Parkinson's: A Patient's Journey With Deep Brain Stimulation
Aug 16, 2021 Jasmine Aimaq
They told her it was just anxiety. Even her primary care doctor thought it was nerves. Maybe she was even a bit of a hypochondriac. But Yoheved Hasson believed the involuntary shaking in her leg had to be something more.
When she visited a neurologist, she got the diagnosis: Parkinson's disease. Her heart sank. Both her uncle and grandfather had suffered from the condition.
"Do not be afraid of deep brain stimulation. It is a life-changing procedure."
"I remembered what they went through," she says. But her family was optimistic. Yoheved had always been physically active and led a healthy lifestyle, they said. Medicine had also made progress since her uncle and grandfather's days. Surely things would be better for her.
She started taking several medications to control her symptoms. At first, it worked. "I felt amazing," she recalls. She got on with her life, but several years later, the drugs stopped working and she began to suffer—and worry.
But thanks to her family's support and her own resilience, she never lost hope. She'd raised three children on her own, had a successful career as an interior designer and wasn't someone who gave up easily. She researched her options.
"I discovered that Dr. Michele Tagliati was the best, so I decided to see him," she says. It was the right call. Dr. Tagliati, a neurologist and director of the Movement Disorder Program at Cedars-Sinai, took time to understand Yoheved's unique situation.
"I was so impressed,” she says. “I quickly knew I could trust him."
Yoheved was suffering from tremors as well as dyskinesias—uncontrolled writhing movements—and painful muscle contractions known as dystonia. "She had a fairly advanced case of Parkinson's by then," says Dr. Tagliati. "We tried many different drugs and treatments. She even enrolled in a clinical trial."
After every treatment failed, Dr. Tagliati proposed something a little more unusual. Would Yoheved be open to Deep Brain Stimulation, a therapy that had proven helpful for patients like her? He was referring to a surgical procedure that involves implanting electrodes in the brain, delivering electrical impulses that block or change the abnormal activity that cause Parkinson's symptoms.
"It was the only option we had left," Dr. Tagliati explains.
Yoheved had heard of DBS, which is sometimes referred to as "a pacemaker for the brain," and was afraid of it. But she trusted Dr. Tagliati. She met with neurosurgeon Dr. Adam Mamelak, who agreed she was an excellent candidate.
"I knew I was in very good hands with him too," Yoheved says.
Though nervous, she was ready. Yoheved proceeded with the treatment. The results were remarkable. Her symptoms improved dramatically.
Now she has a message for other Parkinson's patients: "Do not be afraid of deep brain stimulation. It is a life-changing procedure."