Jerry Lewis

Lewis entertained doctors, nurses, firefighters and other people at a seminar at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center. Between jokes and video clips, Lewis told of the agony his estimated 1,900 career pratfalls caused him. One physical gag in 1965 – a flip off a piano – landed him spine-first on a steel cable. The accident left him paralyzed overnight and then caused overwhelming pain for the next 37 years, Lewis, now 78, said.

Four failed back surgeries, steroids and narcotic pain pills did nothing to relieve the pain, Lewis said. He became a workaholic to try to take his mind off the agony he felt. But the pain never went away. He was minutes away from shooting himself when his daughter, now 12, caught him holding a handgun, he said.

The entertainer now uses “a pain pacemaker” – an implanted device called a spinal cord stimulator. The device, made by Medtronic Inc. of Minneapolis, consists of a palm-size battery encased in plastic, which is placed under the skin in the abdomen or buttocks. Coated wires run from the stimulator to the spine. Tiny electrodes at the end of the wires lay on top of the spinal cord and produce an electric current. Patients experience the current as a tingling. The tingling blocks pain signals to the brain. Patients control the intensity and duration of the current with a remote control.

For Lewis, the pain relief was instantaneous and complete. But his “Jewish guilt” doesn’t allow him to fully enjoy his pain relief knowing that others are in similar boats, he said.

“We have 75 million people suffering with chronic pain in this country. It is an epidemic,” Lewis said.

For 2 1/2 years, Lewis has toured as Medtronic’s spokesman, touting the benefits of spinal cord stimulation for people with chronic pain.

Lewis intends to start a Chronic Pain Association similar to the Muscular Dystrophy Association he began nearly half a century ago. His telethons have raised nearly $2 billion for muscular dystrophy over the past 48 years, and children with the disease often are referred to as “Jerry’s kids.”

The most common reason for getting a spinal stimulator is chronic pain after back surgery, said Dr. Gregory H. Smith, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist at Pain Management Services in Des Peres. About 400,000 people in the United States undergo back surgeries each year. Up to 15 percent of them may develop chronic pain, Smith said.

Doctors are not sure how the stimulator blocks pain. Some researchers think the electrical currents may stimulate the body to release endorphins, a natural type of painkiller akin to morphine. Another theory is that it swamps out pain signals to the brain by overwhelming those messages with more pleasurable tingling sensations.

“It’s like having a phone line that’s busy. Now these pain fibers can’t call in the pain message to the spinal cord and the brain,” Smith said.

The device is usually a last resort, said Dr. Robert Swarm, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Washington University Pain Center.

Only about two dozen of the 1,500 new patients Swarm sees each year get the stimulators, he said.

Medtronic and several other manufacturers make the devices. The stimulator may cost $15,000 to $35,000, depending on the size of the battery and the number of electrodes. But the device is not necessarily more expensive than pain pills, Swarm said.

Even though the stimulators don’t work for all patients and may only partially relieve pain for others, patients often report functioning better in daily life, pain doctors say.

“It may make the difference between having normal relations with the family and being a recluse moaning in their room all the time,” Swarm said.

12 thoughts on “Jerry Lewis”

  1. To whom it may concern,
    I am a cynic,former businessman and been and seen all that encompasses spine pain.
    I feel that Mr. Lewis has been compensated so well thru MSD and chronic spine pain that his testimonial is inaccurate and melodramatic.He is an actor.And a very good one.

    1. I agree. I would not trust Jerry Lewis as far as I could throw him. In my opinion, he is a crude, loudmouth bully (particularly to staff and Co workers , and astonishingly , sometimed to fans) ) who has admittedly physically threatened Joan Rivers.

  2. Daniel,
    You certainly weren’t kidding when you called yourself a cynic…don’t you think it’s in the realm of possibility that sometimes a celebrity endorses a product based only on their belief in the product?? I’m certainly not suggesting that it happens often, however I am sure that it does happen occasionally. Jerry Lewis of all people is an amusing instance of celebrity endorsing something…for the simple fact that based on his history it seems all the more likely that he truly believes in spinal cord stimulation. This isn’t the latest pop star pushing a new flavor soda. This is an American icon who has been performing for over 70 years, he’s not only an actor but director as well and invented new ways to film things.He doesn’t need the money so isn’t it possible that after he suffered in pain for 37 years and was on the brink of suicide, when he found a solution he wanted to share with other chronic pain sufferers??? I think he’s been shown to be an amazing humanitarian…so it was probably a pleasure to be able to tell people about something that helped him so much and gave him back much of his life.I don’t know your situation but I personally have been in chronic pain and have had multiple surgeries and procedures (back & knee) for the last 8 years…I wouldn’t wish this level of pain, depression, lack of living life and misery on anyone….EVER.But I would be more than happy to share the news if I found something that helped and allowed me to be a functional human being, mother, wife, sister, aunt and friend…I would scream from the rooftops. There is a time and place to be cynical….and there are times when it isn’t appropriate. Good luck to you Daniel and best wishes…..and you too Jerry Lewis..I love you!!!!

  3. I am at the point you were Jerry And am seeking to get the pain pump or the stimulater because after 12 years of chronic pain and 3 back surgeries and countless spine injections-I am still in it!!! I cant imagine going 37 years!!! Bless your heart Jerry!!!!

  4. The spinal cord did not working for me; in fact I found it quit horrific. However, I met a woman who had it and was at my doctor’s office for a follow up: she was beaming. So I’ve been there, except for the morphine pump, and sometimes days are so difficult. I wish you all the very best.

    1. Sorry the device didn’t help you. I am getting my trial on 3/18 and pray that it works. I have only been suffering with sciatica for one year, but epidurals haven’t helped and a neurosurgeon told me I am not a candidate for surgery. So, this is my last resort. I have 4 herniated discs causing the problem. I feel at wits end also, so all these testimonies ring true. Again, I am so sorry you did not have success with your device. Hang in there.

      1. I read your comment .I am trying get more information about medtronic spine cord stimulation.
        Becasue I got to have something done real soon.They tell me if they do and operation I had I could be come out parazied and do not wanted that to happen…So if any one reads this email at tell me is the medtronic the way to go.
        Thank you Rebecca

  5. I’ve been dealing with similar issues. Been in the mental hospital 3 times for attempted or intended suicide due to the pain. I’ve been dealing with the pain for about 12 years but it got really intense the last 5 years or so.
    I had 3 spine surgeries last year and the next step would be to fuse my entire lumbar. Yikes…. I’m only 36. I just heard about the stimulator from one of my docs today and I’m gonna make a b-line for my surgeons office to see if I’m a candidate. Honestly, especially since there is a several day trail, from what I hear, I’ll give any thing besides a complete lumbar fusion. Wish me luck, I’ll update on my success or failure.

  6. After today’s visit to my pain management doctor, he suggested the stimulator in my back. I have had pain for about 5 years and it is so debilitating. Shots do not help. I have been told I am not a candidate for surgery.

    Today, my doctor said he would do what is called the “test drive” where he will put the wires in my back, and a battery pack around my waist for 5 days. If this works, then I am a candidate for the permanent wires and battery to be put in my back. I pray this works. I am so active for a gal 81 years old and this is putting a damper on my life.

  7. I have friends who have had stimulators & morphine pumps that work for awhile, sometimes over a decade, but then stopped. I have severe Osteopenia/Osteoporosis, Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis throughout my entire body, Degenerative Disc Disease, Incomplete Tear of Right Rotator Cuff, inoperable due to severity of Osteopenia. The list goes on. I’m getting off hard opiates, as they stopped working as well & aren’t good for your body. I don’t have “Commercial Insurance” & in the state of Oregon (I’m sure other states, too), better treatment consists of the amount of money you have & that’s a fact. Being I’m not in the category of ‘wealthy”, I don’t know where to turn. I’m almost an invalid, am 59 years old, have been suffering for 16 years, & I want my life back. Is there anyone out there who can steer me in the appropriate direction? Please keep in mind that I cannot have ANY Orthopedic surgeries, due to the condition of my spine & severely thinned bones (Osteopenia derived from cancer surgery @ 34 years of age in 1993 when female organs including ovaries were removed). If someone is out there who cares to help me, please feel free to do so. I have a lot to offer in this world & I would be blessed to have the opportunity to do so, especially for animals, IF I could be more or less pain free AND WITHOUT surgeries or drugs. I would love to hear from you! Thank you fr taking the time to read my short story.

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