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Thread: Jerry Lewis Puts Trademark Passion and Personal Experience Into Chronic Pain Campaign

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    Jerry Lewis Puts Trademark Passion and Personal Experience Into Chronic Pain Campaign

    Jerry Lewis Puts Trademark Passion and Personal Experience Into Chronic Pain Campaign -- Legendary Entertainer Teams Up With Patient Advocacy Groups and Medtronic To Help 70 Million Americans 'Tame the Pain'; Problem Persists Despite Array Of Treatment Options


    Story Filed: Wednesday, November 13, 2002 8:01 AM EST

    NEW YORK, Nov 13, 2002 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- After winning his nearly 40-year battle with chronic pain, Jerry Lewis has made the move from comic relief to pain relief. The legendary entertainer, who has been called a pain many times during his storied career in film, philanthropy and performance art, is putting his trademark passion and personal experience behind Tame the Pain, a public education initiative that seeks to connect chronic pain sufferers with pain specialists.

    Defined as pain that recurs or persists for more than six months, chronic pain affects approximately 70 million Americans, or about one in four people in the United States, according to the National Pain Foundation. Published reports put the problem in perspective. Resulting in 40 million doctor visits, 515 million lost workdays and $100 billion in medical expenses each year, chronic pain remains undertreated, even though an array of treatment options exist.

    As Mr. Lewis knows first hand, chronic pain can take a devastating toll on the millions of people it affects -- from the sufferers themselves, to their families and work colleagues. The condition can lead to difficulty holding a job, low self-esteem, strained relationships and depression. It is the most common reason for seeking medical attention. Typically stemming from injury, illness, disease or surgery, many people struggle to find a chronic pain treatment that works for them. Others are told they need to learn to live with it.

    "I had been in pain for 37 years," Mr. Lewis said, "and I was about ready to walk into an 18 wheeler or a fan jet or blow my brains out. I didn't think I would make it another year." Mr. Lewis credits his pain specialist, Dr. Joseph Schifini, with saving his life. "People with uncontrolled chronic pain should seek out a pain specialist to discuss treatment options, much like a patient with a heart condition seeks out a cardiologist," according to Dr. Schifini. "Tame the Pain is a program that will help connect people with the right specialists." Treatment options to discuss with a pain specialist, Dr. Schifini explained, include medication, physical therapy, surgery and medical technology.

    Mr. Lewis, for example, found relief with a Medtronic "pain pacemaker," an implantable device that sends mild electrical impulses to the spinal cord to block pain signals as they travel to the brain. Now, instead of pain, Mr. Lewis says he feels a mild tingling sensation: "I feel reborn. I get up every morning and say, 'Thank God.' With my chronic pain under control, I'm laughing again."

    Supported by a coalition of patient advocacy groups -- including The National Pain Foundation (NPF) and the National Chronic Pain Society (NCPS) -- and sponsored by Medtronic, Inc., Tame the Pain provides information and resources about chronic pain management through a Web site, , and a toll-free phone number, 1-866-617-PAIN.

    The campaign's Web site features a chronic pain inventory, which presents a list of relevant questions, and a comprehensive physician finder, which enables people with chronic pain to locate a nearby pain specialist. It also serves as a portal to the Web sites of patient advocacy groups that endorse the campaign and provides additional information and resources for people with chronic pain.

    NCPS joined the Tame the Pain initiative to help bring hope to people with chronic pain. "Tame the Pain is a great way for people to become empowered, informed and equipped to control their pain," says Helen Dearman, founder and president of NCPS. "It also helps their families understand the issues of chronic pain and how it affects their loved ones."

    Like Mr. Lewis, Ms. Dearman lived with chronic pain for decades. After years of suffering despite numerous surgical procedures, she went to a pain specialist. Together, they opted for a Medtronic "pain-control pump," an implantable infusion system that delivers medication directly to the fluid- filled area surrounding the spinal cord, where small amounts of drug can make a big difference to people with chronic pain -- and with fewer side effects.

    Tame the Pain is a public education initiative that seeks to connect chronic pain sufferers with pain specialists. The campaign is supported by a coalition of patient advocacy groups and sponsored by Medtronic, the world's leading medical technology company. More information about chronic pain management is available online at or by calling toll-free (866) 617-PAIN.

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    SOURCE Medtronic, Inc.

    CONTACT: Michael Kaplan of GCI Group (New York), +1-212-537-8295, , or Samantha Kaplan of GCI Group (Chicago),


    [This message was edited by seneca on Nov 14, 2002 at 11:46 PM.]

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    Comedy Is the Source of Pain for Jerry Lewis

    Comedy Is the Source of Pain for Jerry Lewis
    1 hour, 37 minutes ago
    By Adam Marcus
    HealthScoutNews Reporter

    WEDNESDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthScoutNews) -- Jerry Lewis may be 76, but his firm grip still sits on your hand long after the shaking. He is a genial host in his suite at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, where he has been staying "since I could afford it" and where he has come to discuss the plight of sick people without a champion.

    They're not children with muscular dystrophy, a cause Lewis made his own in 1948 and for which he's raised $1.8 billion. Although Lewis won't discuss why he adopted "Jerry's Kids" as his philanthropic mission -- he says it's the only secret he's ever kept -- he talks freely about his interest in chronic pain. While he can't speak personally about the debility of muscular dystrophy, Lewis counts himself among the 70 million Americans who wake up every morning and go to bed each night in pain.

    A map of any conversation with Lewis resembles an airline route chart: all red lines inevitably return to the hub that is his 10-year-old adopted daughter, Danielle. It was Dani, he says, who saved his life at the moment two years ago when he was about to end it.

    Tapped out physically and emotionally, Lewis thought he was alone in his Las Vegas house when he sat in the bathroom at arm's length from his revolver. But Dani walked in, surprising him. "She looked up at me and said, 'No, Daddy, no,'" the entertainer says.

    Pain was the wage Lewis paid for his success in show business, a Faustian bargain with the comedy gods that made him rich and famous beyond belief. His brand of humor is pure goonery, borne of the recognition that the body is as funny as the tongue. Lewis spent much of his celebrated 16-film partnership with Dean Martin crawling up from breakfalls of corrugated cardboard, only to plunge gleefully back if the sight gag worked. He has tumbled from cars and off two-story buildings, on the promise that audiences will love him for the trouble.

    "When you get a laugh, go for it," Lewis says.

    The falls continued after he and Martin split, and the list of injuries mounted -- he has broken both legs, both arms, both shoulder blades, and sundry other bones at least once.

    The worst happened on March 20, 1965. Lewis was playing the Sands in Las Vegas, closing out a show whose finale was an elaborate fall from a piano. To impress his orchestra, Lewis did "the best double flip of my life" directly onto a metal microphone connector. "I thought I was paralyzed," he recalls. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors told him he'd nearly severed the end of his spine.

    Lewis says the pain was all but intolerable, except when he was on stage. "It's the adrenaline," he says.

    However, adrenaline can do only so much, and the curtain eventually falls. Over the years, Lewis became a Percodan addict. He started on low doses, but ultimately, he says, he still ached even after a dozen pills a day. At the nadir of his habit, while in London for a command performance for Queen Elizabeth II (news - web sites), he found himself in Soho buying 10 tablets of the stuff for $200 a pop. "I was a doper of the first rate," he says.

    In May 2001, Lewis was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, scarring of the tissue separating the lungs' air sacs. Doctors put him on the steroid prednisone, which helps him breathe but left him 50 pounds heavier and ballooned his waist from a trim 33 inches to 51 inches. "I looked like a Jew sumo wrestler," he says.

    By Labor Day that year, he felt so ill he had to sit through the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon, and his uneasy puffball visage prompted an outpouring of concerned letters from viewers. One woman even added $75 to her yearly contribution earmarked specially for his care.

    In April of this year, one of Lewis' doctors suggested that he consider trying the electronic neurostimulator. After a four-day dress rehearsal in which he was pain-free, Lewis had the device implanted permanently.

    Lewis is easily excitable, especially when the topic under discussion is himself, his family, or himself. He curses with the fluency of a street hustler. He was born in Newark, N.J., which "looked like Beirut" the last time he visited there, he says with a trace of regret.

    As he talks, he coughs into his fist, an effect of the lung disease.

    Now, brought back from the unthinkable by filial admonition, Lewis is never out of reach of another device, one he also credits with saving his life. It is a red remote control about the size of a cell phone.

    When he brings it to his side and pushes a button, an electric stimulator embedded in his abdomen floods his spine with low-voltage current. These pulses prevent pain impulses from reaching the brain and muzzle the otherwise crippling discomfort.

    The device, called an electrical neurostimulator, is made by Medtronic and is now used by roughly 110,000 Americans. Medtronic hired Lewis as the headliner for its "Tame the Pain" campaign to raise awareness of the problem of chronic pain and its treatments. The American Pain Foundation and the National Society for Chronic Pain are also involved in the effort.

    "There's hope, there's help, there are answers for people with chronic pain," says Helen Dearman, founder of the National Society for Chronic Pain, a Houston-based nonprofit. Dearman has been dealing with daily pain since 1975, when she fell four stories onto her back. She says patients need to know they "have to seek the right for care. Lots of people do not realize that they can see a pain management specialist."

    Dearman wears a different sort of implant from Lewis', this one an opiate pump that doses her spinal cord with painkiller when she needs it. Both Dearman and Lewis stress that implants aren't for everyone, and that many people in chronic discomfort do well on much less aggressive treatments such as muscle relaxants and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

    When Medtronic approached him about becoming a spokesman for the "Tame the Pain" campaign, Lewis quickly agreed. "I can't stand the thought that there are 70 million people suffering with chronic pain," he says. Lewis is getting paid for his time, though he says all the money is going into a corporation he established for his daughter.

    Lewis views his celebrity as a kind of planetary law, and he has a point. His efforts on behalf of Jerry's Kids have earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, he says, and the children he has helped have looked to him as a "hero." He is confident that his status as a household name, both as an entertainer and through his work with MDA, makes him the perfect, the only, pitchman for pain awareness. So does his frankness. "I don't have a problem telling people I'm in pain," he says.

    Lewis is now well into the rough draft of a two-volume memoir of his time with Martin, which he considers to be "the greatest love story ever." He has five pictures in the works at the moment. His doctors are weaning him off prednisone, which he hopes will help him shed some weight and leave him looking less like Orson Welles in his later years.

    Finally, after nearly four decades in pain, Lewis says he's feeling "100 percent" better. And that's the message he hopes to convey to others who suffer: A better life is possible. "We're living in this incredible medical and technological revolution. You have every reason for hope," he says.

    What To Do

    Turn to the American Academy of Pain Management and the National Pain Foundation to learn more.

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    The cheers of a clown

    The cheers of a clown
    (Original publication: November 18, 2002)

    •Guitar virtuoso shares her world
    •The cheers of a clown
    •Technology for seniors
    •Public places that pop
    •The winter gardener
    •Def Poetry Jam
    •Modern icon
    •It's all relative
    •Dressed to thrill
    •Vieira a hit as host

    ''There isn't anything I talk about that doesn't smack of humor," Jerry Lewis says, plucking a frilly piece of lettuce from the lunch plate next to him.

    He stuffs the greenery into his mouth - or, to be accurate, halfway in. Then he chews with silly contentment while the other half dangles out. Once he's inserted the rest of the lettuce and chewed it vigorously, he opens his mouth, grinning subversively as he showcases the pulverized garnish within.

    Then he picks up a section of his club sandwich from the table next to him. When he takes a bite, bits of lettuce and turkey cascade out onto the carpet.

    "The floor looks like the bottom of a birdcage," he cracks. "Is that a tossed salad? Want to see me toss it?"

    Jerry Lewis, 76: still going on 9.

    In any case, he's in the spotlight again. On Sunday, CBS will air a TV film biography, "Martin and Lewis," starring Sean Hayes and Jeremy Northam as the young Jerry and Dean.

    Dressed in a red and blue windbreaker with a JL monogram, shirt, jeans and black suede loafers emblazoned with the gold Janus faces of comedy and drama, Lewis is constantly aware of a red plastic remote-control device that is always in his pocket, if not in his hand.

    Lewis treats the device - he refers to it as "Sylvia" - as though it were made of gold. And with good reason: It controls the implanted device, made by Medtronic, that has alleviated the back pain that plagued Lewis for almost 40 years, nearly driving him to suicide earlier this year.

    How bad did it get?

    "Bad enough that I had a .38 in my mouth and was a second away from pulling the trigger," Lewis says, perching on a couch in a back room of the Bull and Bear at the Waldorf Astoria. "And then my daughter walked in. I still don't know why I left the door unlocked. And she was able to come in. My first inclination was to blow my brains out for hurting her. But I got through that."

    That was in April. The same day, Lewis spoke to Dr. Michael DeBakey, the heart specialist who has been Lewis' physician for 42 years: "I said, 'I'm not going to make it,' and he didn't flinch. He said, 'Could you not kill yourself for an hour? I think I have the answer.' "

    Within an hour, a technician was knocking on the door of Lewis' Las Vegas home. He implanted a temporary version of the Medtronic Neurostimulation System, which sends electrical impulses up the spinal cord, blocking pain signals from reaching the brain. Lewis, who had been all but immobilized by pain, was able to rise from the couch and walk the technician to the door.

    "I was almost skipping," he says. "I got up like I was reborn. That was April 20 - after 37 years of goddam pain."

    Lewis has a computer-like memory for dates: March 20, 1965, he says, was the night he did a double-flip off a piano on a Las Vegas stage, landing on the base of his spine on a plug in the floor. He was nearly paralyzed by the injury and lived with the pain for almost four decades, treating it with painkillers, acupuncture and cocktail shots of several local anesthetics. "My happy cocktail, I called it," he says. "At first, it would last four or five weeks. Then four or five days. Then an hour. Then nothing."

    Then there's May 30, 2001, when he found himself huffing and puffing after a Michigan concert appearance. His lung had collapsed; eventually, he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, an inflammatory lung disorder. He was treated with prednisone, a steroid that reduces the inflammation in his lungs.

    But the prednisone, which he still takes, has had side effects that include a jump in his weight that caused his face to balloon.

    "I got out of the shower this morning and thought, 'I look like a Jewish sumo wrestler,'" he jokes. "That drug is the greatest - and the worst. I'm taking 15 pills in the morning and 11 more at night. I'm still not recovered from the pulmonary fibrosis. I've got a while to go."

    The prednisone also exacerbated his back problem. He found it impossible to bear. His despair led to the thoughts of suicide, until he received the implantable pulse generator (which has helped 110,000 people nationwide).

    "I thought Mother Teresa came down from God with nectar," he says of the device, which is implanted in the skin of his abdomen, with two wires that lead to his spine. "When they put that thing in, I thought, 'This can't be possible.' I was doing things I was not able to do for a long time. Before they put the permanent one in, they told me I might get back 70, 80 percent - and I was thrilled. Fortunately for me, it was 100 percent.

    "There's got to be a word that's better than 'miracle.' It's incredible. These Medtronic folks are the people who invented the pacemaker, so it's a pretty good company. I feel it vibrating all the time - so it's also wonderful for erections."

    He laughs, then brandishes "Sylvia," adding, "It also opens my garage door."

    Over the years, Lewis has had open-heart surgery and prostate cancer. He also was recently diagnosed with diabetes: "I've got the lungs and the pain and now the diabetes. What's next? A cold sore would be perfect."

    The implant has meant he could resume his schedule, whether doing concerts or lectures or appearing on this year's Labor Day telethon to raise funds for muscular dystrophy (for which he's gathered almost $2 billion over the years). Onstage, he says, he is never in pain or short of breath.

    "When I'm out there, I'm fine; when I come off, I need oxygen," he says. "I'm blessed with adrenaline, an amazing chemical compound. My need to be in front of an audience is very strong."

    That compulsion to perform caught up with him this fall, during an engagement in London shortly after the telethon. He collapsed backstage at the London Palladium, after spending 11 hours on an airplane using supplementary oxygen. His sinuses had rebelled at the shifts in air pressure, to the point that the congestion affected his inner ear - and his balance.

    "It felt like I'd been hit in the head with a Louisville Slugger," he says. "I told the doctor I'd been flying for 11 hours on oxygen at 42,000 feet and he said, 'That was your first mistake.' "

    Yet Lewis maintains an incredible spirit that translates into forward motion. Part of it is his sense of his own indomitability: He has, after all, been a major star for almost 60 years. By the time he was 25, he and then-partner Dean Martin were the era's equivalent of the Beatles, drawing throngs of screaming crowds to live performances and huge audiences to their films. When he and Martin split up, Lewis went on to become one of the biggest box-office stars of the 1950s and 1960s, even as he became legendary for his generosity and stamina with his annual telethons.

    The interest in his work remains strong. He has sold options for remakes of seven of his old films, and he'll serve as executive producer on the next six (as he did on Eddie Murphy's "The Nutty Professor"). But he's unhappy with plans to turn "The Bellboy" into a vehicle for Jackie Chan and plans to yank the rights back the next time the option comes due.

    "I said, 'Jackie Chan - are you nuts?' That film was my baby - the first one I wrote and directed myself," he says. "They said, 'What the hell is it to you if you get paid?' I finally said, 'Why don't you put Jackie Chan in a remake of "Wuthering Heights"?' and they said, 'That doesn't make any sense.' Exactly. It's so simple: Do what I did. There's a world of ticket-buyers out there who have never seen these films."

    For "Martin and Lewis" on Sunday, Lewis served as an unofficial consultant; when he watched a tape of the finished movie, he grew too emotional to sit through the ending, depicting his split with Martin.

    "I couldn't handle it - it opened a floodgate of tears," he says. "My daughter, who is 10, said, 'C'mon, Daddy, you already know what happens.' "

    His daughter, Danielle, is the other thing that keeps him going. He and his second wife, SanDee, had her when he was 66 and he feels that he has gotten more out of fatherhood this time around. (He had five sons and adopted one more with his first wife.)

    "Anything that comes out of me that's good is from that - it's incredible, the dynamic with a father and a daughter," he says. "She's the air in my lungs. I've never been so smitten in my life. She puts her hand on my knee while we're watching TV and I pray that she leaves it there. And when she moves it, I feel rejected.

    "I was too busy with me the first time. When all that success started, it was evident that it was going to be something incredible. As far as I was concerned, there wasn't anyone else on the planet; you get so involved with yourself. But when Danni came along, I was 66 and all that ego stuff was behind me, all that vanity. I consider that my wisdom started when I was 66."

    Lewis is deep into writing his memoirs - which have reached more than 2,000 manuscript pages. "And I'm only halfway," he says. Meanwhile, he hopes to beat pulmonary fibrosis. He's counting the days until he can wean himself from the prednisone and slim back down to his old form.

    "I'm going to beat George Burns," he boasts. "He went to 100. I'm going to 101.

    "Getting old is not for sissies," he adds, then corrects himself: "My body knows what my mind tells it - and what my mind tells it is that I'm 9. Nine is wonderful. The age factor never happened to me. What is getting old? The spirit is what keeps you young. If you do good for others and you're a good man, your spirit stays young."

    Send e-mail to Marshall Fine


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    Comic to promote pain management

    Comic to promote pain management


    Roger Mezger
    Plain Dealer Reporter

    Jerry Lewis, the entertainer who hosts the annual muscular dystrophy telethons, is scheduled to visit the Cleveland Clinic this month to promote another favorite medical cause - the management of chronic pain.

    Lewis will tour the Clinic's pain management department Jan. 13. He will talk with doctors and nurses about their work and hold a news conference.

    Medtronic Inc., a medical device manufacturer, is paying for Lewis' visit. Lewis has said that his back hurt all the time after a 1965 injury. Then in April, Houston surgeons implanted in him a Medtronic spinal cord stimulator to relieve the pain.

    The battery-powered device lets the patient block pain by sending electrical stimulation to the spinal cord.

    Lewis has said that he was so despondent over the constant pain and a series of other health problems that he considered suicide before the implant.

    After having surgery, Lewis became a paid spokesman for Medtronic. The company is sponsoring a "Tame the Pain" national campaign in which Lewis will talk about the importance of pain management.

    Spinal cord stimulators have been on the U.S. market since 1998 and cost about $12,000 apiece. But Dr. Nagy Mekhail, head of pain management at the Clinic, said they are appropriate only for certain chronic pain conditions. Most patients do well with less costly treatments.

    "We are hoping to educate him about that," Mekhail said.

    Lewis, 76, starred with Dean Martin in a string of comic films during the 1940s and 1950s. Over the years he has experienced a series of health problems, including pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease diagnosed in 2001.

    To treat it, doctors have kept him on a drug that caused him to gain about 50 pounds. Movie fans would not recognize the comedian's puffy face.

    But the medical condition that Lewis has been most closely associated with over the years is muscular dystrophy. His Labor Day telethons have raised more than $1.6 billion since 1966 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

    To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4446

    © 2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

    Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved.

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