CHICAGO, Ill. – Approximately 7 million Americans live with the movement disorder known as essential tremor. Another 1 million have Parkinson’s. But a new incision-less treatment that focuses ultrasound beams onto the brain is providing new hope to patients who suffer from movement disorders.
Gary Sindelar, 75, began experiencing tremors in his hands and legs while in his early 60s.
“They were kind of scary because I didn't know what it was. I didn't know why my hands were jumping and my fingers were moving, and I didn't want them to,” said Sindelar.
The tremors made everyday activities, like eating, increasingly difficult.
“I would cut, and I would cut and all of a sudden my hand would jump in and would throw the food right off the plate,” he said.
Essential tremor is a neurological disorder that causes involuntary and rhythmic shaking. It can affect almost any part of the body, but the trembling most often occurs in hands, making simple tasks, like drinking water from a glass or tying shoelaces, difficult.
“I didn't like you have to explain to my grandchildren all the time. ‘What's the matter with grandpa?’”
After years of living with the condition, Sindelar’s doctors at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago determined he was a candidate for a new, non-surgical procedure.
“There are some patients who are old or older and the surgical risk is high,” said Dr. Sepehr Sani, associate professor of neurosurgery at Rush University Medical Center. “And so, they choose to accept and a very poor quality of life with tremors.”
Neurosurgeons used a mouse and a computer instead of a scalpel. More than 1,000 ultrasound waves coalesce to burn lesions in the brain and stop the tremors. The neurosurgeon is guided by real-time hi-resolution MR imaging.
“We can actually see with our own eyes what's happening inside the brain as this is occurring and that allows us to control exactly where and how much of the lesion we make,” said Sani.
The innovative treatment is now covered by Medicare in all 50 states.
Sani says the new incision-less outpatient procedure could be a revolution in treatment.
“Now the patients literally walk into an MRI machine and get the treatment and they can leave within about an hour, hour and a half.”
Six weeks after undergoing the procedure, Sindelar’s left hand and leg are more still than they’ve been in more than a decade.
“This side, I can hold it steady,” he said.
Regaining that steadiness, he says has been life-altering.
“I would have said to you that I think I probably had 10 years of life,” said Sindelar. “And I could have 50 years left now.”
It’s an emotional reality that could provide hope to countless others.