Medical Surgical Procedure Breakthrough Treats Parkinson’s Tremors

Larry Hicks with the Care team at Novant Health Mint Hill Medical Center.

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CHARLOTTE – Parkinson’s disease, (PD) which is a chronic and progressive movement disorder, affects 200,000 Americans annually. Treatments can help manage the chronic condition; however, there is no known cure. The disease can last for several years or become a lifelong challenge. The disease generally impacts seniors ages 60 and older.

Dr. Munyon with patient Larry Hicks.
Dr. Munyon with patient Larry Hicks.

Parkinson’s is more common in males than females, and its cause is unknown. However, it may be caused by a problem with how the brain works. A chemical called dopamine helps your brain control body movement, thoughts, and feelings. Modern medicine knows the disease causes the chemical dopamine to die; therefore, enough of the chemical is not being reproduced.

The signs and symptoms of PD include tremors or shaking, trouble moving or getting up from a seated position, trouble with buttoning clothing or eating, less blinking and facial emotion, joint stiffness and jerky movement, trouble keeping one’s balance when standing or changing positions, and a shuffling or hunched position while walking.

PD is traditionally treated with medication to treat muscle stiffness, twitches, and restlessness. Botulinum toxin injections into muscles help relax them, and surgery is an option, placing electrical devices inside the brain providing deep brain stimulation.

However, due to modern technology, a breakthrough in brain surgery at Novant Health has become a potential game-changer for those patients inflicted with the disease to live a better life. The new brain procedure may reverse years of suffering for many people who have had their lives impacted by the disease and essential tremors.

The new surgery called MR-guided focused ultrasound uses sound wave energy technology to eliminate brain tissue at the source of the problem, where the tremor is located. No surgical incision or anesthesia is required, and many patients have experienced immediate and very significant reduction in hand tremors.

Larry Hicks, a 79-year-old resident of Old Fort, NC, was the first patient to undergo the procedure at Novant Health Mint Hill Medical Center.  Before the procedure Hicks’ hands shook so badly and frequently that small tasks like holding a glass, brushing his teeth, and eating with two hands became very frustrating and challenging for him.  “I went through this for about 30 years, it gradually was getting worse,” recalls Hicks.

Larry about to begin the procedure with the medical team.
Larry about to begin the procedure with the medical team.

Hicks knew he had to do something different, so when the breakthrough in brain surgery at Novant Health became an option, he took advantage of the opportunity. The procedure began at 7:00 am, and Hicks returned home in the afternoon as an outpatient. When he left the hospital, his right hand was no longer shaking, which is extraordinary.

Dr. Charles Munyon, a specialist in functional and restorative neurosurgery at Novant Health, combined two technologies in the procedure. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) identified the exact location in the brain for the tremor and ultrasound meticulously delivered more than 1,000 highly focused beams of acoustic energy to the exact area in Hicks’ brain without damaging any surrounding tissue.

In an exclusive interview, Hicks was quick to thank Novant Health Mint Hill Medical Center: “They did a terrific job, would do it again, and appreciate all their medical assistance in improving my health.”

Larry departing Mint Hill Medical Center.
Larry departing Mint Hill Medical Center.

Hicks added, “The painless procedure took about four hours, but being able to do things with my right side again is just unbelievable.  More people need to become aware of this procedure; it has changed the quality of my life dramatically.”

“I can now hold a drink in my right hand without spilling, brush my teeth, or struggle with a screwdriver that made a simple task five times longer than necessary,” continued Hicks.  “Being right-handed, this is extremely beneficial.”

He looks forward to returning to hiking and tackling chores around his mountain residence. He is also considering undergoing the procedure again to improve his left side, which would be another important milestone toward improving his quality of life.

Novant Health has partnered with Insightect Tremor Information Program Services to offer patients suffering from PD and essential tremors this new, innovative, incisionless treatment for tremors.  For more information, please contact the Insightec TIPS line at 1-800-892-0696.

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Ed Berti
Ed is retired and remains active as a freelance writer, local journalist and independent contractor. He is engaged in print and electronic media writing stories covering business, sports, hometown news and veteran's affairs including articles of interest to various media outlets. Ed is a graduate of Wagner College where he earned an MBA and holds a BBA from Pace University.
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