NEWCASTLE – Craig Overman has had Parkinson’s disease since 2015. However, last year he decided to participate in a study of deep brain stimulation technology from Abbott Laboratories, a medical device company.
DBS “is a process that sends electrical impulses to parts of your brain that are not working properly, allowing the currents to realign themselves,” according to the Abbott website.
Overman’s results didn’t disappoint. While he has both good and bad days, treatment has allowed him to live a bit more normal again.
A year ago, Overman visited a neurologist in Rapid City, South Dakota and she referred him to Denver to begin this new treatment, which includes many surgeries. Over the summer, he went through a few tests, including one for dementia, with multiple doctors to see if he’d qualified as a candidate for the procedures because the technology doesn’t work on people with dementia. He was given the green light to move forward only to put pandemic operations on hold.
The treatment consists of three operations. Since drilling is done in the patient’s skull, which causes the brain to swell, they must be done separately within a week to be safe. Overman had planned his first surgery before Thanksgiving and was already on his way to Denver when he was told the surgery was canceled.
“It was heartbreaking because I was already preparing for it,” said Overman.
The cancellations and rescheduling continued with the rise and fall in COVID-19 cases, but on January 29, Overman finally finished his last operation. Doctors implanted a battery-powered neurotransmitter that sends electrical stimulation to the directional lead that delivers the impulses to the area of the brain responsible for movement.
What is unique about this operation is that the doctors woke Overman in the middle of the drilling and asked him to move certain muscles to test whether they had accessed the correct location in the brain. Overman said it wasn’t much different than a dentist drilling a tooth – he was aware of what they were doing, but he didn’t notice or feel much. The painful part was the braces that held his head in place.
Knowing no one who had gone through the same process to question, Overman did a lot of research on the internet prior to his surgery. He also had a doctor who was both “personal and professional”.
“The doctor in Denver was great, super good,” Overman said.
At first, the stimulations made it difficult for Overman to perform basic functions such as walking or moving his hand, which was difficult for him to manage, he said. But it’s all part of the process, and soon he was better off than before and he returned to a state of normalcy.
“I felt great after the operation – better than I had in a long time,” said Overman. “You forget how far you were from (normality).”
One of the main reasons Overman wanted to try the technology is because of his aversion to the effects of his drugs. The more stimulation he does, the less medication he needs. He has been taking the same drug for five years, but is nearing his goal of not using it anymore.
Another benefit is that the treatment is iPhone compatible, as “Abbott neuromodulation patients can use a proprietary iOS® mobile software application (St. Jude Medical ™ Patient Control Application) to control prescribed programs on their implanted neurostimulation device. ”According to the company’s website.
This process was recently approved by the FCC, and Overman tried it for the first time a few weeks ago on April 15th, saving him a full-day trip to Denver for an appointment of just 15 minutes. He’s grateful for his wife, Susan, to take care of the driving, he said, but he was often discharged from hospital the same day he had surgery, so the constant driving back and forth became an added hassle for Susan to see her husband have Parkinson’s disease.
“It was just hard to see how he went through all of these things to get back to normal,” said Susan.
Both Overman and his wife are grateful for the community support. Overman said he was encouraged to know things were getting better and looked forward to returning to a normal, active lifestyle.
“You don’t know how much support you have until you go through something like this,” Overman said. “The support we received was just unreal.”
If experience has taught him anything, Overman said, people should do what they can while they still can.
“Don’t take things for granted because they may be gone in a day or two,” he said.
He wants people to know they can call him to speak if they are going through something similar or have questions. He knows how important it can be to speak to someone in person, and he wants to help calm other people’s thoughts and calm them down about what they’re going through.