Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder caused by nerve cell damage in the brain that causes dopamine levels to drop. Those chemical changes in the brain can affect patients in numerous ways.
“People’s voices get quieter, and they talk quieter and their writing gets smaller. And it’s kind of a disease where everything that you do just kind of seems like you’re getting smaller,” said Dr. Jamie Toms, a neurosurgeon with Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport. “I say it’s a little bit like Alice in Wonderland when she eats the mushroom and she gets really small. And then we, a lot of times, give them medicine and they feel really big. And they would rather feel that bigness than they would the smallness.”
Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease, meaning it gets progressively worse over time. Toms says there are some early symptoms aside from the telltale tremor.
“Stiffness, realizing you’re having trouble walking, masked face — sometimes people lose some of the emotions that they have in their face. That’s actually a very common symptom,” Toms said. “Lack of an arm swing, which sounds interesting, but you some you notice someone isn’t swinging their arms when they walk.”
Toms is the only neurosurgeon in the north Louisiana area who performs a life-changing procedure which can get rid of tremors for patients with movement disorders, including Parkinson’s. It is called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS).
“We put electrodes into the brain, these little wires, they’re about the size of a coffee straw, and we put them into those structures of the brain that are involved in the disease. And then they get a battery pack, which is, everything’s under the skin. They get a battery pack much like a pacemaker, and it’s like a pacemaker for the brain,” explained Toms. “So, it stimulates that part of the brain and allows it to bypass the part of the brain that isn’t working properly.”
So, how effective is the procedure?
“It can make their walking better, it can make their movement better. It can get rid of tremor,” Toms said. “It usually improves Parkinson’s disease about 60%. Other diseases like a central tremor and things like that we can get 80%, sometimes 100% of their tremor to go away.”
Toms says after the DBS procedure patients typically spend one night in the hospital and then go home. There are also a few minor outpatient procedures to program the device. After that, patients are free to live their lives.
“I had somebody who had a tremor for 15 years tell me, tearfully tell me he was going to go home and he was going to have a steak tonight and he was going to cut it himself — the first time he’s cut his own food in 15 years,” said Toms. “So, it is definitely life changing.”
For those suffering from movement disorder-related tremor, Dr. Toms highly recommends this surgery.
“I don’t ever try to talk anyone into having surgery. But this is one that I would greatly encourage someone to have if they’re having these symptoms, because it definitely can give somebody back their life.”
Dr. Jamie Toms sees patients in two locations: At the Ochsner LSU Health – Neurosurgery Center at 945 Margaret Place, Suite 100 in Shreveport and at the Ochnser LSU Health – Viking Drive Multi-specialty Center at 4481 Viking Drive in Bossier City. For more information, please visit https://www.ochsnerlsuhs.org/services-departments/movement-disorders.