Now, a pacemaker surgery for Parkinson`s patients

New Delhi: If you thought Parkinson`s is an incurable disease and brings with it never-ending suffering -- here`s good news. A simple surgery involving a pacemaker can guarantee normal life to those affected.

The dreaded disease which leads to loss of control over physical activities causing abnormal and uncontrollable movements has so far been known to be an illness one can`t die of but cannot live with either.

"Most people and even doctors are not aware that Parkinson`s disease can be completely cured," says Alok Gupta, head of neurosurgery at Vimhans hospital in Delhi.

Gupta said the most recent surgery that he conducted in June involved a new technique, 3-Tefla MRI, which has made the process 100 percent accurate.

Parkinson`s -- a neurological disorder usually associated with old age, certain drugs or head injuries -- is caused when the generation of a chemical Dopamine is reduced in the brain. The 3-Tefla MRI helps in finding the exact location of the sub-thalamus nuclei which generates the chemical.

Nearly one percent of the population above 60 years of age and five percent of those above 80 across the world are affected with the disease at present.

"The usual medicines prescribed to the patients of Parkinson`s stop working after some time and abnormal physical activities like uncontrollable movement of hands are one of the side effects of the drug. The patients think that there is no hope for them and they are left bed-ridden for the rest of their lives," Gupta said.

The surgery places two wires of 1 mm thickness in the sub-thalamus, the part of brain responsible for secreting Dopamine. It is connected to a pacemaker placed below the collar bone. The pacemaker sends electronic signals to the brain leading to normalisation of the chemical balance and giving the patient control over physical activities.

"Mild electronic impulses have been found to reduce the chemical secretion and increased impulses lead to stimulation for secretion of the chemical," Gupta said.

The surgery costs around Rs.6-6.5 lakh in India, making the country one of the cheapest destinations for it.

"The device itself costs around Rs.4-4.5 lakh in India. We have patients from all over the world as this surgery costs Rs.70-80 lakh in the US. India is one of the cheapest destinations," he said.

"A hand held remote is given to the patient so that he can switch on or switch off the device. The patient is also given a range to adjust the frequency of the pacemaker if they feel that they are unable to control their physical activities," he adds.

The pacemaker`s battery is replaced every five year. However, new pacemakers with rechargeable batteries reduce the hassle of repeated surgery. The patients lead a normal life thereafter, avoiding only intense radiations like from an MRI, electric transformers and electro-magnetic security check equipments.

The device is safe for use around household equipment like mobile phones and microwaves.

For 58-year-old Manju Sethi, life was difficult with Parkinson`s until she underwent the surgery. Similar was the case with 56-year-old Al Karim, who came for the surgery all the way from Iraq and for 64-year-old Abdulla from Afghanistan.

"More than a hundred patients have been treated so far," Gupta said.

However, for those who cannot afford the expensive equipment, a simple surgery costing around Rs.80,000 to lakh is performed. This surgery breaks the pallidotomy circuit reducing the tremors.

The technique has benefited not just patients with Parkinson`s, but also those with other neurological disorders like Dystonia which is similar to Parkinson`s but occurs in younger age groups.

"It is the future of neurosurgery. In future, electrodes will also be used for other neurological disorders like Epilepsy and depression," Gupta added.


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