New Procedure Steadies his Hand
(Phoenix, AZ, Nov. 28, 2012) -- Colorado Springs physician Dr. Stephen Palmer says a new medical procedure performed by surgeons at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix has given him back a steady hand, a renewed passion for hiking, and a lot of hope for the future.
Dr. Palmer, a retired pediatric oncologist, has Parkinson’s disease and underwent a procedure called “asleep Deep Brain Stimulation” (DBS) last July at the Phoenix center which is part of the Barrow Neurological Institute. The delicate brain surgery involves the placement of electrodes deep inside the brain.
|Dr. Ponce and his team performing asleep DBS surgery at Barrow.
The electrodes are connected to a neurostimulator placed under the skin below the collar bone. The neurostimulator similar to a pacemaker for the brain, can be programmed to deliver an electrical current to the very small area impacted by Parkinson’s. This can halt many of the common symptoms of the disease.
“I really did my homework on the treatment and decided that the ‘asleep’ vs. the ‘awake’ procedure was the way to go,” says Dr. Palmer, 56. “I looked all over the country and decided Barrow had the expertise and could provide the best procedure for me. Now, I couldn’t be happier. I can go hiking, walk my dogs and even do woodworking again. Six months ago I couldn’t use my power tools to do woodworking because of the danger of hurting myself.”
DBS has been available for a number of years, but it has previously been performed while patients are awake on the operating table. During the surgery, the doctors would talk to the patient and evaluate the positioning of the electrodes.
Recently however, surgeons at Barrow have opted to give general anesthesia to patients and utilize a portable computed tomography machine in the operating room to target and verify accurate placement of DBS electrodes. Before the procedure, other brain scans are also done to determine positioning of the electrodes.
“DBS is an established therapy for Parkinson’s, providing dramatic improvements for patients whose medical therapy is no longer enough,” says Francisco Ponce, MD, director of Barrow’s deep brain surgery program. “The hurdle for patients, however, had been having to face a surgery that is performed while they are awake, that can last four to six hours to complete, and which requires them to be off their much-needed Parkinson’s medication.”
|Stereotactic image used to position DBS electrodes.
Dr. Ponce says that with ‘asleep’ DBS, the time of surgery is dramatically reduced, patients can take their Parkinson’s medications, and, because they can literally “sleep” through the surgery, their experience is improved. “Hopefully, this approach will render DBS more accessible to patients, subsequently improving their quality of life and reducing their disability,” he says.
Before he found the Ali Center at Barrow and Dr. Ponce, Dr. Palmer had been looking for answers for nine years. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition that is usually associated with older people, but his diagnosis came much earlier. In 2003, at the age of only 47, Dr. Palmer got the tough news that he had the degenerative disease.
“Since my diagnosis I experienced slow but steady decline with worsening ability to walk despite increasing my medications. As I increased my medications I experienced more side effects from them. I was taking my Parkinson’s medicines up to nine times a day and my lifestyle was very limited,” said Dr. Palmer. “I had to retire from my medical practice because I could no longer give the children I treated 100 percent of my ability.”
Today, Dr. Palmer says he is off all medications. While he has not returned to practice medicine, he has a very active life. “I did my research on where to have this surgery done and I had a very high confidence level. I could not be happier with the results.”