Walterboro man has new lease on life after new Parkinson’s treatment | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | May 18, 2017 5:00 pm
Last Updated: May 17, 2017 at 12:49 pm
Vic Still is wired — literally.
The 62-year-old Walterboro man recently had a “brain pacemaker” implanted to help control his symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The procedure involves implanting a stimulator in his chest, which is attached to an electrode in his brain. A handheld programmer controls the current to the electrode, which stimulates the thalamus, which produces dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, Still said.
Still was diagnosed with Parkinson’s eight years ago, shortly after moving back to Walterboro (where he grew up) from Charleston, where he was in sales with William Scotsman modular buildings in Summerville for 20 years.
Parkinson’s interferes with the ability to move, talk and has other neurologic symptoms. “It’s awful not to be able to move — and that’s what it is, a movement disorder, and it’s depressing — severely depressing,” the former runner said. Before committing to the procedure, Still asked his father, Ryan Still, for his opinion. He told him, “You’ve got to do it. You can hardly move.”
Dad was right. So far, Still’s results have been very positive. Before the implant, he was taking 20-23 pills a day to control his symptoms. Now, he’s down to eight in the two months since his surgery, which can take up to six months to show full results. That’s a great thing, he said, because the pills have some pretty bad side effects. “You have to drink ungodly amounts of water or they will burn up your bladder,” he said. And the body only processes about 33-percent of the medication, thus the high dosage.
This was Still’s second round with the procedure, called Deep Brain Stimulus (DBS). The first chest implant became infected and had to be removed. However, doctors left the electrode in that side of his brain and plan to replace the stimulator when the site heals. Still hopes when that happens, he can cease taking the medications altogether.
The worst part of the actual operation, Still said, is that they put what’s called a “halo” on your head. The halo is screwed into the skull to immobilize the head during surgery. The catch is it’s done while the patient is semi-awake. “That’s freaky. You can’t get it off. You’re not supposed to try and get it off. But I freaked out,” he said. He was sedated, but the drugs began to wear off and they had to give him more. After that, he doesn’t remember anything until he woke up in recovery.
His doctor, Dr. Istvan Takacs, at the Medical University of S.C. has done nearly 2,000 of the DBS procedures, Still said. When he asked about the success rate prior to making the decision, he said, Dr. Takacs said 95-percent of the people were satisfied with the results, and some had the DBS in place and working for as long as 30 years.
Ironically, Still believes he contracted the disease while serving his country. After graduating Walterboro High School in 1974, he joined the Marines, serving as a combat engineer. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. for six months in 1976. In recent years, many veterans stationed there in that time period began having Parkinson’s symptoms. An investigation determined that the water serving the military base was contaminated with toxic waste and more than 1.5 million claims have been filed, Still said. Just before President Barack Obama left office, he approved $2.2 billion to research the problem and compensate Parkinson’s patients who are veterans. Since Still is 100-percent disabled, that settlement will greatly help — but he’s still waiting on the Veterans Administration.
In the meantime, he remains hopeful. “You can’t cure Parkinson’s, but you can trick the heck out of it,” he said. “It’s not the that glass is half empty, it’s half full. What are you going to do? It beats the alternative and I’m not ready to die yet.”