Deep brain stimulation helps Indiana man with Parkinson’s disease

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Roger Jenkins can walk down a hallway of the IU Health Neuroscience Center without a cane or walker.

That in itself is a miracle, because a little over a year ago, he was confined to a wheelchair. His symptoms from Parkinson’s disease had made his muscles rigid. His handwriting was illegible, he could only speak softly and a tremor in his hand made him self-conscious.

“It was pretty bad. I would have to put my hand in my pocket to keep from having people look at me. I tried to hide it,” said Jenkins, a retired pump repair engineer.

After years of medication, Jenkins was presented with another option: a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation.

DBS, according to the National Parkinson’s Foundation website, is a surgical procedure used to treat a variety of disabling neurological symptoms—most commonly Parkinson’s disease.

It doesn’t damage healthy brain tissue by destroying nerve cells. Instead the procedure blocks electrical signals from targeted areas in the brain.

“I made the statement 'I’ll never have a wire put in my brain,'” Jenkins told CBS4. “But God has a way, not only of stopping you in your tracks, but turning you around and taking you right down the path you said you wouldn’t go.”

DBS uses a surgically implanted, battery-operated medical device called a neurostimulator—similar to a heart pacemaker and approximately the size of a stopwatch—to deliver electrical stimulation to targeted areas in the brain that control movement, blocking the abnormal nerve signals that cause tremor and PD symptoms. Before the procedure, a neurosurgeon uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scanning to identify and locate the exact target within the brain where electrical nerve signals generate the PD symptoms.

Dr. Joanne Wojcieszek, a neurologist with IU Health, says there is a slight risk with deep brain stimulation of infection, paralysis and even death. But she also says DBS is FDA approved and it can make a huge difference. But all that doesn’t stop patients from fearing the procedure.

“This is the same procedure that we did 20 years ago,” said Dr. Wojcieszek. “It’s just that people are frightened of having somebody put a burr hole in their skull and start digging around their brain to find the right spot to put a wire.”

At present, the procedure is used only for patients whose symptoms cannot be adequately controlled with medications.

The targets are usually the thalamus, subthalamic nucleus and a portion of the globus pallidus.

Once the system is in place, electrical impulses are sent from the neurostimulator up along the extension wire and the lead and into the brain. These impulses interfere with and block the electrical signals that cause PD symptoms.

“They do think that it reboots the system and it normalizes the electrical balance, so it flows more smoothly. And it normalizes something that’s gotten really out of whack,” said Dr. Wojcieszek. “The result for Mr. Jenkins is, he’s able to function close to normal most of the time and he’s able to get back to his life and the things that are important to him”

Long term, DBS should hold off the tremors that come with Parkinson’s. Although Dr. Wojcieszek warns it’s not as effective with balance issues and slowed thinking. But Roger Jenkins is thrilled to be able just to walk again.

“I came here in a wheelchair and they did the programming and that afternoon I walked out on my own two feet,” said Jenkins.

For more information on Parkinson’s and DBS click here.

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