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Deep Brain Stimulation Helps Treat Parkinson’s Disease

Pete Cotto had an important goal to achieve – walk his daughter down the aisle to get married. But the shaking, tremors and trouble walking caused by Parkinson’s disease were interfering with getting there, as well as doing his job as a pastor and singing, his favorite pastime.

“I don’t go out much unless I’m going to the doctor,” Mr. Cotto said. “I feel I’m missing out. I want to try to get my life back to normal as much as I can.”

After living with Parkinson’s disease for more than 10 years, Mr. Cotto sought treatment from Justin Sporrer, M.D. [1], a neurosurgeon with Baptist Health Neuroscience Center [2]. Dr. Sporrer deemed Mr. Cotto a good candidate for deep brain stimulation (DBS).


(Video: The Baptist Health News Team hears from neurosurgeon Justin Sporrer, M.D., with Baptist Health Neuroscience Center, and patient Pete Cotto, about deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s disease. Video by Dylan Kyle)

During DBS surgery, a small device, similar to a pacemaker, is placed inside the chest. A thin wire from the device sends electrical pulses to the brain to block the nerve signals causing Parkinson’s symptoms.

Dr. Sporrer explains one side of the brain at a time is treated. “We start on the side where symptoms are worse because the patient has to be off Parkinson’s medications on the day of surgery. If both sides are operated on at the same time, it’s a very long surgery that patients usually don’t tolerate well.”

“Parkinson’s is a common neurodegenerative disease for which there are many different treatments, some medical and some surgical,” said Dr. Sporrer. “Mr. Cotto is a good candidate for deep brain stimulation because he gets good benefit from his medication, but he has to take it several times a day. This makes it more likely for him to have side effects from having too much or too little medication in his system.”

Tremors, rigidity, slowed movements and postural instability were the main symptoms affecting Mr. Cotto’s abilities to work and carry out daily living tasks.

“The deep brain stimulation will help smooth out the ups and downs that his medications cause during the day, and hopefully reduce the amount of medication he has to take,” Dr. Sporrer said.

Recovery from DBS surgery is quick. The low-risk surgery requires a small incision,  and the patient spends one night in the hospital. He or she follows up with the neurology team which checks the stimulator’s settings and makes sure the patient is getting the right amount of stimulation.

The stimulator’s generators, or batteries, have to be changed every five years. Adjustments to the stimulator previously required a special machine that only physicians had, but that’s changed.

“Now, thanks to technology advances, these days there are some setting changes the patients can make themselves, based on the time of day or their medication schedules, to optimize the effectiveness of the deep brain stimulator,” Dr. Sporrer said. “What’s even better is that it’s all controlled via Bluetooth now, instead of having to place an outside machine on top of their generator. This makes it more convenient and helpful.”

Mr. Cotto did very well with the deep brain stimulator surgery, and is back to singing and working as a pastor, according to Dr. Sporrer.

“Within the scope of neurosurgery there can be some very high highs and some very low lows,” Dr. Sporrer said. “DBS is a very satisfying operation for a neurosurgeon because the results are so immediate. It feels great to be able to help Mr. Cotto.”

The Baptist Health News Team spoke to Mr. Cotto and Dr. Sporrer about how the deep brain stimulation surgery has changed Mr. Cotto’s life. Watch the video now.