Web Producer: Brad Maglinger
Dystonia affects about 250,000 Americans and is characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that force certain parts of the body into contorted, sometimes painful, movements or postures. Something new called deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been successful in treating Parkinson's and tremor. Now, it's finally providing hope for some dystonia patients too.
When we first met Sam Fischer Jr. at a support group meeting, his dystonia was already quite advanced, his muscles contractions uncontrollable and excruciatingly painful.
Three years later, the disease had only gotten worse, leaving this 43-year-old virtually homebound. With no known cure, hope was nearly lost. Then, his father, Sam Fischer, saw a story about a teenager in Pittsburgh who was one of the first dystonia patients to undergo a surgery called deep brain stimulation.
That positive thinking paid off during a recent visit to Pittsburgh's Allegheny General Hospital where doctors determined that Sam Jr. is a perfect candidate for the surgery. "You know, I never thought enough about that part at all that I would not be accepted. I just knew I would," said Sam Fischer Jr.
A part of Sam's brain that is responsible for his dystonia causes the tremors when it sends out too many impulses. Surgeons will insert two electrodes into his brain and connect them to two pacemaker-like devices implanted under the skin near the collarbone. When the devices sense too many impulses, they send out tiny jolts of electricity which block these misfirings.
Ed Cwalinski, the patient Sam Sr. saw on TV, had the surgery two years ago. Today, his spasms are nearly undetectable. He says he's been granted a second chance at life. He's told Sam Jr. that on the phone to give him some encouragement in these weeks leading up to his surgery. Sam just wants it be over so he can go back to work, maybe even take his daughter to Disneyworld some day. But, most of all, he looks forward to be without pain.
The FDA is only allowing 4,000 patients to get a brain pacemaker this year and only if it's a last resort. Allegheny General in Pittsburgh expects to perform 50 of these surgeries. Sam Fischer's surgery is scheduled for sometime in August. Donations to help pay for his medical expenses are being accepted at any Old National Bank branch in the name of "Samuel A. Fischer, DBA Hope for Sam Jr." For more information, email: Hope4SamJr@aol.com .
For more information about Activa Therapy, go to www.BrainPacemaker.com or call toll-free 1-800-494-4104.
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