Brain surgery gives Parkinson’s patient his life back - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Brain surgery gives Parkinson’s patient his life back

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SPOKANE, Wash. -

There’s a good chance you know someone with Parkinson’s disease. The neurodegenerative disease can take away a person’s ability to walk, to talk and to live independently. Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgeries can give people their life back, by blocking the signals in the brain that cause the tremors and shakes.

48-year-old Tien Pham from Missoula, Montana suffers from early on-set Parkinson’s. He was diagnosed ten years ago and his life has slowly deteriorated since. His medications are no longer effective, which means once they wear off, Tien is unable to walk and talk and his bound to a wheelchair.

When we met Tien, we saw it happen during our interview with him. We picked him up at his hotel in Downtown Spokane. We watched him get into our news vehicle on his own, get out at Riverfront Park on his own, and we watched him walk to our interview spot and sit down on his own.

However, during the course of the ten-minute interview, Tien’s medication wore off. By the end, he couldn’t stand on his own. He couldn’t walk back to the car. I held Tien up while Photographer Gabe Ferguson drove the news vehicle into the park. Gabe and I picked Tien up and put him into the news rig. When we arrived at his hotel, his nephew brought out his wheelchair to take Tien back inside. In a matter of a half hour, Tien went from what looked like an independent healthy man to a man bound to his wheelchair.

Throughout the experience, Tien explained exactly why he was looking forward to deep brain stimulation surgery the following day. He explained experiences of cooking, but then freezing up and not being able to eat, or even talk. He explained why he’s afraid to go out with friends for dinner or go on walks with his mom. He never knows when he’ll freeze up, and this is why he says he can never be alone.

Thanks to the Sacred Heart Deep Brain Stimulation Program and Neorosurgeon Jonathan Carlson, Tien hopes to gain full independence. They invited us in to see Tien’s surgery first hand. The procedure includes implanting two electrodes 10 centimeters deep into Tien’s brain. The electrodes block signals that cause Tien’s tremors and shakes. It’s a surgery that Dr. Carlson performs about once a week for patients with Parkinson’s and Essential Tremor.

Though it’s a fairly common surgery for Doctor Carlson, it’s one that surprises people who find out the patient is awake while their brain is exposed. DBS involves drilling two holes into the patient’s skull, inserting the electrodes, and then testing the patient’s motor skills to see if the electrode is in the right place. Once it’s tested and in the correct spot, the doctor closes up the scalp.

A week later, Doctor Carlson inserts a battery pack into Tien’s chest and uses a lead wire to connect it to the electrodes in his brain. The device will be programmed to provide power to the electrodes that will block the brain signals. Tien will still use medication. It will take 3 to 6 months to find the correct combination of medication and level of power to best benefit Tien.

One month after we first met Tien, he was back in Spokane for a follow-up appointment. We met him at the same place we conducted our first interview; but unlike last time, he could stand at the end of it and walk with me through the park. He told me of going to dinner with a friend for the first time in years and talked about how excited he is to start taking care of his aging mom. He said over and over that he is just happy to have his life back. It’s been a long road for Tien, but he knows it’s a step in the right direction.

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