A 48-year-old Parkinson’s sufferer is believed to be the first patient in this country to be implanted with an electronic device designed to thwart the tremors, rigidity and other symptoms.
During the eight-hour operation Thursday at the University of Kansas Medical Center, surgeons placed a pulse generator the size of a half-dollar in Gary Shikles’ chest.
Attached to the device is a wire threaded under the skin of his neck and into a region of the brain called the globus pallidus.
Hospital spokesman Randy Attwood said it was the first such implant - called a pallidal stimulation procedure - in the United States.
The surgery has been performed in Europe since the 1980s, according to Judy Rosner, executive director of the United Parkinson Foundation in Chicago.
Parkinson’s is a progressive, degenerative disease of unknown origin that kills off dopamine-producing neurons. A low supply of dopamine triggers overactivity in the globus pallidus.
Shikles will switch on the pulse generator by rubbing a magnet over the implanted device. That will stimulate the pallidus and jam nerve signals that cause the tremors and rigidity, the hospital said.
Adjusting the generator to full power will take doctors several days, but tests during surgery showed it was helping, Shikles’ doctor said.
“He had very marked improvement in his rigidity. His movements were much more fluid,” said neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Wilkinson.
An estimated 500,000 Americans have Parkinson’s.
The disease causes Shikles’ leg and stomach muscles to cramp painfully and his arms and legs to flail uncontrollably.
While calling the procedure safe and noting it’s reversible, Ms. Rosner cautioned, “By no stretch should it be seen as a cure or as ending progression” of the disease.