Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was 48, Kelly Cargill knows frequent exercise and activity can help reduce her tremors and dyskinesias—the involuntary movements caused by the disease.
That’s why Cargill, now 55, regularly participates in hiking, boxing, Zumba® and group exercise classes.
Despite her extensive exercise routine, visits with many medical professionals and a litany of medications and other therapies, Cargill noticed that her Parkinson’s disease symptoms were worsening over time. In April 2016, she turned to deep brain stimulation for a solution. The procedure involves the implantation of a thin wire called a ‘lead’ into a patient’s brain. When activated, the lead stimulates specific regions of the brain, relieving Parkinson’s symptoms.
For Cargill, the results have been significant.
“Deep brain stimulation changed my life completely. My Parkinson’s used to be front and center in my life all the time,” she said. “Now it’s not.”
Before receiving deep brain stimulation, Cargill saw Neurologist Paul Tuite, MD, a Parkinson’s disease specialist for treatment. Everyone’s Parkinson’s disease journey is unique, Tuite notes. Though medication initially helped Cargill manage her symptoms, its effectiveness eventually declined.
“She wasn't getting good control of her symptoms anymore,” Tuite said. “She was interested in surgery so that she could lead a more symptom-free life, with fewer medication-related side effects. Deep brain stimulation can help people with this.”
Tuite encouraged Cargill to undergo evaluation for deep brain stimulation through University of Minnesota Health’s multidisciplinary movement disorder program. The evaluation included a visit with Michael C. Park, MD, a neurosurgeon with an extensive background in deep brain stimulation. Though she wanted a more effective solution to her Parkinson’s disease, Cargill was nervous about undergoing brain surgery. After visiting with Park, she felt better informed and prepared.
“He’s just an angel, sent from heaven,” Cargill said. “He sat with me for two and a half hours and was very thorough, answering all my questions,” she said. “As he walked me through this, I felt all the fear run out of my body.”
After a comprehensive evaluation involving neurologists, neurosurgeons and other care providers, the University of Minnesota Health team recommended deep brain stimulation targeting the globus pallidus internus, a region of Cargill’s brain involved in the regulation of movement. Given Cargill’s condition, her care team felt this region was the best target for the procedure.
In April, Park implanted a lead into Cargill’s brain. During the procedure, Neurologists Jerrold Vitek, MD, PhD, and Scott Cooper, MD, PhD, mapped out Cargill’s brain to ensure accurate placement of the stimulation lead.
Though it took several months for the full benefits of the surgery to develop, Cargill noticed a significant decrease in her tremors and dyskinesias. The surgery, she said, eliminated roughly 85 percent of her symptoms. Instead of controlling her life, Cargill’s Parkinson’s disease symptoms are now only an occasional distraction.
“It was just amazing,” she said. “My feet, my hands, my face—everything has changed.”
After her surgery, Cargill quickly returned to her active lifestyle. She also made monthly visits to see Nurse Practitioner Tsega Orcutt, APRN, CNP, at the University of Minnesota Health Neurology Clinic located in our Clinics and Surgery Center. Orcutt adjusts DBS devices to maximize their benefits, so that people with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders can take back their lives.
Cargill’s persistence is inspiring, Orcutt said. With Cargill’s permission, Orcutt often shares her success story with other patients to show them what is possible in the battle with Parkinson’s disease.
“Watching her bloom, improve and press on is just inspirational,” Orcutt said. “Fighting Parkinson’s disease takes determination and focus. She does really well with that. Against all odds, Kelly tackles everything that comes her way.”
Cargill knows that Parkinson’s disease is progressive, and could very well get worse again in the future, but that doesn’t stop her. During a recent exercise class, Cargill looked down at her hand and noticed that she was able to keep her hand open and her fingers spread without effort. For some, it may seem like a simple action. But for Cargill, such a gesture was nearly impossible before deep brain stimulation. At that moment, she burst into tears.“It’s just incredible,” she said. “I don’t want to stop. I just want to keep moving.”