Patient Stories

J. Gregg Riehl runs Marathon after DBS, by J. Gregg Riehl

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in June 2006, at age 50. I had been having symptoms for about 18 months before I was diagnosed. My biggest complaint over the next 3 years was a right sided tremor that just wouldn’t give me a break. My right arm seemed to fire all the time, leaving my arm literally so exhausted that it ached. In November 2009, I volunteered for a balance study at the Stanford Movement Disorder Clinic. After I completed the test, Helen Bronte-Stewart, M.D., the neurologist overseeing the study, mentioned that I looked like a good candidate for DBS surgery. Until that time I was under the impression that DBS was a last-resort reserved for older, long suffering patients. I was so excited about DBS I actually cried in the car on the way home.

Considering this is brain surgery, I would have expected at least a little hesitancy on my part, but quite the contrary, I wanted the surgery, and as soon as possible. The first thing I did was discuss this with Grace Liang, M.D., my doctor at the Parkinson’s Institute. I read enough to satisfy myself regarding the anticipated benefits and the risks of surgery. I exchanged emails with two DBS patients from over 10 years ago. They were both very happy with the result and without reservation said they would do it again. I also had lunch with an individual who had the surgery 7 years earlier. He held out his right hand to demonstrate that he had been tremor free ever since. Everything I read and heard convinced me that the potential benefits outweighed the risks, especially if your neurosurgeon specializes in DBS and is one of the most skilled in the world.

My neurosurgeon was Jaime M. Henderson, M.D., at Stanford Hospital. With Dr. Liang’s blessing, I had the DBS surgery in May 2010, the pulse generator implanted in June, and the power switched on in July. I have been back for some fine tuning since. As soon as the power went on, the tremor stopped. My daily medication regimen has been reduced from 14 to 1 pill a day. With the tremor gone, I can carry two glasses of wine again and I can eat peas with a fork. Simple tasks, but not for me. I feel like I have my life back. Besides the tremor being under control, I am walking better and feel like my balance has improved. I am back to running up and down stairs, taking them two at a time. I can read my own handwriting again, and my typing has improved (fewer double hits). My outlook has improved immeasurably.

How much of this is attributable to the surgery and how much to the power of positive thinking I can’t say. But I do know the latter is because of the former. I am very happy with my decision and with the result.

If you, or a loved one, are considering DBS, I would be happy to speak with you. Contact me at jgriehl@gmail.com.

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