Breakthrough surgery to help tremor sufferers

HUNDREDS of sufferers of debilitating conditions like Parkinson’s, essential tremor and dystonia are set to benefit from a revolutionary surgery allowing them to control the outward symptoms of the diseases.

Neurosurgery experts at the Mater Private Hospital have confirmed that the deep brain stimulation surgery is now available at the facility, the first time the breakthrough technique has been an option in Ireland.

The delicate procedure, used to stop the uncontrolled movements associated with the debilitating conditions, involves inserting a small device which sends mild electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain to block the signals that cause the tremor symptoms which make it impossible for people with the conditions to live autonomous lives.

After the device is inserted during an eight-hour surgery where the person is kept awake, the individual can use a remote control to switch the technology on or off.

Until recently, Ireland was the only western European country where deep brain stimulation surgery was not available, meaning patients had to travel abroad to have the operation.

However, since October, a collaboration between the Mater Private and the Dublin Neurological Institute has led to three patients being successfully treated in Ireland, with at least 15 more patients a year expected to benefit from the potentially lifelong masking of the outward symptoms of the conditions.

Among those to have already benefited from the breakthrough surgery, which costs in excess of €70,000, is Tony Mills, who until recently was unable to shave or cook a meal due to the severe tremors caused by his illness. However, since the procedure he said he no longer fears going out to restaurants or other public events.

While only 5% of those with the conditions are expected to meet the stringent medical criteria for the invasive eight-hour brain surgery, the Mater Private’s chief executive Fergus Clancy said it should be seen as a vital advance in the treatment of Parkinson’s and other debilitating conditions.

“This has the potential to last a lifetime, and although it’s important to say that we are treating the symptoms not the disease itself, this can drastically improve someone’s quality of life for 10 or 20 years,” he said.

The Mater Private has sent proposals to the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive in an attempt to make the service available to public patients who are unable to afford the expensive procedure.

However, to date, no decision has been made on whether the breakthrough surgery will be made available outside of the private sector.


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