Life-changing device ‘gives family their dad back’


After six years of excruciating pain that left him bedridden, addicted to painkillers and unable to play with his two young daughters, Ian Coombs found a life-changing solution at Gold Coast Private Hospital.

Not long after the twins were born, Mr Coombs contracted a virus that caused pericarditis – inflammation of tissue surrounding the heart – and doctors were stumped when medication failed to improve his condition.

“I was alive but I wasn’t living. I was dosed out on painkillers 24 hours a day. I ended up on a pension. I couldn’t even mow the lawn, clean the pool or vacuum the house,” the 46-year-old said.

However, through the help of his persistent General Practitioner (GP), he finally met Gold Coast Private cardiologist Dr Ross Sharpe – who instantly recognised the symptoms.

“Ian’s situation was complex. The microcirculation of his heart had been affected badly so essentially he had severe angina with near normal and large coronary arteries, resulting in only a partial response to the usual heart medication,” Dr Sharpe said.

Dr Sharpe's solution was to surgically implant a neuromodulator, a relatively new technology that blocks signals which cause pain or movement disorders by sending mild electrical pulses to the affected areas of the body.

“These devices and treatments are simply life-changing,” Dr Sharpe said of the 30-minute procedure, which involved burying wires in the chest wall and connecting them to a gadget similar to a pacemaker.

"This simultaneously feeds signals back to the heart muscle via nerve fibres, which prompts the arteries to expand resulting in improved blood-flow to the heart muscle," he added.

The procedure brings “significant” lifestyle improvements for more than 60 percent of patients who have a neuromodulator implanted, according to the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience.

“I can’t understate how much the illness impacted not only me but my whole family. On the morning I woke up with chest pain, I was happily married with twin baby girls,” Mr Coombs said.

“The next thing you know I’m getting rushed to hospital. While the doctors thought the pain would disappear after a month or so, it just got worse and worse,” he added.

He credited his family GP of 14 years, Dr Louis Fenelon of Eastbrooke Family Clinic Southport, for continuing to search for solutions and ultimately introducing him to Dr Sharpe.

”Implanting a neuromodulation device is not common, but fortunately it was an option at Gold Coast Private and Ian was willing to have faith in what Dr Sharpe was offering. It’s been a wonderful outcome,” Dr Fenelon said.

Now mobile again and able to exercise, Mr Coombs has lost 10kg in weight and hopes to return to working as an electronics technician next year.

“I’m doing my best to make up for lost time. The twins are now seven and I’m out playing with them after school and on weekends. They’ve got their dad back,” Mr Coombs said.

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