Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery Successfully Treats Parkinson’s Disease

By Joelle Renstrom | Published

As much as modern technological advancements deserve consideration, even skepticism, sometimes science manages to eradicate doubt.

Andrew Johnson was only 35 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease four years ago. Although he’d experienced some symptoms, the diagnosis was shocking for him and his wife, especially because she was pregnant with their second child. Andrew’s disease progressed rapidly. His motor control was significantly impacted — he experienced rigidity, tremors, involuntary muscle contractions, and slowness, which he describes as feeling “like I am wrapped in concrete 80% of every day.”

Usually, the next chapter of this story, and the ones after that, are grim to say the least. But not this time.

After an exhaustive screening process, Andrew was deemed a suitable candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery, in which a patient has electrodes implanted into his brain that regulate abnormal impulses or alter brain chemicals and cells by producing electrical impulses. The impulses are controlled by a pacemaker in the chest that is connected to the brain by wires. DBS can treat neurological conditions and movement disorders such as Parkinson’s, essential tremor, OCD, and dystonia, and is undergoing clinical trials as a treatment for epilepsy, Tourette’s, depression, and certain types of headaches. It’s generally used in cases where medications aren’t effective or have become less effective over time. DBS does not improve and could exacerbate non-motor symptoms.

On November 14, 2012, Johnson had the surgery, confident he would get his life back, and that his wife and kids would get their father and husband back. The surgery was completed in two parts — in the first, doctors implanted the probes in the brain, and in the second, they connected the wires to the pacemaker device. Doctors wait to do the second surgery to measure any positive effects from the first part, so they know what specific impact the device itself has. Johnson had what he described as “remarkable” results from this first surgery, which is particularly good given that patients have to stay awake for it.

On February 11, 2013, Johnson had the second surgery. He reports that “the effects of being powered up are almost instantaneous. I have required several tweaks and medication adjustments but that is to be expected. I do feel a great deal better, certainly not to the point I was pre-Parkinson’s but 100% better than I have felt in recent years.” I think the video says it all.

Andrew made the video for his blog, because he was “curious about what would happen when I turned my neuro-stimulator off.”

Well, for one thing, a chorus of people yelled, “Turn it back on! Turn it back on!”

Sometimes it seems that the more we know about the brain, the more we realize we have yet to learn. This is one of those times when we can tip our hats to science for all we’ve been able to figure out, and for doing good.