Resuming a Tremor-Less Lifestyle

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Dr. Miguel Gutierrez’s mother-in-law suffered from tremors. The condition was so severe that she could not even walk, much less complete her day-to-day tasks. Tremors drastically altered her lifestyle, and her family’s as well.

Today, Dr. Gutierrez’s mother-in-law has a different story. She walks with ease and her hands are steady. In short, she’s back to normal. What caused such a miraculous change? A surgery called Deep Brain Stimulation. Now, her family watches in awe as their matriarch lives tremor-less.

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is a surgical procedure used to treat a variety of movement disorders. Among the most common disorders it helps are Parkinson’s disease, tremor, and dystonia. DBS involves implanting a neurostimulator or “brain pacemaker” that sends electrical impulses along wires into the brain. The impulses help block the electrical signals that impair movement.

Dr. Gutierrez, a neurologist with 36 years of experience, is an advocate for Deep Brain Stimulation. He recommends the procedure to patients after personally witnessing the good it can do.

“Every patient who knew my mother-in-law, wanted the procedure,” Gutierrez said. “They saw what a huge change it makes.”

Gutierrez has seen improvement in all his patients who have undergone DBS. However, he cautions that the surgical procedure is not for everyone.

A variety of factors determine whether DBS is a good fit for a patient. Doctors first look at patients’ response to their current treatment plans. DBS is best for patients who no longer feel the effects of their medications. Neurologists also consider patients’ ages, their cognitive abilities, and the severity of their movement disorders . If, after all this patients are deemed good candidates for DBS, the procedure becomes an option for resuming a tremor-less lifestyle.

Currently, only two hospitals in the Valley  are equipped to offer DBS: Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Valley Baptist Medical Center. These hospitals are home to Dr. Jose Dones and Dr. Alejandro Betancourt, the only neurosurgeons with the training to implant neurotransmitters in the Rio Grande Valley. Together they have implanted over 100 lead placements.

DBS is a simple, but very effective procedure. After the device is implanted, it will be programmed by physicians to control the symptoms and side effects of tremors. The patient should then be able to enjoy doing routine without the tremor. The surgery does not necessarily mean a patient will be taken off of their medications – it may just be that their dosage will change.  

According to Dr. Gutierrez, the surgery is so effective that he’s seen the shaking stop as soon as the wires are inserted into the brain. By stimulating the parts of the brain that produce tremor symptoms, DBS can immediately cause a response in patients.

Of course, no medical procedure has a perfect track record. Gutierrez has had patients who feel they are not improving, even with the implanted device. His response to this is to turn off the device momentarily. As soon as the neurotransmitter is turned off, patients begin to shake and experience a sense of their lifestyle before the surgery. Patients invariably ask for the device to be turned on.

“When you show them how big a difference it’s actually making, they know it has worked,” Gutierrez said.

Deep Brain Stimulation has been life-changing for many patients. Regaining the ability to do the simplest tasks in a day can be life changing.  Deep Brain Stimulation is the key to this miracle, giving freedom and hope to movement disorder patients.