More than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson's disease, says the Parkinson's Foundation. The neurodegenerative disorder causes tremors and slows and restricts limb movement. It makes the simplest tasks, such as eating meals independently and getting dressed, hard.
Edward Hahn has been living with Parkinson's since 2008, and his shakes made controlled movement nearly impossible. His daughter, Melissa, has Parkinson's too.
Melissa went through an exhausting series of treatments — medications, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care — without finding the level of success she needed to live her best life.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) gave them their lives back.
Before DBS, Melissa says, she was desperate. Her symptoms had gotten so bad that she quit her job as a junior high orchestra teacher. She'd put away her passions — photography, playing the violin — because her shakes were so bad.
"I couldn't drive, couldn't shower," she said. "It was embarrassing. I thought, 'I have to do something. I can't live like this. I'm only 40.'"
Determined to find a better solution for herself and her dad, she explored the option of DBS.
Our Infinity™ DBS system is an implantable battery-operated neurostimulator that sends electrical impulses to the regions of your brain that control movement.
With its directional leads, the system enables a neurologist to customize stimulation and optimize therapy while helping reduce potential side effects.
With this capability, doctors can more accurately steer electrical current toward targeted areas of the brain to lessen symptoms such as tremors. The DBS system can be conveniently and discreetly adjusted via a iPod Touch controller.
"What's nice about (the technology) is that it has opened up the door in terms of being more versatile. It allows me to fine-tune patients in terms of stimulation, and it really helps me care for my patients not just for today, but for down the road," said Dr. Fiona Gupta, director of movement disorders outreach at Mount Sinai Health Systems, the hospital where the Hahns had their surgeries. "It's truly a game-changer."
Seeing Is Believing
In summer 2017, Melissa had the Infinity system implanted. She noticed relief immediately. She recalls lying on the operating table, smiling because her shakes had finally settled down.
Melissa went from stuck on the sofa to running around with her nieces and nephews. The little things, like pulling her credit card out of her wallet at the grocery store, no longer caused hesitation
In a video taken at a clinic follow-up visit after her surgery, Melissa holds her arms in front of her as the neurostimulator is turned on and off. Her tremors go from constant to nonexistent within seconds.
"Oh my God," she says in the video. "I can't believe this."
Her transformation was enough to convince her father to also explore DBS.
"I had told her, 'If it works on you, I'll think about it,' " Edward joked.
But by that time, he was taking 20 pills a day to keep his tremors at bay. He'd long been nervous about neurostimulation to manage Parkinson's, but when he saw that a better quality of life was within reach, he went for it.
Edward got his own Infinity DBS system in February 2018. He wishes, now, that he hadn't waited.
"When you live with Parkinson's disease, your life is like a small window," he said. "I figured, I need my life back. Now, looking back, it's not as big of a deal as I made it out to be. I wish I had done it sooner."
Celebrating Milestones Big and Small
Once rendered nearly immobile by a common diagnosis, the Hahns, thanks to neuromodulation advancements, are experiencing life fully again. They're celebrating milestones big and small, each reminding them of how far they've come.
For Melissa, that meant rekindling her passions by picking up her violin and her camera again. She also has her sights set on new experiences, like traveling and taking in the arts.
"I want to go see a Broadway show," she said. "(Before the surgery), I hadn't been able to sit in a theater without shaking the whole show." For Edward, the first time he went out to dinner after his surgery — just being able to handle a fork and knife again — was cause for celebration.
"You never think you'll get those abilities back," he said. "You appreciate them so much more when you do."
He eventually wants to get back to vacationing at the ocean and playing the guitar.
Edward and Melissa are grateful for each and every achievement, and they have big plans for the future.
New Hope for an Independent Life
Beyond reuniting them with their interests, deep brain stimulation has given the Edward and Melissa something even more significant: hope.
"It has changed everything," Melissa said. "I don't feel like a burden anymore. I can function independently. There were things I thought I lost the ability to do that I can now do, like (play) violin. The feeling to get those things back that the disease has taken away from you, it's amazing."
The placement of a neurostimulation system requires surgery, which exposes patients to certain risks. Risks of brain surgery include serious, and potentially fatal, complications such as coma, bleeding inside the brain, paralysis, seizures and infection. Some people may experience lasting, stroke-like symptoms, such as weakness, numbness, problems with vision or slurred speech. In the event that the side effects are intolerable or you are not satisfied with the therapy, the DBS system can be turned off or surgically removed. Not everyone will experience the same results. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of your treatment options. Important safety information