Stimulating story for Parkinson sufferers

Parkinson's patient Peter McCabe's shares his deep brain stimulation story

Latest in Health
Peter McCabe presenting to the Bega Valley Parkinson Support Group. Photo Albert McKnight

Peter McCabe presenting to the Bega Valley Parkinson Support Group. Photo Albert McKnight


It's not fully understood why it works but for some it changes their lives


IT MAY be hard to imagine willingly agreeing to have holes drilled in your skull, wires inserted and connected to something akin to a pacemaker but that's what Peter McCabe of Bermagui, decided to do to treat his Parkinson disease.

Mr McCabe was 51 and fit when he was diagnosed with Parkinson disease in 2012 but the disease progressed fairly quickly and soon he found he was taking the maximum amount of medication, with all its side effects but wasn't feeling like the disease was under control.

He said he had spoken with his neurologist about what is called deep brain stimulation where electrodes are inserted deep inside the brain and electrical impulses delivered via a piece of equipment like a pacemaker. The delivery of the impulses - or electrical shocks - is controlled from a laptop.

CEO of Parkinson's Australia Steve Sant said it was a very sophisticated operation and required a six to 12 month assessment period.

"It is not fully understood why it works," Mr Sant said.

Mr McCabe said he had several false starts but had the operation in Melbourne at the end of January this year.

"I wasn't keen on them sticking wires into my brain but I was taking large amounts of medication. I decided the quality of my life wasn't good," Mr McCabe said.

After deciding to opt for the treatment doctors had to ensure that Mr McCabe met all the criteria for the operation.

Mr Sant said the people most likely to benefit were those with significant tremors.

"Their age should generally be under 70 as the risks increase with age although I know of people in their mid 70s who have had it done. The medication you take has to work as well and most people will have psychological and possibly psychiatric assessment," Mr Sant said.

The entire operation takes up to six hours with much of that time spent on implanting the wires.

Mr McCabe said that the most unpleasant part was drilling the holes in his skull and implanting the electrodes which was done under a local anaesthetic before the "pacemaker" was implanted under a general anaesthetic.

"I couldn't do much for the first five weeks while they adjusted the settings. I've now done away with all my medication and I am feeling as good or better than when I was taking large amounts of medication. It's been a big success," Mr McCabe said.

Previously an active person, Mr McCabe has returned to sport and in particular free diving which he used to do previously although now he is limited to diving to 4m.

"I ride my bike, swim, run; I can't do contact sports of course and I can't go through scanners."

He said that during the five weeks spent in Melbourne there was a lot of stress, both financially and emotionally on the family "but we're over that now".

Mr Sant said the treatment had been around for about 30 years although had become more popular in the last 15 years.

"It's not for everybody (with Parkinson) but those it works for, benefit very well. It doesn't change the underlying disease, you still have Parkinson," he said.

McCabe visited the Bega Valley Parkinson Group earlier this week as a guest speaker.

"I share my experience and leave it up to people to make up their mind. They are now looking at implanting the wires under a general and that would greatly increase the number of people taking it up," Mr McCabe said.

Bega District News