RETIRED Coffs Coast mechanic and banana farmer Joe Grewal has had his life transformed by a revolutionary pain control device inserted into his spine at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital a year ago.
Celebrating the anniversary milestone with his medical team this week, the 61-year-old explained how the Saluda device had given him back his future after decades of chronic back pain.
Mr Grewal was the first patient in the world to receive the device, which uses electrical impulses to block pain signals from reaching the brain.
Unlike earlier devices, the Saluda adjusts for movement automatically, rather than relying on the patient to turn the impulses up or down depending on pain.
"It's brilliant - it has completely changed my life," Joe said.
"I can do so much more. I can walk to the beach. I can tinker around with cars with my 26-year-old and that's a father-son activity I really cherish.
"Before this happened life was pretty dismal and I couldn't really see a future. The constant pain was really miserable and it affected every aspect of my life including my relationships.
"I was in some dark places. I was depressed and even suicidal, but now everything has turned around."
Years of heavy manual labour saw Joe rupture discs in his back, prompting seven previous spinal surgeries.
"Hauling banana bunches which weigh 70 or 80 kilos probably wasn't such a good idea. All that hard yakka put a lot of stress on my spine."
Joe was joined by his pain specialist Dr Charles Brooker and more recent Saluda recipient Deb Morales, 54, of the Sydney suburb Wakeley.
Deb is one of a further 35 Australians to have had a Saluda device implanted since Joe a year ago.
Dr Brooker said research by RNSH staff had contributed to the development of the device and they were excited about the potential of this technology.
"A number of our patients have had the device implanted and are very happy with their pain relief," he said.
Saluda Medical founder and CEO John Parker said it was very gratifying to see the difference the device was making to people's lives.
"It's a long road from the lab to reality and we could not be more pleased that all the effort that's gone into developing this device is turning lives around," he said.
Dr Parker said another 30 patients would receive the device in an extension of the Australian study into its effectiveness.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the device for investigation, meaning a trial could follow similar to the one under way in Australia.
"If all goes well, the device will then be on the market in the United States. We also expect to have it on the market in Europe next year," Dr Parker said.
If the Australian trial is a success, the device could be widely available in 2018.