Pioneer surgery in Chandler offers Parkinson’s relief - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Pioneer surgery in Chandler offers Parkinson’s relief

February 18th, 2019 development
Pioneer surgery in Chandler offers Parkinson’s relief

By Colleen Sparks

Managing Editor


A man fighting Parkinson’s disease is inspired and feeling better after he became the first patient at Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center to receive a delicate brain stimulation surgery.

Don Penfield, 68, of Mesa, underwent Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), where electrodes are placed deep inside the brain, in October. About a month later, tremors that troubled Penfield over the last five years went away and he has been able to stop taking medication that caused hallucinations.

“This is my new way of living with Parkinson’s,” said Penfield, a retired City of Scottsdale project manager. “I can tell you that Parkinson’s is a life-changing thing. DBS is also a life-changer.”

Barrow Neurological Institute, at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in central Phoenix, performs the most DBS operations in the United States, but Penfield’s procedure was the first conducted in the East Valley.

The East Valley Partnership estimates that 1.4 million people live in the area and as those residents age, some will experience movement disorders, like Parkinson’s disease – which strikes an estimated 1 million Americans.

Dr. Tsinsue Chen, a neurosurgeon with Barrow Brain and Spine, which partners with Chandler Regional, performed the surgery on Penfield.

She has performed eight operations at the Chandler hospital and about 120 during her residency training at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix and a fellowship in London.

“It’s like a pacemaker for the brain,” Chen said. “The same way that a cardiac pacemaker is a battery on the chest connected to electrodes that go to the heart, DBS works very similarly.

“Electrodes go deep into the brain and stimulate and correct activity in the brain that causes movement disorders, which involves tremors, stiffness in walking and slowness in movement.”

She explained, “The idea is you implant electrodes to restore someone’s function and quality of life. The electrodes are permanently implanted into the brain.”

One or two electrodes are implanted into the brain; Penfield got two.

He has seen his lifestyle improve already. Penfield had suffered from tremors the last five years and was taking high dosages of medications to control them but he had hallucinations, Chen said.

“You can get visual and auditory hallucinations,” she said. “He had a lot of tremor in both hands and (was) very slow in his walking. The tremors are pretty well controlled now. He’s eating much better.”

Penfield and his family have noticed a major difference.

“At Thanksgiving dinner, my grandsons looked across the table and said, ‘Grandpa, you’re not shaking any more,’” Penfield said. “I looked down at my hands and said, ‘You’re right. I’m eating and not throwing food on myself.’”

DBS controls tremors, stiffness and slowness, but, unfortunately, Parkinson’s disease “is still a progressive disease” and no cure has been found, Chen said.

No “great treatment” has been found to reduce the cognitive problems and memory loss that come with Parkinson’s, she said.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that prompts tremors, “rigidity in movement” and a condition where “everything moves slower,” Chen said.

“He’s healed really well,” she said of Penfield. “He’s gotten a great response to the DBS in terms of his tremor control, his amount of Parkinson’s medication reduction and his mobility and he’s got great family support. It’s a tough diagnosis to live with. He’s really gone out of his way to do everything he can to improve his quality of life.”

Penfield’s wife Lana said the DBS surgery has been a positive experience.

“It’s given him a new lease on life,” Lana said. “It’s given him hope.”

The surgery is done in two stages. First the electrodes are implanted, then the patient returns later to have the device activated. The battery should last four to five years.

“DBS is one of the most exciting and promising developments in modern medicine, but despite its success, it remains a mystery to many patients and some health care professionals,” Chen said.

“People travel from all over the world to undergo DBS at Barrow. But for many patients, the trip from the East Valley to central Phoenix can be a major challenge. With six Barrow neurosurgeons now based in Chandler, we’re excited to offer the same expertise to the growing East Valley population.”