30 Days of PD: DBS Gives Me a Better Fighting Chance

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Steven Oppen

Photo courtesy of Steven Oppen

Day 15 of 30

This is Steven Oppen’s story:

I was diagnosed in 2013, having just received the news in 2011 that my wife had pancreatic cancer. A double whammy. My love of 48 years lost her battle in 2017.

I’m experiencing severely reduced “on” periods — the only Rytary (carbidopa/levodopa) dosage that helps is the 6 a.m. eye-opener.

While professionals in the field may disagree with me, I see the current medication choices as “me too” compounds with bad side effects. I wanted a better fighting chance than that, and DBS (deep brain stimulation) held that hope for me. You should understand that not every Parkinson’s patient qualifies as a DBS candidate. Age, cognitive status, and other factors come into play.

I cleared the first hurdle by seeking my doctor’s endorsement of me as a good DBS candidate. So I’ll assume that you all know the basics of DBS: the process by which you allow a neurosurgeon to drill one or two holes in your skull, let them insert a battery and regulating device into your chest so that she/he can alter the brain signals that need to be regulated. And to top it off, we don’t really understand why DBS works!

I became convinced that the science behind deep brain stimulation was sound and had the potential to add 10–15 years to my ability to enjoy life. I’m not the only one who is betting on DBS. Department leaders in the neuroscience area at the University of Florida, having been dissuaded at one time from devoting their careers to the refinement of DBS, are betting their careers on this science.

So where am I in this process? The first drilling and “lead” placement was performed on Jan. 12. I’m happy to report that I have not suffered from any major setbacks. The second lead placement had to be postponed slightly due to a mild infection. I’m now scheduled for surgeries on March 29 and May 6, and then, at long last, the equipment will be activated. Then comes six months or so of refined calibrations and therapy.

I promise to let you know the outcome. I’m betting my life on a successful result.

Parkinson’s News Today’s 30 Days of PD campaign will publish one story per day for Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month in April. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more stories like this, using the hashtag #30DaysofPD, or read the full series.