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Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery Through Beth Israel Changes Parkinson's Patient's Life

BOSTON (CBS) -- Five years ago, Edwin Rivera developed trouble walking and uncontrollable shaking.

"If I went out to dinner with my wife, my symptoms, people noticed," Edwin said.

The father of six was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. He was only 37 years old.

"Parkinson's Disease is an age-related neurodegenerative disorder involving motor features like tremors, stiffness, and slowness," said Dr. David Simon, who is the director of the Parkinson's and Movement Disorders Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Dr. Simon says the drugs often used to treat patients with Parkinson's compensate for a loss of dopamine in the brain.

"The duration of benefit from the most effective one, which is Carvidopa/Levidopa, also called Sinemet, it tends to get shorter and shorter as they've had Parkinson's longer and longer. And then sometimes people get complications that limit the ability to take it."

That's what happened to Rivera, so doctors offered him something else: deep brain stimulation.

While the patient is awake, but comfortable, doctors place electrodes on either side of the brain in areas which tend to be overactive in Parkinson's. Wires are then connected through the skin to a battery that sits like a pacemaker in the chest.

(Photo courtesy: Medtronic)

Using a tablet, doctors can wirelessly dial up or down the voltage delivered to the brain.

The goal is to find a sweet spot where the patient's tremors are reduced without unwanted side effects like tingling, slurred speech, or dizziness.

After having surgery in June, Edwin returned weeks later to have the device programmed. Within minutes, most of his symptoms were gone.

Deep Brain Stimulation 3
Edwin Rivera during a deep brain stimulation session. (WBZ-TV)

"It improved pretty much right away my balance. Tremors have all pretty much subsided and gone away. My ability to work, go to sleep, because my sleep was affected as well. So overall, major improvement down the line," said Edwin.

And he's regained control of his movements and his life.

"I felt like I was being dragged along for the ride, but now I feel like I got a lot more control back. And so it's all pretty much up to me from here on out."

Deep brain stimulation is not for everyone. In fact, only a few percent of patients with Parkinson's have it done. Many are well-controlled on medications. Many are just not good candidates. And others don't want to have brain surgery.

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