RALEIGH, N.C. — Deep brain stimulation treats a problem in the brain that causes involuntary muscle movements. The therapy stops the tremors in some patients with Parkinson's disease. The Food and Drug Administration recently cleared it for use in patients with a disfiguring disorder called dystonia.
Until Leslie Harrell was 23 years old, she could hold her head up straight. Over five years, a neurological disorder gradually twisted her body.
"Like, mine all started in the neck and then kind of moved down the body," she said.
Doctors diagnosed her with dystonia.
"Dystonia is a sustained, involuntary muscle contraction that produces abnormal postures, and sometimes, movements," said neurologist Dr. Richard Murrow.
"It gets sore and it's just really aggravating," Harrell said.
Harrell tried muscle relaxers, botox injections, even acupuncture. Nothing worked. Now, she and her family have faith that brain surgery at UNC Hospitals will work.
"I'm excited about it. I'm really excited," Harrell said.
Deep brain stimulation interrupts overactive circuits. Neurosurgeon Dr. Eldad Hadar implants electrodes in the problem areas.
"Each one of the electrodes are attached to a small pacemaker-like device that sits just beneath her collarbone," Hadar said.
Harrell has two of those pulse-generators and will keep them for the rest of her life. The change will be gradual.
"Often it takes about a year's worth of fine-tuning the generator and the stimulating devices before they really see a significant amount of benefit," Hadar said.
A day later, Leslie recovers. She said she feels very sore and tired, but she and her mom look forward to the benefits. Her doctors expect anywhere from 75 percent to 100 percent improvement.
"This was all part of God's plan. We've been praying for a long time, so we're expecting a miracle," said Yvonne Harrell, Leslie's mother.
Deep brain stimulation has only been used for people with Dystonia about 150 times worldwide, so it is hard to predict how well it will work for each patient. WRAL will follow Leslie's progress over the next year.