McLean, Va. (WUSA)-- Deep brain stimulation is a life-changing surgery performed while the patient is awake. Its goal is to control the tremors and stiffness of movement disorders like Parkinson's Disease.
New research out today in the New England Journal of Medicine says it should be done earlier, before symptoms progress to a severe state. In fact, people with early motor complications of Parkinson's report a 26% increase in quality of life scores in the German study compared to people who kept trying to manage symptoms with medication alone.
Sutapa Kasibhatla is a Leesburg, Virginia mother who was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2004 at the exceptionally young age of 36, when her boys were only two and five years old.
WUSA 9 interviewed her in the fall of 2012, when Kasibhatla's uncontrolled tremors and rigidity in her limbs made it more and more difficult for her to do things with her family.
She said, "After almost eight years of Parkinson's, I've reached a stage where medications are not helping much."
So on November 15th, 2012, she underwent a deep brain stimulation procedure at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, an institution that's been performing DBS for more than 10 years.
In the operating room, a metal frame kept Sutapa's shaved head perfectly still, as neurosurgeon Dr. Howard Eisenberg guided a probe into the part of the brain that controls movement. He then implanted a stimulator that uses electricity to jam abnormal brain signals. During the procedure, neurologist Dr. Paul Fishman talks to the patient, and asks her to open and close her hands, move her feet, and follow other commands.
Later, a pacemaker to control that stimulator is implanted into Sutapa's chest that will send signals to the brain. After several weeks, when the surgical incisions have been able to heal, WUSA 9 interviewed Sutapa on the day the stimulator was turned on for the first time.
That day, she was full of anxious hope for a more normal, enjoyable life.
She described her hopes this way, "Normal stuff, to be able to run errands. To hug my kids. To be able to make lunches without shaking. To be a normal mom, and a normal wife. "
University of Maryland Medical Center neuropsychiatrist Karen Anderson showed Sutapa how to control the DBS settings with a remote, then adjusted the strenghth of the impulses to her brain. She had not taken any medication all morning, and her tremors and shaking were pronounced.
Her husband helped Sutapa try to stand and walk as the deep brain stimulation was re-adjusted. It wasn't easy, but progress was made in baby steps.
Finally, WUSA 9 visited the couple at home just this week, and Sutapa's improvement was evident. She had enough control of her movements to enjoy cooking again; she's even stenciling a wall with flowers, and walking up the stairs on her own. These are the reasons she underwent DBS in the first place.
Before the procedure, Sutapa says she told herself, "Others have done it and come through it and seen positive results. There's no reason I can't do it. I just have to be strong. "