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Patient Experiences

DBS for Parkinson’s disease

Deep Brain Stimulation Helps Her Manage Parkinson's Disease, UCSF article: Rhonda's story

DBS for Dystonia

Deep Brain Stimulation Helps Teen, UCSF article: Sarah's story
Patient video: Andrea's story


I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 57 and I’ve had the disease for 30 years. About 17 years ago as my condition continued to deteriorate and my symptoms became more pronounced my doctor suggested I consider the idea of undergoing a new therapy to lessen my tremors.

The procedure is called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and it involves the insertion of electrodes into the area of the brain that is affected by Parkinson’s. It works like a “pacemaker” for the brain.

The most difficult consideration for me was the idea that someone was going to cut into my brain. It was very difficult for me to accept but after thinking about everything I finally got used to the idea. Knowing that the surgery and the electric impulses wouldn’t destroy my brain tissue and that it could potentially improve my quality of life, I decided to move ahead with the surgery.
The first thing they did when I arrived at the hospital was to give me an anesthetic that put me into a semi-conscious state and at the same time, they placed the “birdcage” on my head. The birdcage helped to keep my head still during the surgery but I have no recollection of the surgery and I never felt any pain. My recovery was quick and easy and I only had a small bandage on my scalp and one on each side of my upper chest.

The next day my tremors were as bad as ever. The doctor came to turn on the stimulators and the minute he turned them on, my tremors stopped completely. It was very dramatic! It was a miracle! As a result of the surgery not only have my tremors stopped but I have been able to cut my medicine in half.

In addition to implanting the stimulators in my brain the doctor also implanted two small devices under my collarbone. They are on the upper right and left sides of my chest but you can’t see them. I call them my batteries! The batteries last between 3-5 years before they need to be replaced. Replacing them is a very simple, outpatient procedure. I went home the same day and I was good for another 5 years!

If you can get over the fear of someone cutting into your brain, you will be able to tolerate this procedure and it will change your life forever. You’ll be glad you took the chance to make your life better.

Janet B McMahon , July 2017