iPod Controls Albany Med Patient's Deep-brain Stimulation Device
Using an ordinary iPod Touch, Chris Paul will eventually be able to zap his own brain.
Paul, a 69-year-old Dutchess County resident with Parkinson's disease, is the first patient at Albany Medical Center Hospital to receive a deep brain stimulation implant that uses a wireless software platform allowing doctors and patients to program or adjust the system using an Apple device.
Paul so far has one of two implants that he will receive, on the left side of his brain, regulating muscle movements on the right side of his body. He's not ready to take the controls yet, said his neurosurgeon, Dr. Julie Pilitsis. But he's already happy with the early results.
Deep brain stimulation is not new. Pilitsis has implanted devices in more than 500 patients at Albany Med, placing electrical leads into specific areas of the brain. A neurostimulator device connected to these leads then sends signals to the brain to regulate abnormal impulses, as a way to limit tremor and loss of coordination.
The device that Paul has received, the St. Jude Medical Infinity DBS system, goes a step further than previous models in allowing doctors to more narrowly aim the electrical signals, so they stimulate only the part of the brain desired. This results in fewer side effects, Pilitsis said, such as the accidental pull of a facial muscle or some other unwanted movement caused by stimulating the wrong area. In theory, it should also result in a reduced use of energy and fewer replacements of the battery, implanted in the patient's chest like a pacemaker.
The wireless aspect of the device — the implant connects to an iPad or iPod via Bluetooth technology — also eliminates some awkwardness in programming. Pilitsis had to re-program previous devices in other patients by pressing another device right up against the patient's chest, over the skin where the battery was implanted.
Paul's implant and procedure was paid for through Medicare and the Veterans Health Administration, because his Parkinson's disease is connected to Agent Orange exposure in 1969, when he served in Vietnam. The cost and device vary widely depending on insurance coverage, Pilitsis said, but Albany Med consults with patients' insurers before starting the procedure.
Paul and his 38-year-old son, Matt, have found the whole process a relative breeze compared to dealing with Parkinson's disease.
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