Retired teacher Elizabeth Scheffler had been dealing with some form of essential tremor (ET) for 10 to 15 years. Finally, she says, “It had become increasingly worse, to the extent that I had very little, if any, fine motor control and progressively compromised gross motor skills.”
The tremor was bilateral, and she also had a head and voice tremor. “It was not possible to carry a cup of coffee without spilling, eat a sandwich without shaking it apart or feed my then-infant grandson,” Scheffler remembers. She tried three or four medications, which made little or no impact on the tremors. “One neurologist in Colorado was even treating me for Parkinson’s, which it turns out I do not have.”
One day, Scheffler saw a television program about a man with essential tremor who underwent deep brain stimulation (DBS), a pacemaker-like procedure for the brain. The results were remarkable.
After Internet research, she met with Dr. Kelvin Chou, co-director of the University of Michigan Movement Disorders Clinic, who confirmed that she was a good candidate for DBS.
Like all DBS candidates, Scheffler underwent speech and neuropsychological testing before being accepted for surgery. “Dr. Parag Patil, the DBS neurosurgeon, also met with me, to explain the surgery,” she says. “Although initially it was a difficult decision and I was apprehensive, the staff was very reassuring and gave me success rates, number of operations completed, etc. They allayed my anxiety by answering all my questions in such a caring way that I wasn’t even really nervous before the surgery.”
DBS is a two-part surgery. During the first part, in which the stimulator is placed in the brain, she says, “The neurosurgical staff told me exactly what to do, explained each step of the surgery and the result to expect. They also conducted speech evaluations throughout the surgery to
ensure speech centers would not be affected.”
The second surgery (two weeks later) implanted the battery pack into her chest. “Although the first surgery made for a long day, I experienced no pain and required none of the prescribed drugs. The second surgery was a breeze.
“I now have full control in my dominant hand and my head tremor is gone,” Scheffler says. “Now I fully enjoy my retirement, volunteering as treasurer of a non-profit agency, playing bridge, doing floral arranging, yoga and golf. I can even do some photography and enjoy my electronic devices.
“I heartily encourage anyone with this condition to further explore whether they are a good candidate for DBS. It has changed my life in such positive ways.”