USF, TGH celebrate 20 years of helping those with tremors stop the shaking with brain stimulation

Local woman thrilled with results of DBS

TAMPA - "If this cup had something in it, I wouldn't be able to drink without it spilling," said Arlene Sexton.

Sexton spent 17 years with essential tremors that affected her ability to feed herself.

"My spiral is not very good." The tremors affected her ability to write and stole her ability to do her job.

"I was a computer programmer but I could no longer use a computer. Because I couldn't move a mouse without holding on to my hand and I kept missing key strokes. I thought I can't live the rest of my life this way."

Her family was talking about assisted living, but then with a push of a button, her tremors stopped.  She wondered, "How did I live for 17 years with this and no doctor had ever told me about it?"

Sexton finally found a doctor who knew about deep brain stimulation--- Dr. Donald Smith a neurosurgeon with the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital.

He says deep brain stimulation is, "a procedure to implant an electrode in one of three critical spots in the brain.  It uses what is basically pacemaker technology originally developed for the heart and applies it to the brain."

Dr. Donald smith completed the first DBS surgery 20 years ago as part of the clinical trial that lead to FDA approval.

Now 120,000 patients with essential tremors, Parkinson's disease and dystonia have been basically cured of disabling tremors.

"For the patients it's a real game changer," he said.

Sexton called it miraculous. "I can now move the mouse without shaking. I can type, I can cook. I can eat with a fork." She feels like she's got her independence back.  

Patients have reported vivid memories and recall after DBS and now researchers are studying the possibilities of treating Alzheimer's. 

Stimulating a separate area of the brain may hold promise for morbidly obese patients and studies are also underway using DBS to treat depression.

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