Until recently, Nancy Holmes had been living with the increasingly debilitating effects of Parkinson's disease since her diagnosis in 1988.
"It became impossible to get through daily life, not to mention keeping up with my teenagers' activities," says Nancy. Her nearly 25 years of using Parkinson's medications had led to motor fluctuations which meant she would alternate between "on" periods of responding somewhat well to the medications and "off" periods when the symptoms would return. The ever-increasing "off" times left her feeling helpless, self-conscious, and isolated from the outside world.
"She wasn't comfortable going out with friends or attending many of our kids' athletic and typical school events. Even shopping and other ordinary lifestyle activities were becoming impossible," says her husband, Bill. But then it all amazingly changed for the better in late 2011 after Nancy underwent deep-brain stimulation surgery, an increasingly popular treatment to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Destined for brain surgery
Nancy’s surgery was performed by internationally renowned neurosurgeon and researcher Robert Goodman, MD, PhD, a leading authority on the surgical treatment of movement disorders and epilepsy, who is Chairman of the Departments of Neurosurgery at Beth Israel Medical Center and its sister hospitals, St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals, in Manhattan. As a child, Dr. Goodman’s father encouraged him to be a doctor. At sixteen, a Time Life Magazine series on the brain fascinated him and his course was set. In medical school he focused his attention on surgical neurology and later moved on to do investigative research on deep-brain stimulation.
Dr. Goodman’s interests, research and extensive training merged perfectly to benefit patients like Nancy. For about two years she and Bill deliberated about her having deep brain stimulation surgery. “It sounded dangerous and scary to us,” says Bill, “We dismissed the idea at first but as Nancy's "off" periods increased we turned to the Internet and began reading studies from all over the world on patients who had gone through deep brain stimulation and the results were overwhelmingly positive." Bill adds that the FDA's own website stating that the procedure is both approved for Parkinson's and is reversible became the deciding factors in their decision to go ahead.
“I knew I needed to take a chance if I was ever going to keep up with my kids,” says Nancy. “It really worked out. And it wasn’t just luck; Dr. Goodman is that good.”
Delivered from Parkinson’s disease
Though tremors in the hands and feet are often the most noticeable symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, there is more to the story. “The real problem with Parkinson’s is the person’s inability to initiate movement,” explains Dr. Goodman. “Their feet seem stuck to the floor or they feel glued to their chair, unable to get up. It’s like being a tin man and not having enough grease in the joints.”
To correct the disease’s frozenness and shakiness, the surgery is done as a series of three procedures. Electrodes are connected by wires to a pacemaker-like device implanted under the skin near the collarbone. Once activated, the device sends continuous electrical impulses to target areas in the brain, blocking the impulses that cause the tremors. It does not harm any tissue.
“I was awake during the surgery and I didn’t feel any pain. When Dr. Goodman found the part of my brain causing the problem, I heard him say, ‘We’ve got it,’ and we knew he had, because my hands stopped shaking,” says Nancy. The surgery was done through two small incisions requiring only "quarter-sized" spots of hair to be shaved.
Milestones, both small and large
Life since her surgery has been a series of family milestones, both large and small. “I’m going to my children's high-school activities, shopping for groceries and doing every day activities I couldn't do for years. I don’t even need a wheelchair at the airport anymore,” says Nancy, who just returned from a trip up and down the east coast to visit colleges with her son. She also has twin teenage daughters and is now making the rounds of parent-teacher conferences, school plays and assemblies which were all impossible just a few months ago.
“I got my wife back. The children got their mom back, but most of all, Nancy got her life back,” says Bill.
Learn more about deep-brain stimulation surgery by visiting chpnyc.org or calling 1-855-411-LWNY (5969).