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New device offers relief for patients with tremors

April 7, 1996
Web posted at: 11:40 p.m. EDT

From CNN Corespondent Rhonda Rowland

Stanley Klar

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- Pouring water from one cup to another is a humiliating experience for Stanley Klar. The water splashes onto the table, and very little lands in the second cup.

Klar has what is called "essential tremor" which keeps him from doing many tasks most consider routine.

"My wife cuts my food. She butters my bread. She has to put straws in any liquid that I drink," Klar said. "It's embarrassing." (357K AIFF sound or 357K WAV sound)

David Charles

Klar has tried medications, but he says they don't work. But a new device has given him relief, if not a cure. He has had a "thalamic stimulator" installed in his brain. The device stimulates the thalamus, or the portion of the brain which controls motor senses.

"Thalamic stimulation gives the patient control over a certain area of their brain that is causing a visible motor problem," said Klar's physician, Dr. David Charles of Vanderbilt University.

The device can also help some Parkinson's disease patients.

Operation

To install the device, Klar put a wired crown on his head which allowed doctors to map his brain. Klar, who remained awake during the procedure, was asked to talk and respond to questions to help doctors find the area of the thalamus offering the best tremor control. A pacemaker-like device in Klar's chest controls electrical signals going to the brain.

The procedure can only ease tremors on one side of the body at a time. The surgery is not permanent so, if there is no improvement, the device can be removed.

"Somewhere between one to five percent of patients could have devastating complications during the operation or around the time of the operation," said Charles.

Vanderbilt University is one of seven medical centers in the U.S. implanting the thalamic stimulator. Even though the device won't cure tremors, it should greatly improve a patient's day-to-day living.

Three weeks after Klar's surgery, pouring water was much easier.

Klar's magnet

"Control over the tremor is not perfect, although we never expected it to be 100 percent controlled," said Charles.

Klar uses a magnet to turn the stimulator on and off, allowing it to rest at night so he has better tremor control the next day.

"Suddenly you can kind of shrug your shoulders and do what pretty much anyone does," said Klar. (162K AIFF sound or 162K WAV sound)

Although not a perfect solution, for some who suffer from essential tremor or Parkinson's disease, the thalamic stimulator can offer the chance of being a whole person again.


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