Treating tremors with deep brain stimulation

Brain Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Apr 19, 2017

For nearly 50 years, Luetta Mahavier, 84, has suffered from essential tremors. They started around age 40 and slowly got worse. She began adapting her lifestyle to work around the immense shaking.

“I would order things at a restaurant that I knew I wouldn’t need to cut,” Luetta said. “Or I would know where to put my glass down at a family party.”

There are thousands of things we do every day that we do without a second thought. However, for someone like Luetta with a movement disorder, it can begin to really impact your quality of life.

“I definitely knew that my quality of life had diminished greatly and the medications weren’t working,” Luetta said.

Over the past five years, the tremor was growing worse. Luetta couldn’t drink water from a glass without spilling. She couldn’t brush her teeth without hitting her cheek, and she could not file her nails without it being dangerous.

Luetta wasn’t one to get depressed, but these interruptions in her daily routine were becoming too much to manage.

Finding Treatment with Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)

Luetta spoke with her primary care physician and others at Baylor Scott & White Health to figure out how to treat her tremors. Throughout their discussion, she heard about deep brain stimulation but thought it was only for Parkinson’s patients. Her father suffered from Parkinson’s, but Luetta’s tremors were different.

Dr. Michael J. Soileau, MD, a movement disorder specialist and medical director on the medical staff at Scott & White Plummer Movement Disorder Center, explained deep brain stimulation could help Luetta control her shaking through a surgical procedure where an electrode is implanted into the part of the brain that influences movement. It is then programmed and monitored to normalize movement.

“DBS should be considered in any patient who is otherwise healthy and who’s quality of life could be improved,” Dr. Soileau said. “Luetta was no exception. Even at 84 years old, she still has many years left, and I consider those years important. Once we turned on her stimulator and her tremor went away, she was ecstatic. It just never gets old.”

At age 84, Luetta was still in good health and was approved for the surgery. She says she comes from a line of family members who live a long time, so Luetta was looking forward to a better quality of life, even in her later years. Her sister came out from California to help her with the series of surgeries.

A physician looking at tremor activity during deep brain stimulation surgery.

“I was so excited that my sister said she felt like she was going to a party,” Luetta said. “She knows all the problems I’ve had over the years, and the fact they were going to take care of them just made her so happy for me too.”

Luetta traveled to Houston for the DBS surgeries and felt confident in her care. She knew what to expect because she had several pre-op visits with her doctors at the Plummer Movement Disorder Center. Luetta is excited about the expanding DBS services in Temple for others who may also suffer from tremors.

“I can’t say how much I would encourage somebody to have it done,” Luetta said. “I can’t say enough good about Baylor Scott & White.”

After the electrode was placed, Luetta met with Dr. Soileau to program the device, so she no longer suffered from the tremors. Luetta was thrilled with the results and saw a difference immediately.

“Oh boy, when he programmed it, oh gosh I was so excited,” Luetta said. “I could write my name and hold a glass of water, and oh gosh! It was the best feeling!”

Reclaiming the Little Things

That was just the beginning for Luetta who now enjoys many things that she had been missing.

She had given up cooking for years due to the dangerous shaking, and for her first meal after the surgery, she decided to cook an egg.

“I cooked the egg and I even flipped it over,” Luetta said. “I don’t remember the last time I was able to do that!”

“I’ve seen an incredibly dramatic improvement in my quality of life,” Luetta said.

She now spends time knitting and reading as well. She used to have trouble turning the pages, but not anymore. She stays involved with the library book club and everyone is happy for her.

Thanks to her deep brain stimulation, she can now join in the fun and doesn’t have to find a work-around for the little things in life.

For more information on movement disorder treatments, find a physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Health specializing in neuroscience care

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