Advance with MUSC Health

After a Decade of Pain, Scrambler Therapy Gave Him Back His Life

Advance With MUSC Health
May 15, 2024
Dennis Karpf

Call it the penultimate irony. Dennis Karpf, personal injury attorney, was injured in a car crash. The ultimate irony? The accident occurred as Karpf was returning home from court after representing a New Jersey state trooper who was left crippled after an auto accident.

Like a star witness, Karpf recalls the incident, which occurred three miles from his home in Cherry Hill, N.J., in vivid detail: “It was 5 p.m. on January 6, 2006, an unusually warm winter day. I was stopped in traffic when I was struck in the rear by two vehicles. The impact forced my car into the rear of a heavy vehicle.”

Karpf credits his four-door Saab, which had a steel-cage construction that provided extra safety for the driver, for saving his life. The cage was twisted and the car trunk was crushed, but the cage kept the engine from being pushed into Karpf.

Not wanting to alarm his wife and three daughters, Karpf “sucked it up” and caught a ride home.

One failed treatment after another

Almost immediately, he realized he had underestimated the severity of his injuries. “Things were not going well. I had pain and numbness in all four extremities, pain in my neck and lower back, and difficulty with balance,” he says.

Although Karpf settled the civil suit successfully on behalf of his client, he was just beginning his own years-long trial of debilitating pain and failed procedures that forced him to retire early from his law practice.

At first, he sought conservative treatments from an array of therapists, chiropractors, physiatrists, and a neurologist. When physical therapy, chiropractic massages, multiple epidural injections in his neck and lower back, and nerve stimulation failed to relieve his pain, Karpf turned to surgery.

First, he underwent shoulder surgery in 2009. Still, he had pain. A spine surgeon told Karpf he risked paralysis if he didn’t have neck and back surgery to repair his deteriorating spine. Fearing the worst, Karpf had surgery on his neck in 2010; the bone and metal failed. A second neck surgery that same year failed to reduce his pain. Another surgery on his lower back also failed.

Karpf was losing hope. “I had always been active and strong; I swam three times a week and did push-ups. I had a high pain threshold, but nothing gave me relief. Friends could see the pain on my face.”

A glimmer of hope

In 2016, Karpf and his wife, Betsy, moved to Mount Pleasant for the warmer weather. By this time, Karpf was growing weaker. His lower back pain was ever-present, and he was unable to walk. Additional treatments had failed.

In 2018, MUSC Health chiropractor Dr. Joseph Armour recommended scrambler therapy. Karpf didn’t hesitate. His pain was eight on a scale of zero to 10. He was desperate to end his days lying on his back and eager to walk again.

Approved by the FDA, and originally used to treat pain in cancer patients, scrambler therapy uses electrical stimulation to scramble pain messages from the nerves to the brain.

Here’s how it works: Electrodes are placed on the body above and below where pain is felt. Impulses from the electrodes are transmitted to those nearby pain areas to replace the pain signals sent from damaged nerves to the brain, thereby “scrambling” those pain signals.

In November 2018, Karpf met with Dr. Andrew Schreiner, internal medicine and primary care physician at MUSC Health. After reviewing Karpf’s medical history and assessing his pain level, Dr. Schreiner determined he was a candidate for the therapy, which consists of 10 one-hour sessions for two weeks and booster sessions as needed.

Within days, Karpf had his first treatment by Nurse Carol Hipple at the NCI-designated Hollings Cancer Center, where the Scrambler Therapy Clinic is located.

“During the treatments, I would feel a slight electric shock, but it was not painful at all because the impulses were sending a non-pain message. I would put myself in a state of relaxation and fall asleep.”

Relief at long last

Almost immediately, he felt relief. The pain going to his legs, feet, the back of my knees, and his calves dropped dramatically, and he slowly resumed his physical activities.

Nearly five years later, the verdict is in: Karpf calls the turnaround “remarkable,” saying it has changed his life in ways large and small.

“I am walking one to two miles every other day; my pain level stays at two-and-a-half, and that’s without any pain medication. I’ve had two to three booster treatments each year. I teach a class every Thursday night at my synagogue, and I volunteer at the Yorktown aircraft carrier at Patriots Point.”

Karpf says the therapy brought unexpected benefits - ones not listed in a patient manual. “I loved what I was doing as a lawyer, but since Scrambler I’ve been able to use this pain in a positive way. I have learned to make my life wonderful. I was able to reconnect with my family, friends and loved ones because of Scrambler.”

And while Karpf enumerates the benefits of Scrambler, he knows it wouldn’t have been possible without the MUSC Health team that prescribed, oversaw and encouraged him through his journey to normalcy.

“Without the excellent care by Dr. Armour and his referral and the outstanding knowledge and care by Dr. Schreiner, I would likely still be confined to bed and a wheelchair with excruciating pain and loss of mobility,” Karpf says. “Further, Nurse Carol Hipple had a tremendous understanding of the Scrambler Program and all my problems arising from my spinal trauma and failed surgeries. She and Scrambler Therapy deserve the credit for my turnaround. MUSC and its patients are fortunate to have doctors like Dr. Schreiner and Dr. Armour and nurses like Nurse Carol, who provided the gold standard for compassionate restoration of my life.”

Scrambler Therapy is used to treat chronic neuropathic pain. Referrals are required. The clinic number is 843-792-9564.