Todd Murfitt was just 35 when he was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease. The high school principal at St. John the Baptist Primary School in Adelaide, Australia couldn’t handle the tremors in his fingers, but he didn’t even think that his problem goes deeper than that.
Murfitt had an appointment with a neurologist, and the doctor revealed the shocking news. His symptoms included persistent ringing in the ears, loss of motor control, and tremors.
His condition got worse, and his motor functions deteriorated rapidly. No medication worked, and Deep Brain Stimulation was the only solution he was offered. It’s an alternative targeted treatment that could hopefully reverse his symptoms.
Deep Brain Stimulation is a surgical procedure applied in individuals dealing with motor-related symptoms of numerous neurological conditions. Parkinson’s disease is the most common condition that requires this treatment.
It’s performed as an awake craniotomy. In other words, the patient is awake and doctors use local anesthesia. Yes, patients feel pain.
Tiny electrodes are implanted in the brain area that regulates motor function. The electrodes transmit signals from the computer chip they are connected to through an under-skin wire. They transmit signals that stimulate the brain to reduce any existing symptoms.
Murfitt was young and didn’t have dementia which was a relief. The community raised over $40,000 to cover the hospital expenses. Murfitt’s three brothers and niece shaved their head to support him.
The new technology
The procedure is rather challenging, and patients have to communicate with surgeons all the time. This helps doctors to place the electrodes in the most important spots. The pulse generator is implanted close to the collarbone in the chest cavity. It’s a chip device that generates stimulating signals transmitted by the tiny electrodes.
Dr. Rob Wilcox, a neurologist and one of the surgeons who worked with Murfitt, explains that DBS is a pacemaker for the human brain. The procedure is based on a teamwork, and Murfitt’s age was of great help. The doctor explained that he was the navigator and Dr. Matt McDonald was the pilot. He worked on the electrical signals, and McDonald did the surgery.
Murfitt is the first patient to be treated with this procedure. It involves an advanced technology that helps surgeons direct signals more precisely. The wires are changed periodically because the brain shrinks as we grow old. Doctors would read the information from a Bluetooth device connected to the chip during the regular check-ups.
Murfitt says the surgery was overwhelming, and he was happy to regain the control of his body. He got a new body and had a full control over it. His condition improved over time.
The procedure is more effective than the medication he was receiving, and his life was normal again. Today, Murfitt is a member of the Parkinson’s Community and connects with people with similar stories.
Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease
About 10-20 percent of all patients with Parkinson’s notice their first symptoms before 50. That’s why Murfitt’s condition was called a “young onset.” It’s rare and usually misdiagnosed as stress symptoms or muscle damage. Sometimes doctors confuse it with fatigue or other conditions that affect the motor system.
According to experts, YOPD is caused by genetic and environmental factors. It’s manifested through tremors in the face, hands and legs, rigidity of the limbs, falls, dystonia, dyskinesia, and loss of motor control.
Doctors say that non-motor symptoms include depression, anxiety, mood swings, delusions, and hallucinations. These symptoms aren’t common in young patients.
Patients usually take Amantadine for high secretion of dopamine and reduction of dyskinesia, MAO-B inhibitors that improve the function of dopamine and anticholinergic drugs that help patients to control tremors.