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Electric currents in brain help control Parkinson's tremors

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The shaking and tremors Doug Martens experiences with Parkinson’s Disease would stop him from even holding a cup of water, if not for electrodes in his brain.

Martens, 61, had lived with the neurodegenerative disease for 10 years when he had the surgical procedure last year called deep brain stimulation (DBS) in which electric currents move from a pacemaker-like device attached to his chest through the electrodes implanted deep within his brain.

The electrodes send impulses to help control the symptoms, while a hand-held device allows him to adjust and control the amount of electrical impulses received by his brain.

While that may sound like science fiction, it’s been the greatest non-fiction chapter in Martens’ life and the closest thing to a miracle.

A miracle would be a cure, but there is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease.

"The disease is going to continue to march on, but by working with this device and the programming, hopefully I’ll be able to manage it well into the future and keep this quality of life," Martens said. "Managing the tremors has been one of the benefits, and for me, it’s been really good, but the bigger thing has been mobility and pain reduction."

Martens and Health Sciences Centre neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Krcek were describing DBS surgery and demonstrating the device on Tuesday at HSC as part of the launch of the 2014 Parkinson SuperWalk, which will be held on Sept. 6 in Winnipeg and Brandon, on Sept. 13 in Morden and Sept. 14 in Gimli. Participants collect pledges and the money raised goes toward research, education and programs in the fight against Parkinson’s Disease.

Martens said the DBS surgery in 2013 has allowed him to resume many activities and reduce his medication by 17 per cent, even eliminating one which carried side effects such as paranoia.

The device uses a low voltage, between two and three volts, most of the day.

If Martens turns it down very low or shuts it off, his symptoms return immediately and he can hardly hold the device in his hand due to the violent tremors. When he turns it to the required level, it’s hard to tell he has any symptoms at all.

The DBS surgery is widely used around the world to provide relief from Parkinson’s symptoms, but not everyone is a good candidate. Patients who are experiencing measurable results, such as symptom reduction, from medication are generally candidates for the DBS surgery.

"Adjustments (to the electrical impulses) are required as time goes on because, unfortunately, this is not a cure and the actual disease process continues," said Krcek. "The technology is such that it’s very programmable, very adjustable and can be adjusted as required. The DBS for Parkinson’s has been around for over 20 years. Those that had the systems implanted that long ago are still getting benefits. There’s a tremendous amount of benefit despite the disease progression."

In last year’s SuperWalk, Martens was one of the SuperStar Supreme Walkers as one of just nine individuals who raised $2,500 or more. Another was Karen Doell, the former softball star with the Smitty’s women’s softball team. Tim Hague, Sr., who won the 2013 Amazing Race Canada with his son Tim, Jr., raised over $5,000. The 2013 SuperWalk raised over $195,000.

Howard Koks, chief executive officer of Parkinson Society Manitoba, said there are about 6,000 Manitobans diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.


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