Approved for the procedure in 2012, Andrew Johnson underwent deep brain stimulation after being diagnosed with early idiopathic Parkinson’s disease (PD) at age 35.

For Andrew, who lives in New Zealand, the symptoms began with a slight tremor in his right hand, which grew worse when he tried to feed his son.

The severity of his condition forced him to leave his position as senior legal counsel at ASB Bank Limited, one of New Zealand’s four big banks.

“During a meeting, I’d spend two hours trying to follow the discussion. I’d write copious notes, only to find my handwriting was too small,” he says. “I couldn’t decipher what was said, nor could I recall what was said.”

Micrographia, defined as abnormally small or cramped handwriting, is one of many secondary motor symptoms associated with PD.

Along with leaving his job, Johnson found it difficult to manage his personal life as a husband and father of two. Occasionally, he became rigid or stuck, unable to move quickly or, conversely, he would make involuntary movements. He also experienced severe motor difficulties and had difficulty dressing or eating.

Johnson’s condition affected him not only physically, but emotionally too, since he felt he was unable to live a normal life.

“The thing that hurt the most was not being able to be the kind of husband and father I wanted to be due to the limitations imposed by the disease,” says Johnson.

What is DBS

Implanted electrodes and electric stimulation are used in DBS to treat movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremors, dystonia, and other neurological conditions. When medications are less effective or have adverse side effects, doctors may use DBS for movement disorders or neuropsychiatric conditions.

Two years after his diagnosis, Johnson’s neurologist recommended the surgery. Previously, patients with early-onset PD were not considered candidates for DBS until around ten years post-diagnosis, but recent research indicates that having DBS earlier may increase the longevity and effectiveness of treatment.

Johnson’s surgery used a neurostimulation device including wire leads made by Sandvik, a leading provider of medical ultra-fine wire. The company’s EXERA range of wires are made from stainless steel, precious metals, and cobalt chrome alloys, and are available with a wide selection of coatings and surface treatments.

Gary Davies, manager of Sandvik Materials Technology’s business unit for medical wire manufacturing, says the device is dependent on its wire.

“Those moving around need to know that both the raw materials we use and the wire that transmits electricity, as well as the coatings we apply, have to meet very precise tolerances, and that they must be made in a manner that allows them to withstand the rigors of this device.”

What DBS entails

Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common neurological diseases in the world. It is estimated to affect up to 15 in 10,000 people.

DBS surgery involves implanting a device that sends electrical signals to brain areas that control body movements. A neurostimulator, like a pacemaker, uses electric pulses to regulate brain activity. Electrodes are placed deep in the brain and are connected to a stimulator device.

The DBS system consists of three parts that are implanted inside the body:

Neurostimulator: Batteries are used to power neurostimulators, which generate electrified pulses. Neurostimulators are placed under the skin of the chest below the collarbone or in the abdomen.

Lead: The lead is a coated wire with several electrodes attached to its tip that provide electric pulses to the brain tissue. This wire is inserted inside the skull and connected to an extension wire through a small hole.

Extension: The extension is an insulated wire that runs from the scalp down the neck, behind the ear, then to the chest. It is placed under the skin and connects the lead to the neurostimulator.

New beginnings

Following his surgery, Johnson feels that he can now live a more normal and fulfilling life, and that he is better equipped to take on family responsibilities.

“The DBS surgery changed my life. It gave me control over my body again,” he says. “The way my motor symptoms were progressing, I think I would have been in full-time care if not for the DBS. I try to make the most of the time I have been given by living life to the fullest.”

Today, Johnson can spend more time with his children, who are now 13 and 11. In addition, he exercises both on his own and with neuropsychiatric specialists. As the spouse of a busy executive, he can cook and do the housework. He has read 86 books so far in 2020, an activity that keeps his brain active.

To find out more about the medical materials made by Sandvik and which are the core in an application like DBS, download the whitepaper below.