Health Info & Resources for Seniors
John Brolsma of Hellertown, 74, Enjoys Raising Teenaged Son
John Brolsma and his wife, Irene, were just a few years from retirement when they were presented with an unusual opportunity for a couple in their early sixties: the adoption of a preschooler. “We were getting ready to travel and do all the things you do when you’re near retirement when it became apparent that this beautiful little boy needed us,” John says. In 2004, John, at age 62, suddenly was the father of four-year-old Nathaniel, (Nate).
Full of energy, the couple rose to the challenge and as the boy grew everything was going smoothly until John’s health condition, essential tremor, took a turn for the worse. A nervous system (neurological) disorder, essential tremor causes involuntary and rhythmic shaking. Although it can affect almost any part of your body, the trembling occurs most often in your hands, especially while doing simple tasks. “I couldn’t even write my own name or brush my teeth,” he says. “When I ate, food went everywhere, including on the person I was eating with.”
At the advice of his family doctor, John saw neurologist Nancy Diaz, MD, Medical Director of the St. Luke’s Movement Disorder Center. Dr. Diaz suggested DBS, explaining that it had a 99 percent success rate in reducing movement-related symptoms of patients with essential tremor. “I thought that was a pretty good percentage; I’ll go for that,” he says.
Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is a neurological surgical procedure that has been shown effective in reducing the symptoms of essential tremor, Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders. Dr. Diaz referred John to functional neurologist and neurosurgeon Steven Falowski, MD, of St. Luke’s Neurosurgical Associates. Dr. Falowski was the first physician in the region to perform the procedure, and has since treated more than 100 patients. Most of these patients have experienced considerable reduction of their motor symptoms and have been able to reduce their medications.
The Medtronic DBS Therapy, which Dr. Falowski used to treat John, uses a surgically implanted device, similar to a heart pacemaker, to deliver mild electrical pulses to precisely targeted areas of the brain. The stimulation can be programmed and adjusted to maximize symptom control and minimize side effects. Patients also have a small hand-held controller that allows them to adjust their own stimulation settings within a range set by their doctor.
“As soon as the monitor was turned on it was immediate; the tremors stopped,” John says. “It was quite a miracle.”. Dr. Falowski adds, “It’s extremely rewarding to see the impact DBS has on our patients lives.” And as for John, he’s dreading the time when his “darn near perfect” son goes away for college. To fill the void, he might spend more time playing golf. “Before DBS it took me about five minutes to place the ball on the tee,” he jokes. “Now, the ball lands perfectly on the tee the first time.”