NorthShore Neurological Institute Combats Parkinson’s Disease With Advanced Surgery

Only 56 when she was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Sister Leanne Hartmann had trouble sleeping and mild balance issues she chalked up to an earlier knee replacement. A serious and life-changing condition like Parkinson’s was the furthest thing from her mind when she got the shocking news in spring 2007.

As treasurer of the Chicago Province of the Felician Sisters, Hartmann held an important and demanding job, and as the disease progressed she grew increasingly weak and less able to manage her role. Writing became difficult; she stopped signing checks and was unable to even address an envelope.

“I was frustrated because it inhibited me from doing what I wanted to do,” Hartmann said. “I was sleeping so poorly, and I couldn’t put in the time or the focus to do the job.”

While medications initially helped control her symptoms, her doses had to be increased every three to four months and ultimately she was no longer responsive to medical treatment.

Hartmann was also losing the ability to enjoy many of the activities she found fulfilling on her own time, including walks on the grounds. “I also liked to journal, but it became impossible to concentrate on writing due to the involuntary movements associated with Parkinson’s,” she said.

Hartmann then faced another dramatic change in her life, this time a positive transformation following Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), an advanced surgical procedure performed by a team of experts at NorthShore Neurological Institute (NNI).

Neurologist Arif Dalvi, MD, first told Hartmann about the possibility of DBS and suggested they would both know when the time was right. “The best time to consider surgery is when the medications stop working in a reliable manner,” Dr. Dalvi explained.

In Parkinson’s, certain areas of the brain become overactive and act as a brake on the motor system resulting in slow movements, muscle stiffness and tremor. DBS involves placing an electrode in the brain to deliver continuous high-frequency electrical stimulation to these areas. The technique works by jamming the abnormal electrical signaling and resets the motor system to more normal levels.

Hartmann benefited from NorthShore’s collaborative and interdisciplinary team, including neurosurgeon Ted Eller, MD, neurophysiologist Lawrence Bernstein, MD, and movement disorders neurologist Dr. Dalvi, who each hold academic appointments at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

“I never saw it as a risk. I was ready and I wanted to have my life back,” Hartmann recalled. The results were nearly immediate and, according to Hartmann “incredible.”

She no longer needed a walker, began to regain strength and was able to use her camera for the first time in more than a year. “I felt strength I hadn’t had before physically, emotionally and mentally,” Hartmann said.

“It’s truly amazing to see how much impact this has on her quality of life,” said Dr. Dalvi.

For information about NNI’s advanced procedures, please call 847.492.5700 (Ext. 1259) or visit NorthShore Neurological Institute.

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