I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2015. I felt my world stop since I knew there is no cure. How could a healthy 62-year-old woman who will forever be 35 in her soul, who rides a Ninja motorcycle and the scariest rides in amusement parks, tries any adventure that comes her way, have Parkinson’s? I’m still working on my bucket list! My port in this storm was knowing that I am strong and a fighter who knew God would get me though this somehow.
Shortly after moving to Austin, TX, I happened to see a local news interview with Movement Disorder Specialist Georgetta Varga. She spoke about an incredible surgical procedure named deep brain stimulation (DBS) that was turning Parkinson’s patient’s lives nearly back to normal. The segment showed parts of the procedure and a patient before and after surgery.
I made an appointment the following morning. Dr. Varga said I was a good candidate due to my symptoms and history. There was hope that I would get my active life back.
It was a long process preparing for surgery. The doctor took me through a regimen of medications to find out what I could tolerate and what combinations work best for my PD symptoms. I underwent psychological evaluations to rule out dementia, a DBS disqualifier.
On the day of surgery I was excited and ready, but a little anxious about being awake while having an electrode placed in my brain. Dr. Varga and my neurosurgeon, Dr. Buchanan, took my fear away by telling me exactly what to expect. I trusted them completely. Before I went into the operating room Dr. Buchanan told me we were making history that day by being the first patient and doctor in the world to perform DBS using a new imaging device!
I was sedated in pre-op and hours later woke up to Dr. Varga calling my name in the operating room. It looked like a movie set with so many doctors, nurses and cameras. I could see the new device, which resembled a huge doughnut. I watched as she sent a small electrical voltage to each problem area of my body. Each area she shocked was instantly changed. After years of tension my left arm and leg muscles relaxed. It felt amazing to flex my foot and move my toes. At that moment my neurosurgeon was physically placing the electrode in its exact position in my brain. I had no anxiety, just amazement. I awoke in the recovery room seven hours later and went home the following afternoon with light pain and medication. I was happy to see that my entire head hadn’t been shaved, only some areas.
I returned two weeks later for an outpatient procedure to place the battery in my chest and run the connection wires under my skin from my scalp to my chest. The doctor advised me that the recovery would be painful. He was right, but medication helped.
The battery was turned on and began sending the right amount of electrical transmission to the areas of my brain that caused PD symptoms, and stopped them. For several months doctors fine-tuned the device and adjusted my medications. My first adjustment allowed me to walk normally again. Today, I can run and stand on my tiptoes. I stopped losing my balance, my mental clarity improved and my voice returned to normal. I am me again, doing all the things on my bucket list. My Son just fulfilled my lifelong dream and bought me a horse, and yes, I can ride!
I urge everyone to not be afraid of DBS. It is a piece of cake and I know it will only keep getting better as technology improves. Don’t stop life because of Parkinson’s. My DBS received media coverage, which resulted in many e-mails, and Facebook messages wishing me well and wanting information about DBS. It was an unforeseen gift that I was able to help others with their questions and worries. Today, I proudly show my DBS scars.