Jerry's Story

Living with Parkinson's Disease

Jerry, Parkinson's disease patient

Jerry, Parkinson's disease patient

In 1996, while on their annual vacation in Hawaii, Jerry and his wife Gail were enjoying their morning run. They took different courses, and Gail had beaten him to their meeting point. As she watched him run, Gail noticed that Jerry no longer swung his left arm when he ran.

"I've been running with dogs for years, so I just assumed it was a habit from holding the leash while I ran," says Jerry.

A few months later, Jerry was showering for work when he realized he could hardly move his left side at all. As a chiropractor who has treated many people with chronic conditions, Jerry knew something was seriously wrong. He called a neurologist friend.

The neurologist ran several tests, including imaging of his brain and spine, a lumbar puncture to examine cerebral spinal fluid, and blood and urine tests. Surprisingly, the test results were all within normal limits. The neurologist referred him to a movement disorders specialist, a neurologist with advanced training in movement disorders.

The specialist diagnosed 44-year-old Jerry with young-onset Parkinson's disease and prescribed medications. "The diagnosis was quite a shock for me and my family," says Jerry.

Jerry's symptoms worsened. Rigidity, sluggishness, mild tremor and speech difficulty all added up to a need for more medications. But Jerry found that the higher doses he needed to control his symptoms carried intolerable side effects. Two years after his diagnosis, Jerry was forced to reduce his activity and stop practicing as a chiropractor.

"My rigidity made the quick and fluid movements necessary for chiropractic treatment impossible," says Jerry. "Writing was also a challenge, and my speech difficulties compromised communication with my patients." Because his medications caused extreme fatigue and nausea, Jerry would often fall asleep during conversations with Gail.

How DBS Helped Jerry

Then, in 2004, Jerry and Gail watched a news program in which a man with Parkinson's disease and severe dyskinesias got up out of a wheelchair and danced when his Medtronic Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) system was turned on.

DBS uses a surgically implanted medical device much like a cardiac pacemaker to deliver electrical stimulation to precisely targeted areas within the brain. The stimulation is delivered through a medical wire called a lead, which is tunneled beneath the skin.

Stimulation of these areas blocks the signals that cause the disabling motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The electrical stimulation can be noninvasively adjusted to maximize treatment benefits. As a result, individuals like Jerry achieve greater control over their body movements.

Risks of the Procedure and Stimulation

Risks of DBS Therapy can include risks of surgery, side effects, or device complications. Implanting the neurostimulator system carries the same risks associated with any other brain surgery. In Jerry's case, some complications required that one of his leads was taken out and replaced.

Jerry received his Medtronic DBS system in September 2004 during two separate procedures over an 8-week period. He experienced little pain during his procedure, and within a day of each procedure he was walking for exercise.

"My wife and I danced for the first time in years."

Jerry's devices were activated 2 days before Christmas, and the changes were remarkable.

"I could tie my shoes and button my shirts again," he says. "My facial expressions, which had been gone for about 4 years, returned. When I came home from the doctor, my wife and I danced for our daughters for the first time in years. It was a very emotional moment."

While Jerry had almost complete symptom relief on the left side of his body, his right side didn't seem to be responding to DBS Therapy. So the neurosurgeon implanted a new stimulator and moved one of the leads in Jerry's brain. The adjustment was just what he needed.

Now Jerry is back to running. He often speaks to others about his experience with DBS Therapy and encourages them to consider the treatment before they have lost too much mobility.

This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

Last updated: 22 Sep 2010

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