NEWCASTLE — Craig Overman has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease since 2015, but in the past year, he decided to participate in a trial of the deep brain stimulation technology provided by Abbott Laboratories, a medical device company.
DBS “is a process that sends electrical impulses to parts of your brain that aren’t working properly, enabling the currents to realign,” according to the Abbott website.
Overman’s results did not disappoint. While he has both good and bad days, the treatment has allowed him to live a little more normally again.
A year ago, Overman went to see a neurologist in Rapid City, South Dakota, and she referred him to Denver to begin this new treatment, which involves many surgeries. Over the summer, he ran through some tests, including one for dementia, with several doctors to see if he qualified as a candidate for the procedures because the technology does not work on people with dementia. He received the green light to move forward only to have the pandemic put the surgeries on hold.
The treatment involves three surgeries, and because it involves drilling into the side of the patient’s skull, which causes the brain to swell, they must be performed separately within a week of each other for it to be safe. Overman had his first surgery scheduled before Thanksgiving and was already on his way to Denver when he was notified that the surgery was canceled.
“That had been heartbreaking because I had already worked myself up to it,” Overman said.
The cancellations and rescheduling continued with the rise and fall of COVID-19 cases, but by Jan. 29, Overman finally completed his last surgery. Doctors implanted a battery-operated neurotransmitter that sends electrical stimulation to the directional lead, which delivers the pulses to the area of the brain responsible for movement.
What is unique about this surgery is that the doctors woke Overman up in the middle of drilling and asked him to move certain muscles to test if they had accessed the correct location on the brain. Overman said it was not much different than having a dentist drilling on a tooth — he was aware of what they were doing, but he didn’t notice or feel much. The painful part was the brace holding his head steady.
Because Overman didn’t know anyone who had gone through the same process that he could question, he did a lot of research on the internet before his surgery. He also had a doctor who was both “personable and professional.”
“The doctor in Denver was super, super good,” Overman said.
At first, the stimulations made it hard for Overman to complete basic functions such as walking or moving his hand, which was difficult for him to deal with, he said. But it’s all part of the process, and soon he was better off than he was before, returning to a state of normalcy.
“After the surgery, I felt great — better than I had in a long time,” Overman said. “You forget how far you were from that (normalcy).”
One of the main reasons Overman wanted to give the technology a try is his dislike of the effects of his medication, and the more stimulation he does, the less medication he needs. He has been on the same medication for five years, but he is getting close to his goal of no longer needing it.
Another bonus is that the treatment is iPhone compatible because “Abbott neuromodulation patients (can) use a proprietary iOSǂ software mobile application known as the St. Jude Medical™ Patient Controller Application (Patient Controller Application) to control prescribed programs on their implanted neurostimulation device,” according to the company’s website.
This process was recently approved by the FCC, and Overman tried it out for the first time a few weeks ago on April 15, saving him an all-day trip to Denver for a mere 15-minute appointment. He is thankful for his wife, Susan, who would do the driving, he said, but oftentimes, he was released from the hospital the same day he had the surgery, so the constant driving back and forth became wearisome for Susan on top of the struggle of watching her husband suffer from Parkinson’s.
“It’s just been hard to see him go through all this stuff to get back to kind-of-normal,” Susan said.
Both Overman and his wife are grateful for the support of the community. Overman said he is encouraged to know that things are getting better and looks forward to returning to a normal, active lifestyle.
“You don’t know how much support you’ve got until you go through something like this,” Overman said. “The support we received was just unreal.”
If the experience has taught him anything, Overman said, it is that people should do what they can while they can still do it.
“Don’t take things for granted because it can be gone in a day or two,” he said.
He wants people to know that if they are going through something similar or have questions to feel free to call him to talk. He knows how important talking to someone in person can be, and he wants to help ease the minds of others and be reassured about what they are going through.