Robert Goff of Traverse City says he feels like he's had a re-birth after a procedure called deep brain stimulation. He needed the surgery after he started getting tremors in both of his hands about two years ago. They eventually started to affect his every day life, even his speech.
"When I shaved it would jump around. I could brush my teeth but before it would go out to here by my ear...basically lost my ability to speak," says Goff. Goff who is 88 was diagnosed with the neurological disorder called, essential tremors. It's genetic and Goff's father had the same problem. The tremors usually progress over time and can be debilitating.
"It got so bad that I couldn't carry stuff and medications wouldn't work," says Goff.
Goff had his first deep brain stimulation surgery in November 2012 at The University of Michigan and two weeks later he had a second part done. So, how does the deep brain stimulation work? "The problem is that patients can be managed to a point with medications but sometimes that's not enough. DBS is where a surgeon places a wire in a part of the brain and it's connected under the skin to a pacemaker device under the collar bone that sends an electrical signal to the brain and controls the tremor," says Munson Medical Center neurologist and movement disorder specialist, Dr. Cornelius Robens.
Although the DBS surgery is only performed at certain hospitals in southern Michigan, Dr. Robens is able to help monitor the implanted device and control the electrode settings once a patient is back in northern Michigan.
"Then when we turn the DBS on, we can change the settings and with a remote control you can change the tremor," says Dr. Robens.
It's a surgical procedure that literally sends electrodes to the brain and the impacts are immediate.
"It was about ten years ago when I noticed a tremor...When it first started, I noticed it with my hand writing. I used to have really nice handwriting," says Jean Higman of Frankfort.
Higman has essential tremors that became progressively worse over the past several years. At one point she found herself unable to meet up with friends.
"My main problem was eating in public and socially if i had a glass of wine," says Higman.
Just like Robert Goff, she tried medications but when they didn't work. She underwent the DBS procedure in Grand Rapids in September 2012 and says it was life changing.
"During the surgery they did turn the device on. First it was off and I wrote a circle and my name. You couldn't read it. He had a way to turn it on and I did a perfect circle and wrote my name perfectly," says Higman.
"The benefit is once it's placed we can still change the settings area that we're stimulating in the brain...Even though we can't cure this, i believe we're doing a pretty good job of managing the symptoms," says Dr. Robens.
They're symptoms that are literally being decreased for people like Higman and Goff.
"I would have to eat in a lounge chair and put my food up, but now I can sit up at the table," says Higman.
Deep brain stimulation was first introduced in 1997 and is also very effective with Parkinson's Disease patients.
For more information on the procedure click here.