When DBS goes wrong

I first met Vince Hendrickson several years ago in a Rock Steady Boxing class (now StoPD). It was always fun to be with Vince in class. He was always moving faster than everyone else, punching the bag with glee. He had a great sense of humor and inspired the rest of us to just have fun while we were there.

But sometime in the last few years, things started changing for Vince. We could see that he was struggling more and more in class. And freezing when trying to run. I sat down with him last week to talk to him about his experience with Parkinson’s.

Vince was finally diagnosed in 2000, after having symptoms for several years. Like most people with PD, it took a couple of years and testing for several other diseases, such as Lyme Disease and Fibromyalgia, before he was finally diagnosed with PD. His symptoms did not begin with a tremor, but instead with cramping and pain in his joints. His doctor started him on Sinemet (Carbidopa/Levodopa) about 1 ½ years after his diagnosis.

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Vince Hendrickson

Unfortunately Sinemet was not very effective for him.

About 5 years ago, Vince underwent DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation) surgery, which worked very well for him. But a second DBS surgery 3 years ago was not so successful. It turned out that the DBS unit was defective and had to be replaced. So Vince had yet another DBS surgery. Still no improvement. Another problem arose after the second DBS – Freezing.  Suddenly Vince would find his feet stuck to the floor. He has no problem walking up stairs, but when he gets to a flat surface, his feet just won’t move. So how does he deal with this? Vince took a “Big and Loud” course, which has helped with the freezing. He says the class helped him to retrain his mind to walk again. He has learned how to will himself to move. Of course, it becomes much more difficult to do that when he is tired. But I noticed at the end of boxing class that he was actually walking better. Vince agreed, but said that unfortunately the benefit of exercise wears off too quickly.

He has learned how to will himself to move.

Soon after his diagnosis, Vince had read that exercise was best thing for him to do to combat Parkinson’s. Before he found Boxing classes, Vince practiced Tai Chi and rode his bike. He was determined to live an active life-style. Things just didn’t work out the way he had hoped they would. He has had to give up some of the exercises he was doing since his second DBS surgery.

Vince worked for about a year after his diagnosis. He eventually had to apply for disability because it became too difficult to continue his job as a printing press operator. He is fortunate that he has his wife as his caregiver. She goes to all of his appointments with him, advocates for him and is very supportive. They still travel as much as they can. Vince told me that for the stress of airports, they purchased what he called a “Personal Carrier Chair.”  The chair, made by DeVilbiss,  is a Folding Transport Chair , which is essentially a folding chair with wheels that weighs only 19 pounds. If Vince is having trouble walking, all they have to do is open the chair and his wife can push him around. This chair has made it possible for him to travel and do many of the things that he wants to do.

Vince never ceases to amaze all of us in Boxing class.  He does whatever he can, and modifies if necessary.  Instead of running or walking, he will march in place, which he has no problem doing.  He can do just about anything in class that does not involve walking.  And he does it with determination and a smile on his face.  Thank you, Vince, for inspiring all of us.

5 thoughts on “When DBS goes wrong

  1. Where did he have his surgery done? It sounds like they don’t have a very good screening program in place because a poor response to sinemet is indicative that a patient isn’t a great fit for DBS. When you say he had a second surgery was it just to replace a battery, or did they not put leads in bilaterally during the first surgery? I’m sorry to hear he didn’t have great results, but he sounds like a real trooper.

    DBS has been a miracle for me, but I went to a great center and I’m also super young (I’m 25). It does seem like some people undergo the procedure without knowing much about it or what makes someone a good candidate. Some of my friends have told me they never even discussed targets (GPI or STN) for the leads with their care team. I’d urge anyone thinking about taking the leap to make sure they know as much as possible about it and go to the best center they possibly can.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I do know other people who could not take Sinemet who did very well with DBS. I cannot answer your other questions, but I am glad it has worked so well for you.

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