The bright news is rolling in, both from patients at University of Colorado Hospital and national studies: Deep brain stimulation surgery significantly relieves tremors suffered by those with Parkinson’s Disease.
A Dec. 8 presentation on “Living With Parkinson’s Disease” mixed science with the human dimension of the illness. About 50 people filled the reading room of the Health Sciences Library for the noon-hour session, which included a book signing by Kirk Hall, who wrote “Carson and His Shaky Paws Grampa.” The book explains the relationship between Hall and his grandchildren, particularly his 7-year-old grandson Carson who had questions about Hall’s shaky hands.
Hall successfully underwent deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery in spring 2011. The procedure, explained by Julie J. Berk, M.S., PA-C, in the Movement Disorders Clinic in the University of Colorado Neurology Department, involves inserting a tiny thread, which emits an electric field, deep into the brain.
Hall’s life, and his ability to play with his six grandchildren, turned around soon after the surgery. “Sure enough, it ended up taking away the shakiness,” Hall said. “I can do all the things I wanted to do with him — playing tennis or playing catch. It’s not much fun when people are looking at you when you’re trying to get a cup up to your mouth, so it’s been a blessing for me.”
A blessing, also, for panelists who took part in the session. Ken Keller, a retired anthropologist and former dean of Letters, Arts and Sciences at Metropolitan State College, and Donna Miller, a 51-year-old mother of two, both said the surgery has greatly restored their quality of life. A third panelist, Terri Reinhart, who is being treated for Parkinson’s at University of Colorado Hospital, is considering the procedure, which is reversible should a better treatment be developed, but hasn’t made up her mind.
More than 80,000 people worldwide have had DBS implants, Berk said, adding that there are 50,000 new cases of Parkinson’s Disease annually in the United States. The surgery was approved in the United States in 2001 and “it’s really become a well-accepted, utilized therapy,” she said. A 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine documented that a sampling of DBS-treated patients showed 50 percent improvement five years after the surgery.
Hall said he was diagnosed with essential tremors in 1991 and was caught by surprise when the disease turned into early stage Parkinson’s in 2008.
“That was a lonely time for me compared to today where I can tell you it’s really a nice thing to feel that I’m part of a family — not only at University of Colorado Hospital but in the larger Parkinson’s community,” he said.
University of Colorado Hospital is conducting research into how acupuncture therapy can relieve fatigue — one of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s.
“I would like all of you from the Parkinson’s community to consider the fact that whether it’s you or your spouse that’s diagnosed, you all sort of become part of this community,” Berk said. “I think one of the greatest ways to contribute to that community is to get involved and engaged in research. There are plenty of opportunities here at the university.”
Hall said a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each book sale — he plans to write three more in the “Shaky Paws” series — goes to research into essential tremors and Parkinson’s. A chapter of his book addresses how people can communicate with their grandchildren about the topic of Parkinson’s.
“It’s a sticky subject to talk about these things with kids, and sometimes we’re tempted not to say anything rather than try to deal with it,” he said.
People often ask what inspired him to write the book. “I think this picture sums it up pretty nicely,” Hall said, pointing to a picture of him reading to his six grandchildren.
(Photo caption: Kirk Hall talks about his book, “Carson and His Shaky Paws Grandpa,” which is a story about how the dynamics of his relationship with his 7-year-old grandson Carson changed after Hall was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Hall was one of several speakers at the “Living With Parkinson’s Disease” session at the Health Sciences Library on Dec. 8.)