Musician Anna Henry suffered from essential tremor, a movement disorder that causes shaky hands. As the conditioned worsened, it interfered with her flute playing. So she underwent a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation to cure it. The Texas Medical Center surgeons implanted a battery pack in her chest that delivers tiny voltages to the brain's thalamus, a key region responsible for controlling movement. She was kept awake during the operation, a common practice to test the device and avoid brain damage. The procedure worked. From the Texas Medical Center:
The result was like flipping a switch. Prior to the surgery, Henry’s neurologist, Mya Schiess, M.D., of the Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and UTHealth, ran a few motor control tests. Henry could barely sign her name, let alone hold a pen. When handed a cup of water, her hand shook so intensely that the water splashed inside the cup.
But after the electrodes were placed in her brain and the thalamus was stimulated, Henry’s hand was still and stable, without a single detectable tremor. When she signed her name a second time, each pen stroke was smooth and clean. Her handwriting was legible for the first time in decades.
The surgical team handed Henry her flute to test if her hands were stable enough to play. As she remained on the operating bed, she lifted her flute to her mouth and treated everyone in the operating room not only to a sweet melody, but the joy of seeing her tremor disappear.
“[Deep brain stimulation] works amazingly well,” Schiess said. “If you have a tremor that is truly interfering with hand function, lifestyle, head or voice, honestly, there isn’t a medicine out there that’s going to really put you in a better state.”
For Henry, deep brain stimulation helped her get back to doing what she loves. Although her tremor had interfered with her quality of life and nearly put an end to her musical career, she refused to quit.
“My folks lived through the [Great] Depression,” Henry said. “If there’s anything they taught me, it was that an obstacle is not something that stops you; it’s something you find a way around.”
(via Laughing Squid)