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Michael – Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson’s disease

Around 2007, in his early fifties, Michael noticed his right arm wasn’t swinging normally when he walked. He had the inkling that it could be Parkinson’s disease and after various doctors visits, this diagnosis was confirmed.

At first Michael was philosophical. “Worry about the things you can change, accept the things you can’t,” he thought. But there was uncertainty about the future, how fast the disease would progress and how it would affect his loved ones. Michael had always talked about crossing the Simpson Desert with a friend, so after the diagnosis he decided to do it while he had the chance.

After 10 years of traditional medications, Michael saw Melbourne neurologist A/Prof Wes Thevathasan, who suggested he was an ideal candidate for deep brain stimulation (DBS). Michael initially declined as he felt his symptoms were under control and he was concerned by the risk of brain surgery.

However, daily life was becoming more difficult. Michael had to reduce his work in the Department of Defence from full-time to three days per week due to fatigue. Using a computer mouse was difficult and driving required many stops for rest on long trips. He had very noticeable dyskinesia (involuntary and erractic movements) to the point where his wife likened him to one of the inflatable, flailing men seen outside car yards.

After much contemplation and speaking with others who had DBS, Michael eventually made the decision to proceed. Knowing A/Prof Thevathasan would perform the surgery made the decision easier. He even admits he was “strangely excited” by the prospect of having brain surgery while conscious!

The operation went well, and working with neurosurgeon Mr Kristian Bulluss, A/Prof Thevathasan was able to implant the probes very close (within 1mm) of target areas in Michael’s brain. Once the probes were turned on and adjusted Michael began to feel better. He has noticed a “huge improvement” since having DBS. Apart from a small problem with walking and writing legibly, many of his symptoms have reduced.

“Parkinson’s disease need not be a sentence to shakes, stiffness and dyskinesia,” said Michael, who is now aged 62 and keeping busy in retirement. “Try to be positive, and if you have the opportunity to have DBS, from my experience I can recommend it.”

Accurate placement of the probes in a patient’s brain is crucial to the success of DBS surgery. A/Prof Thevathasan is working together with the Bionics Institute on ways to improve the accuracy of the surgical procedure even further, so that the benefits of DBS can be maximised for all patients.

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