Cheri Lopez lived a life of glamour in Los Angeles. She had lots of money, fancy cars and properties in Hawaii, Florida, Mexico and California. Now, seven years after she migrated to Trinidad she is jobless, without a car, and her life is no longer flashy. To live, she depends on stimulation from a battery implanted in her butt. On May 10, a team of doctors including neurosurgeon Dr Robert Ramcharan did a neuro-stimulator implant (NSI) on Lopez. A three-day trial was done on November 10, last year and Lopez responded positively. Ramcharan could not be reached for comment as he was out of the country. Lopez spoke to the Sunday Guardian on Thursday in the gallery of her home in Dinsley Gardens, Tacarigua. She said, “I just wanted to make money and be able to drive by in a sports car and see a big billboard, a couple hundred feet all around with my picture on it in LA. “I did all of that, but it’s empty at the end. “Nothing fazes me anymore now.”
She was an aesthetician making thousands of dollars a day. She wore a light shade of pink lipstick and her eyebrows were neatly shaped with an eyebrow pencil. As fate would have it, 53-year old Lopez’s life came “crashing” down when an iron gate pinned her to the ground after counselling a teenage girl in the Trincity area. Lopez returned from the United States after living there for 25 years. She and her husband are divorced; their marriage produced no children. However, she has a daughter from her first marriage. Her ailment has created problems with her loved ones and she hardly spends time with her three grandchildren. However, in happier times she said she enjoyed dressing her two granddaughters in matching outfits and handbags.Explaining how tragedy struck in 2005, Lopez said when she was about to make her exit, the 750 pound gate fell. “I fell backwards with my legs underneath me and the gate on me. “It was too heavy for even four people to lift off.“I was bleeding from the ear and it was bad.”
In the seven years that have passed she did several surgeries but was told she had a case of failed back syndrome which she said meant “the end.” A new spring of hope dawned on her when she was told about the NSI. She said on the day of the incident she was taken to hospital but after an X-ray and being “swabbed up” she was told nothing was wrong. “Two weeks after I was brushing my hair to go to work and I felt a pain shoot to my brain and through my body like electricity and I just dropped to the floor. I couldn’t move,” she said. She was again rushed to hospital and was told she had severe damage to the L3 and L4 of her spinal column and would need surgery. Even that failed. She “crashed” again. After several hospital visits her condition deteriorated. She had pins, screws and bolts placed in her spine but they “broke out.” Lopez said, “I had another surgery done and they took out the pins and screws and they closed me up and wrote failed back syndrome which meant end of story, end of life. “They said I needed to go home, relax with my family...you are just waiting to die...medications can no longer help you.” She still has screws in her which show on an X-ray but cannot be found in her body. Lopez was devastated. She was immobile. Her life had changed dramatically.
A battery in her butt
“I have a battery implanted in my butt,” she said as she showed how the remote operated device worked. The battery is on the right cheek. Her spine has 16 neuro-stimulator leads (wire-like structures that are connected to the generator). She said the leads are between the vertebrae and gives out signals and pulses which in turn go into her spine and send messages to her brain.
The devices have to be within five feet of her; wherever she goes her kit goes. She has to ensure her devices are fully charged at all times should electricity go for a few days or else her body “is going to come crashing down.” While the implant is giving her life, there are things she cannot do. She cannot be too close to a microwave, television, radio, cell phone and other high frequency appliances or electronics. She cannot run, jump, jerk her body, bend forward, backward or sideways. Lopez said a nurse is yet to be assigned to her from the Ministry of Health for daily care.
Lopez now lives a humble life — not like the one she left behind in Los Angeles. “This accident has turned my fate around. “Probably God did this to get my attention because before my life was a very glamorous in Los Angeles. “I lived a very high lifestyle,” she said.She said she was part of the in-crowd and was a jet-setter. But today she has realised that material possessions will not accompany a person when they die. She said, “I was caught up with material things but I have learnt now that you can’t take them with you anywhere. “Don’t be greedy.” Lopez said people should try to find their life lessons before it is too late. She said people needed to get rid of haughtiness and envy and learn to forgive and be more sensitive to human morals and values. “I have found that you need to have a state of mind and be less bombarded by material things. “Money will never buy you forgiveness,” she said. Apart from government assistance which is not enough to meet her medical needs, now and again Lopez does interior décor, floral arrangements, bridal make-up and cake designs.
How the surgery is done
During the surgical procedure, the doctor makes a small incision on the patient’s back and places the wires (the leads) that deliver the stimulation;
• Makes a second incision and creates a pocket of skin to hold the neuro-stimulator (usually in the abdomen)
• Connects the leads and the neuro-stimulator with a small cable (the extension), which is tunnelled under the skin;
• Once the leads, extension, and neuro-stimulator are in position, the doctor closes the incisions and completes the surgery.