Millions of Americans suffer from shaking hands. From Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases to other less debilitating illnesses. It can make it nearly impossible to eat, write or use a cellphone. But now a new non-surgical treatment is giving people their lives back.
Stephen Palovchik has had to deal with trembling hands since he was a teen. Working and eating have been challenging to say the least, and writing was nearly impossible. But that all changed in moments.
“My right hand is basically rock solid as you can see. Which is pretty amazing since it’s almost two weeks and a day, I think, from when I had the procedure," Palovchik says as he shows off his new steady hands.
Stephen's talking about the day doctors burned his brain cells. Not actual surgery, doctors use ultrasound waves and an MRI to guide them to make a tiny cut in the patient's brain, essentially cutting off the area deep in his grey matter that makes his hands shake.
Dr. Ali Rezai of the Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center describes it this way: "This is brain surgery without cutting the skin. So, non-invasively, the ultrasound waves are delivered and converge into part of the brain that’s malfunctioning, causing the tremor.”
Dr. Rezai and his team are doing these knifeless surgeries at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center — one of six centers around the country going it. Also known as high intensity focused ultrasound or hifu, more than a thousand ultrasound rays converge in the brain, gradually heat up to 150 degrees then precisely burn certain cells. The effect is immediate and lasting.
Dr. Vibhor Krishna with the surgical team at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center describes the aftermath. "There is some healing that happens, but complete rewiring or complete regeneration is not possible in brain. So we take advantage of that part."
To keep Stephen's scalp from burning, they use a special cooling helmet. And docs track their progress in real rime, testing Steven's Handwriting several time to check for improvement. And Steven knew the tremor was stopping.
"If anybody saw me after the procedure, I mean I was literally in tears. Because it’s been almost a life-long ordeal. It was just, to me, a gift from heaven," Palovchik said.
Right now the procedure is only being tested for people with essential tremor at six hospitals around the country. But doctors are looking to the future to help those with Parkinson's, epilepsy and depression.