Doug Martens’ life would never be the same after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2003.
But after undergoing surgery to implant a deep brain stimulation device earlier this year, the North Kildonan resident has experienced an improvement in his quality of life.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that can cause symptoms such as muscle rigidity, impaired balance, tremors, and slow movement. There is no cure, but for some patients like Martens, deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery can help ward off some of the disease’s effects while also decreasing a reliance on medications.
Martens, 61, said he was able to decrease the dosage of one of his drugs by 17 per cent while eliminating another two, including one that had troubling side effects.
"One of them was a dopamine agonist, and one of the things that comes with that is paranoia," Martens said. "Being able to stop drugs, especially as the doses go up over time, because of worsening Parkinson’s — that’s a big deal."
Martens and wife Carol said his morning routine, in particular, is much improved as he can set the electric impulses — different rates for each side of his body — as the first thing he does each day.
"I can get up and move around, go to the washroom, take my drugs, and get on with the day," Martens said, noting the right side of his body is generally in need of more stimulation.
Because of the improvement of his life after the procedure, Martens hopes to help rally support for the Parkinson Society Manitoba’s SuperWalk on Sept. 6 at the Centre culturel franco-manitobain (340 Provencher Blvd.). Registration is at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 10 a.m. The SuperWalk campaign launched with a press conference at Health Sciences Centre on Aug. 12.
Martens can control the intensity of the electricity with a small box, and after demonstrating his ability to move side-to-side and reaching his arms in the air with the optimal settings, also revealed the intense tremors and shaking he suffers when the device is turned all the way off.
Martens said because he has better balance and control, he is able to help out around the house with tasks like vacuuming, which he wasn’t able to do before.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Krcek of Health Sciences Centre explained medications can become less effective over time, and coupled with side effects, can pose a challenge for patients and doctors. However, some patients can qualify for the DBS procedure where small electrodes are placed on carefully-selected areas of the patient’s brain. An electrical impulse is sent to those areas, and it helps control the symptoms.
Krcek said the device doesn’t work for everyone — generally, those unresponsive to medication also do not respond well to the surgery — and several factors are considered during a consultation. However, even with the approximately $25,000 to $30,000 price tag, Krcek feels several more people could benefit from the procedure, especially those who don’t wait to get it done.
"We start patients earlier on, and lo and behold, those patients did better," he said.
Parkinson Society Manitoba CEO Howard Koks said 6,000 Manitobans are affected by the disease, and that number is expected to double within 15 years.
"We’re hoping to find a cure, and until we find a cure, we’re just trying to help people with Parkinson’s," he said.
For more information on Parkinson Society Manitoba or to register for SuperWalk, visit www.parkinsonmanitoba.ca