Sponsored Content: DBS Implant offers hope for a more normal life

THIS IS SPONSORED CONTENT FOR ST. MARY’S MEDICAL CENTER/BY NANCY LOFHOLM

When Jamie Stehman wakes up each morning, he reaches for his remote control and fires up the electricity to his brain. The 5.5 volts that pulse from a battery pack in his chest, through a wire under the skin of his neck and head, and to tiny electrodes in his frontal lobe, allow the 32-year-old outdoor gear salesman to live normally.

Before a neurosurgeon and a neurologist at St. Mary’s Hospital treated Stehman two years ago, he trembled so badly he couldn’t drink a cup of coffee.

Writing was out of the question.

He tried to hide his tremors by stuffing his hands in his pockets.

Stehman had been suffering like this for 13 years since a brain tumor was discovered behind his forehead. Surgery to remove most of the tumor didn’t stop the shaking. But the procedure called Deep Brain Stimulation—DBS for short—did.

In that procedure, neurosurgeon Dr. Brian Witwer placed electrodes in Stehman’s brain. Neurologist Dr. Seth Kareus determined what level and interval of electric pulses Stehman needed. The current was turned on. Stehman’s shaking ended.

“I can’t thank these doctors enough. They gave me my life back, Stehman said. “And it happened 15 minutes from my house.”

For the past three years, Kareus and Witwer and a multidisciplinary team trained in treatment of movement disorders have been doing DBS procedures at St. Mary’s. The team has made it possible for patients with disabling tremors, Parkinson’s or uncontrolled movement disorders to be treated without having to travel to Denver or Salt Lake City.

They have completed 38 DBS procedures in that time with exemplary results. There have been no deaths, no strokes and no infections. St. Mary’s DBS program also has a statewide distinction: It is the only DBS program run by a neurologist trained to do the procedure while patients are under sedation. Dr.

Kareus completed a fellowship in movement disorders that makes it possible for him to do this, as well as to select the right candidates for DBS, He does monitoring and assessment during and after the surgeries to ensure electrodes are properly placed and functioning at an optimal level.

DBS patients traditionally have had to remain awake and perform movements on command while their brains were probed: That was how the surgeon could tell if the electrodes were in the correct place. With Kareus’ advanced training, he and Witwer can now accomplish that with the use of a scanner. They can also place electrodes without having to anchor a frame in the skull, making the procedure even more comfortable for patients.

“This is the gold standard.

This is cutting edge,” Witwer said. “You can go anywhere in the state and you aren’t going to get what you do here in Grand Junction.”

Witwer made those remarks recently at a celebration for St. Mary’s DBS patients. His comments drew loud applause from a crowd that clapped with hands that didn’t tremble. Some wiped tears from their eyes– with steady hands. Several told stories of their lives before, and after, DBS.

Lawrence “Larry” Velasquez, 88, said he had DBS surgery 18 months ago after his Parkinson’s had grown so bad he couldn’t feed himself. He proudly revealed that he is now tending 700 flowering plants at his nursing home in Rifle.

“The quality of my life, thanks to these two doctors, is incredible,” he said.

Leonard Cruz was a 46-yearold truck driver in the oil fields three years ago when he developed ticks and involuntary movements that made it too dangerous to do his job. He said he was eventually diagnosed with dyskinesia, an involuntary movement disorder. It wasn’t improved with medication.

He became house bound and depressed. After DBS, he is preparing to have his commercial driver’s license reinstated.

“I’ve got a life again,” he said.

DBS is not a new procedure.

It was first done in Europe in 1987 and was approved to treat Parkinson’s in the United States a decade later. Since then, it has gained approval for the treatment of other disorders.

Jenna Moore, a representative of Medtronic, the company that makes the DBS implant devices, said, besides improvement in the actual devices, a large part of the advancement is due to teams like Witwer and Kareus.

A skilled surgeon is needed to place the electrodes in precisely the right spot, she said. A neurologist plays an equally crucial role in programing the neurotransmitter correctly.

“That is a very important part in its success,” she said.

With a steady hand holding out a plate to demonstrate, Stehman said he considers himself lucky to have been part of that success.

“I can’t say thank you enough,” he said. “I can’t say enough how lucky we are to have them here.”

Jamie Stehman demonstrates how he is now able to hold a plate steady. He said that was not possible before DBS stopped his tremors.

 


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