Deep brain stimulation helps Portsmouth woman fight Parkinson’s disease

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A hand shake so bad she couldn’t read her own handwriting.

A girl in need of 24 hour care and a husband with stage four emphysema.

Unwavering faith in God.

For Klaire Purtee, these reasons were more than enough to convince her to undergo brain surgery as a treatment for her early-stage Parkinson’s disease. After living for almost four years with the disease untreated, the 62-year-old Portsmouth resident knew something had to give.

At first, Purtee’s Parkinson’s disease was manageable. Occasional hand tremors and slight muscle stiffness. But these symptoms only intensified. The occasional tremors have been replaced by constant tremors. Purtee couldn’t button a shirt, hold a cup of coffee, or write legibly.

But more important than any symptom of Parkinson’s disease, Purtee has struggled to care for her 26-year-old daughter, who suffers from a seizure disorder that requires constant attention.

“I had to look to the future,” Purtee said.

It was then that she decided to have a deep brain stimulation device implanted to fight her Parkinson’s disease.

Without drugs, deep brain stimulation was the only choice

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a therapy used to treat movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, said Dr. Brian Dalm, neurosurgeon at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.

DBS involves the implantation of a small, thread-like device inside the brain which is then programmed to send small electric shocks to different areas of the brain that cause tremors and other symptoms of movement disorders.

Dalm said it is often used in conjunction with drugs developed to treat movement disorders.

Klaire Purtee, 62, of Portsmouth, credits a new deep brain stimulation device for allowing him to drink a hot cup of coffee without spilling it and signing his name in legible handwriting despite having Parkinson's disease.

But for Purtee, drugs were not part of the equation. As a precursor to deep brain stimulation therapy, she tried using drugs to curb her symptoms. Although the drugs provided temporary relief, they also caused debilitating waves of nausea.

“I couldn’t take these pills,” she said with a grimace.

It was after this unsuccessful medication attempt that Purtee’s neurologist Dr Barbara Changizi suggested deep brain stimulation.

At first, Purtee viewed DBS as a non-starter. She feared the initial neurosurgery and the potential complications that came with it.

But as her symptoms worsened and her daughter’s continued care needs continued, Purtee knew she was running out of options. Thinking of her daughter, Purtee decided to undergo brain surgery and start DBS therapy.

“I’m going to have to change to make his life better,” Purtee said, reflecting on the decision.

Deep brain stimulation offers comfort

After implanting the DBS device in Purtee’s brain, doctors then began to program him to actively fight his Parkinson’s symptoms, Changizi explained.

But that scheduling doesn’t happen at the same time as the implantation surgery, Changizi said. There is an interval of about a month, allowing the brain to heal completely.

The programming process can take multiple appointments over several weeks to fine-tune the frequency of the DBS device, Changizi said. The neurologist, who programmed Purtee’s DBS machine, likened this process to creating a painting.

“You want to get a base coat before you go in to add details,” Changizi said.

And from the countless hours spent perfecting the painting that is Purtee’s DBS device, a portrait of a beautiful life has emerged.

Purtee’s tremors are all but gone, she said. She also has more strength and is able to lift and hold objects with certainty.

Her writing, which she said she always prided herself on being both an elementary school teacher and later an assistant English teacher, also improved.

“Everyday life was not good without the DBS device,” Purtee said. But now she is able to live in what she calls “complete denial” of her Parkinson’s diagnosis.

Denial, humor as coping mechanisms

But Purtee doesn’t see this denial as a bad thing.

“Denial is good,” said the grandmother of three.

She said dwelling on this diagnosis would only hurt her mental health, so she chooses not to.

“I’m not dwelling on this,” she said. “I really don’t. As long as you take care of things, why dwell on it?”

Purtee said she and her family also use humor as an outlet for their emotions.

For years, Purtee’s husband jokingly called her “Shake n ‘Bake,” she said. But now, “he’s just going to have to say Cook,” she said with a laugh.

But when she doesn’t feel like laughing, Purtee turns to her inner strength to continue. A strength, she said, that came both from seeing her own mother raising a family on her own and from the persistence of her two daughters.

Ultimately, Purtee feels grateful to be where she is today.

“When I had the tremors,” said Purtee, “I remembered every day that I had Parkinson’s disease.”

Today, the mother of two and the grandmother of three live each day looking on the bright side.

“When you look at all the positive things that have happened,” Purtee said, “I really don’t have much to complain about.”

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