Neurosurgery provides relief for Mt. Pocono man

by Symptom Advice on December 17, 2011

Mount Pocono man calls surgery a ‘miracle’ against disease

These days, Robert Passalacqua of Mount Pocono can’t stop walking, talking and smiling.

After undergoing neurosurgery at age 77 to eliminate the major symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, his quality of life has improved tenfold, he said.

Parkinson’s disease affects 1.5 million Americans. It can take away a person’s ability to move by causing tremors, stiffness, shuffled walk and muffled speech. In 2001, the Federal Drug Administration approved Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, or DBS, when medications failed.

A study followed 156 patients with severe Parkinson’s disease, all under age 75. half of the patients took medications to manage their disease, while the others received DBS. during the procedure, a battery-operated neurostimulator is surgically implanted into the brain. That stimulator can improve motor symptoms in some Parkinson’s patients by blocking the abnormal nerve signals that cause tremors and other symptoms.

According to the study, patients treated with this surgery had better mobility, quality of life and emotional well-being than the patients who received standard medications.

“I tell you, it is like a miracle. I couldn’t do anything before my operation,” he said.

The things that Passalacqua could not do were things most of us do in the normal course of the day. “I couldn’t feed myself or walk very well, and the police made me turn in my driver’s license,” he said.

Before the Parkinson’s became so advanced, he was an active guy, and the disease made him a prisoner in his house, he said. “I used to walk all over the place and I went on hunting trips all over the country,” he said.

As a testament to his hunting trips, Passalacqua’s apartment is filled with framed photos of the successes of his hunting ability.

“When I found out there was an operation that could help me, I wasn’t sure that I would qualify for the surgery,” Passalacqua said.

In order to have the brain surgery, a patient has to reach a certain stage of Parkinson’s disease, he said.

“Typically the criteria for the surgery is severe motor complications that interfere with daily living,” said Kate McGill, a nurse practitioner in the Department of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.

Traveling to Philadelphia, Passalacqua reported to the disorders center.

“The doctors really checked me over. I had all kinds of test done so they could decide if I could have the surgery,” he said.

At last, Passalacqua was deemed a good candidate. In March, Dr. Gordon H. Baltuch, director of the Center for Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery, performed a six-hour procedure called Deep Brain Stimulation.

Pointing to his temples, Passalacqua said, “Basically what they did is put in two electrodes in my brain that are connected by a wire that runs down my neck to a box under my skin.”

The box, implanted below his collarbone, is a neurostimulator (battery) and is similar to a heart pacemaker — about the size of a stopwatch.

Passalacqua’s neurostimulator sends electrical impulses up the wire in his neck and into the brain. These impulses block electrical signals that cause Parkinson’s symptoms.

It was two weeks before the neurostimulator was turned on (the brain needs to rest after the surgery), but it didn’t take long for Passalacqua to feel it.

In the first six months, Passalacqua went to the hospital in Philadelphia to have his settings on the neurostimulator adjusted.

“It took a couple of adjustments on what number the box needed to be set at, but once they got it right — what a difference,” he said.

Passalacqua has a remote that allows him to make minor adjustments on the impulses. for any major adjustments, he goes to the hospital.

Passalacqua is back to walking, feeding himself and plans to apply for his driver’s license again.

“I just want everyone that has Parkinson’s disease to know what a difference this can make in your life, and if they can, they should have the operation,” he said.

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