Deep Brain Stim

Reporter: Francesca Belperio

Grandad Graham Baker is about to undergo surgery ... During which doctors will attempt to rewire his brain while he remains wide awake...It'll be five hours before he knows the outcome ... But he hopes it'll undo years of trauma ...

69-year-old Graham should be enjoying his retirement with wife rita... Instead he's been burdened by a progressive neurological disorder known as essential tremor ... "can't cook, can't do anything actually... At this stage i can't feed myself... For a beer you got to put a straw in it and have it on a stable surface and go down to have it. So you have to drink beer out of a straw?…(nods) I guess for a man from waikerie that'd be a bit embarrassing sometimes?... frustrating…"

As a young boy graham had a road accident which left him unable to use his left arm ....but eight years ago he lost control of his right arm ....it rendered him an invalid .. "when i thought those are all the things i'd do in retirement and you can't do it you just look for the alternative and this is it."

What are you hoping this operation will offer you? "just getting me life back."

"he can't put his glasses on without poking his eye on he can't get a cup of coffee and we really takes those things for granted so we'd really like to improve that." the radical surgery graham is undergoing is called deep brain stimulation... "it won't cure the disease but it can improve things like tremor, rigidity and one of the other thing is reducing the medications theyr'e on."

The procedure has been available in australia for some years... But only recently doctors dominic thyagarajan and matthew mcdonald from the flinders medical centre have introduced it to adelaide. "i'll drill a hole in each side of the scull in the front part of the brain and then what i do is put an electrode down into the area which in this case is called the subthialamic nucleus and what we do is we actually record some electrical impulses from there"

"so you're actually talking to them while their skull has two holes drilled into it? That's right and we also really want to know whether their speech is affected whether their eye movement is affected by the current that we are passing through. Some of our patients have a sense of humour so they try and throw their own jokes in while they're having surgery."

Unlike other major surgery....the patient plays an integral part in its success... Telling the surgeon when they feel relief from their symptoms ... "once we're in the right location and we put the electrode in it tunnelled behind his ear under the skin down to the stimulator and battery pack which sits here on the chest.."

The batteries are similar to a pacemaker which produce electrical impulses which stimulate the part of the brain causing the problem ... "we can see the tremor go almost immediately then there's often continuing improvement over the months after that."

Would you both call it lifechanging? "we saw that on the operating table in some instances where some people for the first time were able to move their limbs… sometimes for many many years and that made the patient very emotional, it made the nursing staff very emotional…" but there are risks.... with a chance of stroke, paralysis or even depression..."in some instances result in suicide and so we are very careful with the way patients are selected for this procedure."

So far just four people, including nigel sargeant have had the surgery performed locally.... this was nigel just two months ago...His body wracked by parkinson's disease

"i couldn't walk very far... Getting in and out of chairs it was getting to the point where i was getting very frustrated because i couldnt' do anything." but this is the 47-year-old now... A changed man... After having deep brain stimulation. "it makes it feel really as if you're coming alive sort of thing. It's been lifechanging..."and wife elaine agrees..."his confidence has changed it's gotten biggter and you're happier now..."

"one of the major things is i sit still and i feel comfortable and can sit and talk to people without any worries of feeling insecure."

It's a similar story for damien, graham and jim... All have had the operation to reduce their parkinson's symptoms and their reliance on medication... "i picked up my arm and me wrist dropped down and went up and down a couple of times and i thought geez that's good that's the first time in 20 years i've been able to do that. And i burst into tears."

"for me it's not yet a miracle but it's pretty close..." and you only need to see these men before the operation to witness the miracle... This was damien barely able to walk... And this is him running just five days after surgery..."this is the best i've felt in six years i'm going to run the city to bay.. the city to bay? Yes or walk." and this was graham unable to move before the operation... Now the touching task is a breeze. "changed my life given my life back to me...What can you say to the doctors? Words can't cover it."

With those kinds of results there's little wonder graham baker was willing to undergo the operation ... Which is reaching the crucial moment ...."we're at four above target... Just count from one to 10 for me... That's good."

This is the point when the surgeon has to use utmost precision to ensure the electrodes hits the right spot...And when they do hopefully graham will feel an almost immediate effect.. "imagine it's a big tinny and you're just going to drink it... Try it again and bring it closer to your mouth..."

As the doctors move the electrode they test graham's movement...And then before our eyes.... the tremor stops it was quite a moment... Acting on the doctor's instructions control returns to graham's hand. "i can't belive it... How would you describe it.. .Unbelievable... Well worth the effort... A miracle?... yeah just about.."

"you go home everyday to these miraculous outcomes how do you feel? Oh great listen it makes it more enjoyable and my family is happy we're doing good work…well congratulations." 24 hours later we called in to see how our patient was doing .... and set him a test of our own... "why don't we swap that for this... (Laughing) Now you can drink your vb and you won't need a straw.... i won't..."

It's a treat he's been looking forward to for years... Being able to enjoy a beer .... normally

"how does that feel... Good... Brilliant!" and his final word? It's unbelievable!

For more information contact:

Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital

9346 3333