Part of an ongoing series
Jack Condon was taking about 30 pills a day to control his Parkinson’s disease just two months ago. Now he’s down to 10.
Not only has Condon cut down his medications, but he is also golfing again.
Condon got his swing back after undergoing deep brain stimulation surgery at Banner Boswell Medical Center in March.
“I just kind of feel so relaxed,” Condon said.
The difference in Condon is almost immediately noticeable. Before the surgery, he had difficultly walking because of stiffness in his limbs, but now he has pep in his step.
“I think he’s doing really quite well,” said Dr. Holly Shill, Condon’s neurologist.
Condon’s procedure, deep brain stimulation, or DBS, consists of two surgeries, the first to place two nodes in the brain, then a battery pack placed in the chest. DBS functions similarly to a pacemaker for the heart, providing electrical stimulation to the area of the brain that controls motor symptoms, decreasing or sometimes eliminating the uncontrollable movements that become debilitating to Parkinson’s patients.
Condon’s first symptoms of the disease started when his right shoulder started hurting while digging in the yard; after that, his hands were difficult to move, he had pain in his joints and extremities, and moving his legs felt like pushing through 6 inches of water, he said, before the surgery in March.
“I’m feeling like it took me back probably four or five years,” Condon said.
Condon is hopeful for about 10 more years of good health. Since the DBS procedure is fairly new, doctors are not yet sure what the long-term benefits will be.
“If I can get a good eight or nine years out of this, that’ll be good,” Condon said.
He knows the DBS is not a cure for his Parkinson’s but the alleviation of the symptoms even just for a relatively short amount of time gives him much more freedom.
“I just try to live for now,” Condon said.
In addition to golfing and working on his vehicles, Condon hopes to travel more and visit the places where he grew up, as well as volunteer and work out to build up muscle tone so he can do even more.
Shill said Condon had adjusted remarkably well, even compared to other patients who underwent the same procedure. Condon’s success speaks to the ideal placement of the nodes by neurosurgeon Dr. David Pootrakul, Shill said.
A study discussed last month charts the five-year results of DBS, giving Shill and her patients like Condon both more information and a little reassurance.
Dr. Tyler Cheung of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City reported at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology that in 19 patients who had DBS between 2000 and 2005 the procedure continues to be effective in alleviating motor symptoms of Parkinson’s, although the benefits for speech, cognition and in some cases, gait, do lessen over a five-year period.
“It’s very nice to have long-term studies,” Shill said, because patients always ask about a surgery’s long-term success.
“I’m going farther apart on my medication,” Condon said, explaining that he now gets four to five hours of ‘good time’ between taking his medications, where as he had received maybe two or three hours before.
That extra time has allowed Condon to get back into activities he once loved, like golf.
“I think my game’s improved,” Condon said because his swing is now "slower and more controlled."
“I don’t have quite the nausea taking [the medications] that I used to,” Condon said of one of the other advantages. “That’s been good, I haven’t had to worry so much.”
Condon said he wishes he underwent the surgery earlier, but it took some convincing from Shill before he agreed it was his best option.
“People are understandably very reluctant to get holes drilled in their head,” Shill said.