05

CEDAR SPRINGS, Mich. -- Michelle Jacobson is a breast cancer survivor who has continuously lived with pain since surgery in 2010.

She says she woke up from that surgery with a burning pain in her lower abdomen. Years later, it's still there and has spread to her neck and chest. She is unable to hug loved ones because her pain is too much to bear.

Now, a promising new therapy claims to retrain how your brain responds to pain without the help of opioids.

It's called the Calmar Scrambler Therapy device, a non-invasive, non-addicting therapy. Its creator, Dr. Stephen J D'Amato, says the device is designed to "scramble the pain signal" to the brain, resulting in a reduction in pain.

Michelle was diagnosed with stage three C breast cancer in 2009. Within two weeks, she was on chemotherapy and undergoing a left mastectomy. In June of 2010, she underwent a 10-hour surgery to remove the right breast and use part of her lower abdomen to re-create her two breasts.

Since then, she has experienced "constant burning, like having a flame under my skin," she said. "Working has become a real challenge." She often works from home with her shirt off because of the pain.

"This machine is an incredible machine that can take away pain," Jacobson said.

Dr. D'Amato with Calmar Pain Relief, has been using scrambler therapy (ST) since 2009.

Michelle's husband, Mark, says the one machine in Grand Rapids will soon become unavailable, and they don't have the time nor money to travel to Road Island to see Dr. D'Amato every three weeks.

Now, Jacobson will have to travel to Chicago, adding travel expenses onto the already expensive treatment.And what's worse is that medical insurance won't cover the $200 cost per visit.

According to the Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act, medical care is to be provided following mastectomy and any complications from it, but Blue Cross Blue Shield doesn't cover ST treatment. However, Jacobson says her insurance is willing to cover exploratory surgeries, injections and medications.

We contacted BCBS, and they said that while "we certainly understand a patient’s desire to seek alternative, even unproven therapies. But from the limited evidence available so far, this technology has not been definitively shown to improve a patient’s clinical outcome."

BCBS said Michelle appealed their first rejection, and an independent review decided the treatment was experimental. "We periodically review procedures and will be looking at this procedure again this year," they said.

Mark Jacobson says BCBS is not the enemy. The enemy in all of this is the pain.

The Jacobsons hope that someone in Grand Rapids can purchase a scrambler, and that one day soon and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan will soon change their minds.

"She is cancer free at this point; she’s alive," Mark said. "But what we’re dealing with here is not just her pain therapy, but a machine that I really think from what I've seen is something we don’t want to leave the area."

BCT Spine and Sport is the medical practice that is getting rid of the scrambler therapy, but they refused to comment.

Dr. Richard Ilka is a local physician who will provide a demonstration of the ST in his office in the East Paris Medical Center, 1000 East Paris, once a scrambler can be purchased. His phone number is 616-446-8952.

If you want more information on ST or Dr. D'Amato, click here.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Jacobsons afford ST.