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How innovative brain surgery ended tremors for this Navy veteran with Parkinson’s

Imagine not being able to sleep, eat, shower or the other little things we all do every day without a thought. For years, this was my life with an aggressive form of early-onset Parkinson’s disease.

I could barely live my life.

But you know what really bothered me? That I couldn’t play with my son. Now, thanks to an innovative type of deep brain stimulation, I can, and that’s something I’ll never take for granted again.

The tremors started gradually, with just a little twitching in my fingers while I was serving overseas in Iraq in 2005 with the U.S. Navy. At first, the tremors would come and go, but eventually, they came back — permanently and painfully. By the time I retired from the Navy a few years later, it was clear that I needed help.

Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in my 40s was a shock. I tried medication after medication, but nothing helped. As I struggled to perform simple daily tasks, my life started to unravel. The tremors became constant and wracked my whole body, from head to toe. It would take me two hours just to go down one flight of stairs. Eventually, I couldn’t even go to work. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t shower or get dressed on my own. I could barely even talk.

I spent my days exhausted, dazed and in pain.

I built a wall around myself, not wanting my friends to see the shape I was in, and slowly spiraled into depression. The only thing that kept me going was Dylan, my son who is now seven years old. He tried to help me as much as he could, but he was so little. He just wanted his daddy to be able to play tag and soccer with him. As much as I wanted to, my body would not let me.

I had almost lost all hope until a few months ago, when deep brain stimulation surgery changed my life.

The only thing that kept me going was Dylan, my son who is now seven years old.

With deep brain stimulation, wires are inserted to send electronic pulses under the skin behind your ear, down the side of your neck all the way down to a stimulator in your chest. The electronic pulses control the tremors that people like me with Parkinson’s experience. Normally, this surgery is done in two parts, takes a total of six to eight weeks and involves hours of being strapped into a device, awake, while doctors place and test the sensors.

I was lucky enough to be the first patient in Texas to have this surgery done using a robot while under anesthesia. Thanks to advancements in technology, my doctor, Dr. Mark Burnett, was able to map my brain more accurately so he knew exactly where to place the stimulator in my brain.

In just 48 hours, the tremors that had taken over my life were gone.

I’ll never forget my son’s reaction when he saw me for the first time after surgery. The first words out of his mouth were, “Can we play tag now?”

When I compare my life just a few months ago to my life now, there is such a difference. I’m able to sleep, eat, brush my teeth and yes, play tag with Dylan. I’m still working on regaining my strength and balance. I train almost three hours a day, including two hours of biking and one hour of soccer. I’m determined to keep improving and getting stronger.

I know this is not a cure for my Parkinson’s. This disease is aggressive and difficult to manage, so I don’t know what the future holds for me. But my doctors and I are hopeful that advances will continue to be made against this disease.

No matter what you’re facing, there is always hope.

I’m so grateful to Dr. Burnett. From the beginning, he told me he was going to fix me up and that’s exactly what he did. He gave me hope and I want to share that hope with the rest of the world. No matter what you’re facing, there is always hope.

This surgery has given me my life back and given me more time with my son. He is my everything and my goal is to see him graduate high school — that’s what will motivate me to keep fighting.

In the meantime, you’ll find us outside playing tag every chance we get.

This story was contributed by Jairo Molina.

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How innovative brain surgery ended tremors for this Navy veteran with Parkinson’s