‘Back To My Normal Self’

Parkinson's patient Ted Fattoross is back to his regular routine at his lakeside home in Wharton.

 

Deep brain stimulation allows a Parkinson’s patient to return to daily activities.

“For years, my wife and I traveled from New Jersey to New York City for my care, taking trains and buses, or sometimes relying on a neighbor to drive us,” says Ted Fattoross, 73, of Lake Shawnee in Wharton. “But beginning last year, I could no longer safely make those trips. It was just too difficult.”

Ted has Parkinson’s disease (PD), and severe tremors (shaking of the legs, arms and other parts of the body) had a huge impact on his life. Medicines that had once worked to control symptoms no longer did.

“I thought we had exhausted all treatment options,” he says. “But then we learned about a treatment, deep brain stimulation surgery, just 30 minutes away at Saint Barnabas.”

A NEW OPTION

Common symptoms of PD include slow hand and leg movements, rigidity and problems with walking and balance. Medicines to treat these can cause side effects such as uncontrolled movement of the arms, legs and head.

Over a period of 14 years, Ted gave up driving, then gardening .Eventually, he needed help buttoning his shirt, brushing his teeth and walking. Socially, life was difficult too, he says, because PD limited the effectiveness of his facial muscles.

As the years went on, he needed pills every two hours around the clock, but their effectiveness would not last.

“Most people with Parkinson’s have excellent results with medicines to treat the symptoms,” says Arash Fazl, MD, PhD, a specialist in movement disorders at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC) and a member of the RWJBarnabas Health medical group. “But when the medicines do not last, or when their side effects are extreme, deep brain stimulation, or DBS, surgery offers a completely different— and long-lasting—option to calm the symptoms of PD.”

Prior to DBS surgery, the neurosurgeon uses a special 3D MRI to identify the location in the brain that controls movements. The surgeon uses this 3D map to plan precisely where electrodes, or “leads,” will be placed during surgery. The wires are implanted under the skin and connected to a generator, or pacemaker, that sits just below the skin in the chest and can be manipulated to send electrical impulses to the brain.

DBS is not a cure for Parkinson’s. But when medicines no longer work, the procedure is effective in calming tremors and improving rigidity of muscles and slowness of movement. It will likely help with balance problems but does not always help with walking, Dr. Fazl says.

DRAMATIC RESULTS

Dr. Fazl explained DBS to Ted and his wife of 53 years, Barbara.

“He and the entire staff kept me involved and talked to me about all my options,” Ted says. “They let me know that I could say or ask anything about DBS, that nothing was off limits. It was outstanding care.”

In September 2019, Paul Gigante, MD, an expert in DBS and Parkinson’s at SBMC, performed Ted’s surgery. In the following weeks, Ted and Dr. Fazl used the generator to fine-tune the electrical impulses. Both were exceptionally pleased with the results.

“We tried many things with the controller, then, all of a sudden, we hit the ball out of the park!” Ted says with a chuckle of delight. “Now, after 14 years with Parkinson’s, I’m about 85 to 90 percent back to my normal self.

“I no longer need any medicines for Parkinson’s. None. Zero. Nada,” he says. “Parkinson’s is now old hat, not my concern any longer.”

CUSTOMIZED TREATMENT

As promising as DBS is for people like Ted, this exciting treatment is not widely available. “About four of every 10 Parkinson’s patients could benefit from this surgery, but not all hospitals offer it,” Dr. Fazl says.

“Most community hospitals cannot offer DBS, because it is very complex and time-consuming,” says Dr. Gigante. “It also requires specialists who are fellowship-trained to treat Parkinson’s.” A team at SBMC has worked for more than three years to develop the DBS program, and its efforts bring life-changing results.

At SBMC, trained neurosurgeons can offer three different types of DBS surgeries. “Each has its own merits,” Dr. Fazl says, “so we can better customize treatment for each patient.”

DBS is part of a broad range of options at SBMC for people with Parkinson’s. “Our specialists use both medicines and DBS, and our team includes surgeons and specialists in movement disorders, so that our patients can enjoy as full and active a life as possible,” Dr. Fazl says.

Now free of most symptoms of Parkinson’s, Ted has turned his attention back to things he once took for granted: buttoning his shirt, tying his shoelaces, driving, working in his garden and basic home maintenance. In time, he hopes to resume playing handball.

“When people get this kind of care early enough, they can expect incredible results, just like Ted’s,” says Dr. Gigante. “And it’s a big deal for us to be part of this kind of result for our patients.”

“Before DBS at Saint Barnabas, my symptoms were devastating,” Ted says. “It’s been a wonderful thing.”

Don’t put off the healthcare you need. We’ve taken every precaution for the safety of our patients and team members. To learn about treatment for Parkinson’s disease at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, call 973.322.7023 or visit www.rwjbh.org/sbmcpd.