Shelly Henry, 45, chief revenue officer for a medical-device company in Oklahoma City, still chokes up when she recalls the day nearly 12 years ago when her daughter, Kara, almost died.
Kara, then 15, took a ride with a few classmates to high school that morning. Her friend ran a stop sign, and a truck struck the car’s passenger side, where Kara was sitting, singing along to the radio.
When Shelly, a premed student and single mother, arrived at the scene, she saw a knot of flashing emergency vehicle lights. Then she saw her daughter lying motionless on the side of the road. “At that point, I was just hoping to be able to say goodbye to her,” Shelly remembers.
A witness to the accident had pulled Kara from the car. Shelly ran to her daughter, and Kara whispered, “I’m not dead.”
Two of the girls escaped the accident with minor injuries. Another girl had a broken neck and rode alongside Kara in an ambulance to Baptist Medical Center a few miles away. Shelly followed in her own car, thinking, Can we get there already? I just want her out of pain.
The crash had damaged three of Kara’s vertebrae, dislocated six disks in her spine, and nearly crushed several organs in her abdomen. Doctors feared a two- inch shard of bone pushing into her lower spinal cord could paralyze her. With Shelly’s permission, surgeons repaired the bone using a risky new technique. Because the treatment hadn’t been used on many patients, the surgeons warned that Kara might not walk again. She was also advised to avoid pregnancy, as it might further damage her back.
Just a few days after surgery, though, Kara took her first step. In 2001, wearing a back brace, she moved to her grandparents’ home to continue her recovery. She’d be able to navigate their house with a wheelchair, though she was in chronic pain.
That year, Shelly resumed classes at the University of Central Oklahoma and soon took a job as a technician in a local pain clinic. Shelly tried the clinic’s regimen of treatments to ease Kara’s pain, but none worked. She was devastated. “To see your child suffering takes everything that you have inside and rips it out,” she says.
One day at work, short on time, Shelly made a serendipitous discovery: When she applied laser and electrical stimulation—two pain-management treatments traditionally used one at a time—to a patient’s upper spine and arms at the same time, the patient said, “I don’t know what you just did, but it worked!”
Kara, who had begun taking history classes at the University of Central Oklahoma in 2004, was still in full-body pain. Shelly took Kara to the clinic and tried the unique treatment on her lower back. It immediately alleviated her pain. “I had been in agony for nearly four years,” says Kara. “But after the treatment, the relief was more than I could have imagined.”
Shelly partnered with doctors to test the new device. The results showed Kara’s pain relief had scientific basis. With the hard evidence in hand, Shelly patented Neurolumen, a portable device—made up of six Velcro straps embedded with LEDs, lasers, and electrical stimulators—that wraps around painful body parts to reduce swelling and increase circulation. By 2010, she had finally raised enough money to fund a company to sell the device. The FDA-approved Neurolumen is now available, with a doctor’s prescription, for purchase for $1,995, or for rent for $50 per month through neurolumen.com, or for treatments at many hospitals and clinics for $25 per session.
For Shelly, though, Kara’s recovery is the ultimate success. Defying all odds, Kara even became pregnant. She and her husband, Kyle, welcomed baby Lillian to the family in 2010.
Kara manages Neurolumen sales and marketing and hasn’t taken pain medication in nearly ten years. Says Shelly, “Watching Kara get better has kept me going. I want to help other mothers get their children out of pain without narcotics.”