Hitting Back at Parkinson’s

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Dale’s Deep Brain Stimulation

When Parkinson’s disease picked a fight with Dale, he met the challenge head-on.

Dale learned he had Parkinson’s in 2011. Within a year, he and his wife relocated from Colorado to the Chicago area to be closer to family and access to world-class medical care. Dale chose Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which has the top-ranked Neurology and Neurosurgery program in Illinois and is ranked No. 9 nationally on the U.S. News & World Report 2017-2018 Best Hospitals list.

In the early years of his disease, Dale’s tremors were controlled by medication. But as his Parkinson’s progressed, his symptoms increased, which meant he had to take more medication — and suffer more side effects.

It was time to fight back. Dale’s neurologist at the Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Onur Melen, MD, suggested that Dale might be a candidate for deep brain stimulation (DBS), which involves implanting a small device that sends electrical impulses through a wire that’s placed in a specific area of the brain. These impulses can help restore proper electrical signaling in the brain, reducing motor control symptoms associated with Parkinson’s and greatly improving a person’s quality of life.

Leading-Edge Technology

Dr. Melen referred Dale to another neurologist at the center, Cindy Zadikoff, MD, who is an investigator in a clinical trial for the VersiceTM DBS System. While DBS has been in use as a treatment for Parkinson’s for more than 30 years, the Versice is truly a leap forward in technology.

“It’s still putting an electrode in the brain in the same place and attaching it to the pacemaker,” Dr. Zadikoff explains. “But the way that this delivers energy to the brain is a little bit different.” Versice is current-controlled rather than voltage-controlled, which may offer the ability to deliver energy to the brain tissue in a more consistent, precise way. Physicians can adjust the amplitude, pulse width and frequency to achieve optimum results for the patient. With training, some patients can even make adjustments to the device on their own.

“We can give people good benefits without causing a lot of side effects. We have more opportunity to define how we stimulate the areas of the brain we want,” Dr. Zadikoff says. Versice is also rechargeable and may last up to 15 years, eliminating the need to return to the operating room every three years or so for battery replacements.

After meeting with Dale and reviewing his records, Dr. Zadikoff determined that he was a good candidate for Versice. She referred him to Northwestern Medicine Neurosurgeon Joshua Rosenow, MD, FAANS, FACS, who is also an investigator in the Versice clinical trial and ultimately performed Dale’s surgery.

Misconceptions About Deep Brain Stimulation

Dr. Rosenow says that while DBS is becoming a more common treatment approach for Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions, he believes it is still underutilized, partly because of misconceptions about DBS. For example, some physicians believe their patients are not DBS candidates because their medications are still working. “Actually, the best candidates for DBS are people whose medications work, but work problematically,” he explains. “And some people are afraid of brain stimulation. Some physicians believe it is an extreme therapy, when it is actually a fully accepted, normal part of the continuum of Parkinson’s treatment.”

Dr. Rosenow believes Versice is a significant step forward for DBS technology. Thanks to the successful clinical trial that Dr. Zadikoff, Dr. Rosenow and Dale participated in, Versice is now FDA-approved. “Without patients, these things can’t move forward,” Dr. Zadikoff says. “We really do owe a debt of gratitude to the patients who participate in clinical trials so that everybody can benefit.”

Better Quality of Life

Dale is enjoying more quality time with his family since his surgery. He has two children and six grandchildren who are delighted with his DBS results. Before DBS, Dale had more fatigue and difficulty moving around. He still takes daily naps and medication, but he says DBS gives him more energy to be a grandfather. “I feel more connected to my grandchildren,” he explains. “I can interact with them much better.”

A year after surgery, Dale was training for a marathon. “If I can establish a goal and put it out there, it motivates me on a daily basis,” explains Dale, who ran in the Boston Marathon before his diagnosis with Parkinson’s and hopes to return for a repeat performance in the future. “This surgery helps my quality of life, but it doesn’t change that I have Parkinson’s.” Dale says that setting and achieving goals helps him battle against other effects of the disease, such as depression and apathy.

Dale’s first race after DBS surgery was the NM5K, Race to Impact, which helps raise funds for medical fitness programs, including Parkinson’s programs, at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Health & Fitness Center and Northwestern Medicine Lindenhurst Health & Fitness Center. Dale made an impressive debut with his new device, winning his age division. He has continued his running regimen and has since completed a half marathon as well.

Parkinson’s has many other effects on the body besides motor function, and DBS doesn’t affect those, so it’s important to note that DBS is not a cure. But it is one way patients can fight back against the disease. Dale is now literally punching back at Parkinson’s in his boxing class at Lake Forest Health & Fitness Center, one of many no-cost programs designed to support patients and caregivers affected by the disease.

Team Approach Yields Excellent Results

“Dale’s outcome is everything we could have hoped for and more,” says Dr. Rosenow. “He has taken full advantage of the benefits of DBS to live a better life. It’s thrilling to see how Dale has become an ambassador for the therapy, and I can only hope that Dale’s energy encourages other people to also seek out DBS.”

“He’s done beautifully,” says Dr. Zadikoff. “We’ve enabled him to get back to some of the things he loves to do, and that’s what it’s all about.”

While his physicians applaud Dale and the strides he’s made, Dale has high praise for them, too. “Those people are great,” he says of the care team at the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “I’m a big fan of Northwestern Medicine Neurology and Neurosurgery. I can’t imagine going through brain surgery without somebody who was so willing to take the time, not just with me but with my family, to really make everybody feel comfortable with the process. Dr. Rosenow is sensational.”

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