Story by: Joe Hall on January 13, 2023
Mike Ball has been living with Parkinson’s disease for 12 years. As the disease has progressed, the former pharmacist had to deal with tremors that impacted his ability to do everyday activities like eating and shaving.
With an implant that interrupts uncontrolled movements, Mike has regained control of his body and can now get postoperative visits and treatments without having to go to his neurologist’s office.
In July, Mike underwent deep brain stimulator (DBS) surgery by Abigail J. Rao, M.D., Norton Neuroscience Institute’s functional neurosurgeon. DBS is like a pacemaker for the brain. It delivers gentle stimulation that can change abnormal circuitry, which causes uncontrolled movements. With the surgery, the stimulator is implanted into the brain with the brain wires running under the skin. Those wires then connect to a battery under the skin of the chest.
A new program called NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic allows Mike’s neurologist to adjust the device remotely so it provides optimal stimulation. Mike can be hundreds of miles away enjoying his new freedom when neurologist Justin T. Phillips, M.D., neurologist and director of movement disorders with Norton Neuroscience Institute, tunes his stimulator.
After surgery, Mike and Dr. Phillips met for a virtual visit. Dr. Phillips saw the live video of Mike’s hands having tremors. After pressing a few buttons on a tablet device, Dr. Phillips sent signals to Mike’s DBS implant, using Bluetooth and cloud technology. In a matter of moments, Mike’s tremors stopped.
“Before the visit, I was shaking all over the place, but now that Dr. Phillips got it calibrated … nothing,” Mike said. “It’s amazing.”
According to Dr. Phillips, the virtual clinic gives him more options to support his patients.
Advanced care for movement disorders and other neurological conditions.
“As Parkinson’s progresses, patients have more challenges getting around,” he said. “Being able to help patients in their own homes can make the experience better for them and their families.”
The technology also allows patients, like Mike, to also make certain adjustments on their own.
Mike’s ability to get his stimulator programmed remotely is just part of the breakthrough advances provided at Norton Neuroscience Institute.
Dr. Rao was the first in the Louisville area to use advanced techniques that don’t require the patient to be awake during DBS surgery. Historically, the surgery required the patient’s brain cells to be sampled for electrical recording and patient movements to be tested during surgery. However, advances in surgical technique and high resolution imaging no longer require this and actually allow for reduced surgical risks with the patient under general anesthesia.
“DBS can help patients regain smoother, more normal movements, less slowness and less excessive movements that can develop as a side effect or consequence of long-term medication use,” Dr. Rao said. “We typically see very positive outcomes.”
While Mike continues to receive treatment for his Parkinson’s, he has plenty to look forward to, like hitting the golf course and returning to boxing class. His message to others with Parkinson’s or similar diseases is to ask about DBS.
“I thought it was my best chance at having a normal life,” Mike said. “I’m already noticing a vast improvement.”
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