AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parkinson’s, the ravaging, degenerative disease of your central nervous system. It leads to tremors, loss of balance and mobility, diminished speech and thought, eventually dementia and even death. Beloved notables like Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox suffer from it. The exact cause is a mystery and there is no cure. But there is great promise of alleviating the symptoms through deep brain stimulation. Now an Austin woman has become the first in the world to undergo that implant with the help of a new tool, using precise 3-D imaging.
Suzanne Wyper no longer needs her dog Buddy to help her up after she falls. Her speech and walk and thoughts are steady now, she may even return to her work as a massage therapist.Prospects didn’t look that good not long ago. “My tremor got bad. It got to the point my patients were asking if I was using a vibrator. I told them oh a mother nature one. Then it got so bad I was fatigued, my arm would seize up and I had to give it up.”
Frustrated when several neurologists could offer no relief, Suzanne happened to catch a medical report on KXAN nearly a year ago about deep brain implants for various treatments. She says it prompted her to act, “There was a special one day about Parkinson’s on KXAN and that’s how I heard about Dr. Varga that you interviewed, and that’s how I heard abut deep brain stimulation. And I called her on my own and made an appointment.”
Working with Dr. Georgetta Varga and Dr. Robert Buchanan, Suzanne had two surgeries in December to put a hole in her skull and an electrode implanted in her brain. She jokes, “I told my friends I was going to get turned on for New Years. They all knew what I meant.”
Suzanne Wyper became the first patient in the world to have her implant done with the help of the new O-arm Medtronic 3-D fluoroscope imaging device. It allows surgeons to pinpoint exactly where that electrode needed to go. The old problem of accuracy during surgery was explained by Dr. Buchanan, chief neurosurgeon at Seton Brain & Spine Institute, “The brain moves. During surgery, the brain moves.”
The new Medtronic device gives surgeons larger, real-time pinpoint imaging and accuracy, and the placement of the electrode is vital. Dr. Buchanan says, “Close is good, I know that sounds ridiculous, like horseshoes, right? Close is pretty good, but we would like it to be perfect because perfect is better.” Perfect means the current is applied spot on, and not too much current is applied which might cause side effects. Theoretically, this could be done for most Parkinson’s patients, if they have not yet reached dementia. Dr. Buchanan believes, “We would say all patients, at some point, in the progression of their disease, should really think about getting deep brain stimulation.”
Several hundred people, mostly with Parkinson’s themselves, have been following Suzanne’s progress on Facebook. In fact, she recently got acquainted with an old flame, “Ironically I found my first high school boyfriend on there, he has Parkinson’s as well and we have spoken about it.” Lately, Suzanne has had very good news, and hope, to share. She holds out a steady hand, “It’s remarkable. I’m not having balance issues, my tremor is gone, it’s phenomenal.”
The deep brain implants are covered by Medicare and major insurance providers. The work on the new imaging device project was a joint effort by Seton, Medtronic and the UT Biomedical Engineering people. To learn if deep brain stimulation might be the answer for you, it’s recommended you consult a neurology specialist in the field.