featured-healthIssue 23

Hope for Parkinson’s


By Noel Daniel

It’s a thing that can strike suddenly and without warning. Heralded by tremors, muscular rigidity, and imprecise movement, parkinson’s disease is an ailment associated with degeneration of the brain and a deficiency of dopamine.

“You have to be ready. You have to be able to accept that it will work — and also that it might not work,” says Maralee Clifton who was an active employee in the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department when the unthinkable first started. It was during a work-related fitness test that she noticed something was wrong— she had problems gripping anything with her hands.

Clifton wrote the experience off as carpal tunnel, but she also noticed that her handwriting was deteriorating and it became difficult to wash her hair with how poor her finger dexterity had gotten. But Clifton was only 32 at the time, with a young son at home. The diagnosis wasn’t one that occurred to Clifton or her doctors.

“The big clue was when my feet started dragging,” says Maralee. That caused her to fall down the stairs in her home. “I’m six feet tall, and that’s a long way to fall.”

She sought help when the right side of her body became rigid, consulting a local neurologist who reached the fateful diagnosis that was then confirmed by the Parkinson’s Disease Clinic and Research Center at the University of California in San Francisco. A year after, Clifton attended a conference sponsored by Doctors Medical Center of Modesto and there heard about Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery.

The surgery was still in its early stages at the time and involved planting electrodes in certain areas of the brain to produce electrical impulses to help regulate them. Dr. Benjamin Remington at Doctors Medical Center had already begun performing the procedure and has been for over 12 years. To date, Doctors Medical Center has treated over 250 patients.

“Deep brain stimulation offers a surgical treatment for Parkinson’s disease that does not require a lesion being made in the brain,” said Remington. “Recent advances include improved hardware and battery control so that the patients can adjust the settings for improved quality of life.”

The electrical impulses in the treatments help minimize typical Parkinson’s symptoms like tremor and sudden movements. A device that looks similar to a pacemaker controls the stimulation delivered by the electrodes.

“Patients with Parkinson’s can often get a significant improvement of their quality of life through DBS,” said Remington. “It also gives them some control with being able to adjust the settings.”

In February 2011, Clifton went ahead with the procedure. Her head was shaved and numbed with medication, stabilized with a metal halo, and holes were drilled into her skull while she was still awake. Electrodes were placed into her brain, and she was asked to tap her fingers and knee while the surgeon touched certain electrodes. Like that, the tremors in that area would stop.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” says Clifton.

Clifton was outfitted with the stimulator and, since then, the change has been noticeable. Her symptoms like tremors and facial tics were back in check. Although the disease is still progressing, she’s taking much less medication.

This profound research and glimmer of hope, it must be remembered, is very close to home.

For More Information About Doctors Medical Center, or to take a number of online help assessments, visit www.dmc-modesto.com.


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