Hardwiring Hope: A journey through Parkinson's Disease

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- In 2014 at 52 years old, Bill Wallace was a very active person.

"I used to run races on the weekends and marathons," said Wallace. "I biked and I hiked the Appalachian Trail."

But that year, things started changing for him.

"My voice was weak. I had to concentrate when I wrote," said Wallace. "You know, you sign your name, it's like a reflex. I kind of had to concentrate when I would sign my signature. I typed and I had trouble typing. It was like, I had to concentrate on the keyboard. Normally you just type and you don't have to think about it, but I had to think about what I was doing. I was a little slower. I remember one time I was in the shower and I was shampooing my hair and one hand just stopped moving while the other one was still working and I thought, what is going on?"

It was all of those signs that alerted him something was wrong. So he went to the doctor to get checked out.

"They kind of knew what it was right away," said Wallace. "I kind of didn't accept it though and I got a second opinion from the Cleveland Clinic and they said the same thing. They said, 'You've got it,' and I was kind of in denial."

It was a diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease. It is a neurological disorder that affects the way a person's body moves. It slowly started changing Bill Wallace's life, making everyday tasks difficult.

Fast forward a few years to 2018 when doctors told him there may be some hope.

It came in the form of a surgery, called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). The procedure has been around for years, but doctors say there have been significant advancements in the technology.

Here's how it works: A device is surgically implanted and then impulses are sent to the brain through a set of wires. The stimulation is used to treat certain symptoms of Parkinson's.

"What we are able to do with this is turn the clock back, " said Dr. Vikram Shivkumar, an assistant professor with Marshall Health. "So patients with Parkinson's, as they progress over many years, their symptoms get more and more disabling. So we basically turn the clock back and make them much more functional and independent."

The effects of Deep Brain Stimulation can be seen for as many as 10 to 15 years.

Wallace had his surgery in November of 2018.

"Before this, he would feel really slow," said Dr. Shivkumar. "He couldn't do any of his daily activities. He was feeling stiff, rigid, the slowness, he was having some tremors as well."

About a month after the surgery, Wallace went in to have his device programmed. Doctors worked to pinpoint which part of his brain they needed to target to treat his symptoms.

He will still need to go to the doctor occasionally to determine if any changes need to be made to control his symptoms.

"He will notice continued improvement improvements with time," said Dr. Shivkumar. "As the DBS is in place, the stimulations become more potent and he will notice even more benefit."

Wallace says he is noticing big changes.

"I have a second lease on life," said Wallace. "Every day I find something new that I couldn't do before. It's really cool. I used to feel real rigid and now I'm not as rigid anymore. I'm more animated. I don't feel like Superman by any means, but I'm going try the things I wasn't able to do before -- just take it one step at a time."

Although there is no cure for Parkinson's, Wallace says this has given him new hope for the future.

Not everyone is a candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation. Anyone with Parkinson's should talk to his or her doctor to determine if the treatment will help.

As for Wallace, he says he is starting to get back into his active lifestyle. He is working here and there at the YMCA in Huntington and is already planning a hiking trip with his friend this spring.

If you or a loved one are dealing with Parkinson's Disease and would like more information about available help, click here.

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