LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A surgical implant is giving control back to people with Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders and better yet, the post-op visits and treatments are going virtual.
It wasn't long after Mike Ball sat down to talk about his experience with Deep Brain Stimulation, or DBS, that his tremors began. With both hands in front of him, they continued to shake uncontrollably. This has been his reality the last 12 years living with Parkinson's.
"Sometimes, you can get it in one hand, and it stays in one hand and if it does, you're golden, because that's not very bad. But once it switched to my right hand, then all bets were off. It got bad in a hurry," Ball said.
The tremors can be disabling. Dr. Justin Phillips, a neurologist specializing in Movement Disorders, at Norton Neuroscience Institute sees it with his patients every day.
"Patients can't do their daily activities, feed themselves, drink from a full cup. They can't shave without cutting themselves, put on jewelry. They can't do a lot of tasks that you take for granted if you don't have a severe tremor," Dr. Phillips said.
For some, medication helps, but for others like Ball, it's not enough or may come with harsh side effects. Between his Parkinson's and his wife's MS, he calls the duo "a neurological mess most of the time."
Living like this just wasn't an option for Ball, who wants to be a caregiver for his wife. Then, he heard about the surgical successes with DBS.
"I thought it was my best chance at having a normal life," Ball said.
Phillips called it "a pacemaker for the brain."
"There's a pulse generator they put under the skin and then the wires - instead of running to the heart like a pacemaker would - run under the skin, under the scalp, through holes in the skull and down into the deep gray structures of the brain," he said.
This helps regulate control over unwanted movement, like the shaky hands. And even better, after the device is implanted, doctors can make adjustments virtually, meaning no extra trips to the doctor's office, even as the disease progresses.
It's made possible through the NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic, recently approved by the FDA. It's a huge plus for patients with limited time, mobility or finances. Ball underwent DBS about 2 months ago and can already feel the difference.
Sitting in one room of Norton Neuroscience Institute, Ball's tremors are being monitored by Dr. Phillips in another room. It looks similar to a Telehealth visit, or video chat, except Phillips is treating Ball in that very moment, using the app to intensify the signals being sent to Ball's brain, in turn, ending his tremors.
"When I came in, I was shaking all over the place, but now that he's got it calibrated...nothing," Ball said. "It's amazing."
When doctors aren't available in the moment, patients like Ball can also make certain adjustments on their own. His message to others with Parkinson's or similar diseases is to ask about this surgery. Because of it, he's now looking forward to hitting the golf course and the boxing ring.