Sherri Todd had always been an athlete. During her years at Turlock High School she played volleyball, basketball and softball and was voted most athletic by her classmates during her senior year. She went on to play softball in college and continued to live a life full of physical activities well into her adulthood.
So when she learned at age 36 that she had Parkinson’s disease and was headed towards a future that would one day likely include a wheelchair for mobility, she wasn’t quite sure how to process the news.
“It didn’t seem real to me,” Todd said. “There are no blood tests or x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. They basically watched me walk. I just couldn’t believe that the diagnosis was real.”
But it was. What began as a tremor in her pinky spread to her hands and the rest of her body. The woman who once moved across the softball diamond with an athletic grace would find herself frozen as she tried to walk down a hallway, her legs and feet seemingly unresponsive to continued motion.
“The affects of Parkinson’s are different for each individual,” Todd said. “For me walking was the hardest thing to do. I would just want to get up and do something and not have to wait for someone to help me, but my body just wasn’t cooperating with me. I knew that at the rate I was going, it wouldn’t be long before I was dependant on a wheelchair.”
The Parkinson’s had forced Todd to shutter her daycare business that she had operated in Turlock for numerous years. It also caused her to set aside her life-long passion of painting for several years.
And then Todd was told of a procedure that might give her back her mobility, independence, and as she describes it a chance to fell like herself again. Of course most chances that carry a great reward also carry a great risk and this opportunity was no exception.
Todd’s doctor believed she was an ideal candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation, and as the name implies it is a surgery that cuts into the brain.
When Todd first broached the subject with her husband his response was that nobody was going to cut on his wife’s brain. The idea of undergoing brain surgery was equally disliked and feared by Todd, but as time passed it began to seem like not such a crazy notion after all.
“It stayed with me and I did more research on it and I found that my comfort level was growing. Then I decided this was the right course of action for me.”
Deep Brain Stimulation is a surgical procedure that uses an implantable pulse generator, which is similar to a heart pacemaker, to deliver electrical stimulation to specific areas in the brain that control movement. In doing so it blocks the damaged nerve signals that cause Parkinson’s.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes describes the DBS system as consisting of three components: the lead, the extension, and the IPG. The lead is implanted in a specific area of the brain through a small opening in the skull. The extension is an insulated wire that is passed under the skin of the head, neck, and shoulder, connecting the lead to the implantable pulse generator. The IPG is usually implanted under the skin near the collarbone. Electrical impulses are sent from the IPG up along the extension wire and the lead and into the brain and these impulses block abnormal electrical signals and alleviate PD motor symptoms.
A patient has to be conscious when the implant is made because doctors need to see the responses.
“It is weird to be awake while someone is poking around in your brain,” Todd said. “But when they found the right area it was instant relief. It felt like a big sigh of relaxation — like my whole body was at ease.”
Todd says she has experienced a tremendous amount of improvement.
“I have more good days than bad days now,” Todd said. “I still have some times of frustration, but I’d say I am about 75 percent better.”
The benefits of the procedure can expand as Todd and her doctors work to find the right combo of medication and programming of the IPG. In the meantime Todd is happy with the progress she has made and setting her sights on some new goals.
“I want to take a walk on the beach, and not just up to the water and back,” Todd said. “I’m going to walk up and down the beach.”