PODCAST: Early-onset Parkinson’s and a ‘pacemaker for the brain’
Monday, 2nd December 2019
In 2017, primary school principal Todd Murfitt learnt he had early-onset Parkinson’s disease. He was 35. Two years later his symptoms had progressed so rapidly he felt like he was walking in quicksand.
Todd’s symptoms included an internal tremor, which meant he could hear a constant vibration or sound, as well as loss of motor control and external physical tremors.
“That moment of being told ‘Todd, I think you’ve got Parkinson’s’ is kind of surreal,” he said.
“I was really at that point [where] it was so far off the radar that it hit me with quite a bit of shock.”
Mr Murfitt was able to keep his condition under control with medication. Then, the drugs stopped working.
He learnt the disease had progressed so quickly in two years, that he should consider deep brain stimulation (DBS).
Friends, family and the local community raised more than $40,000 for the procedure that could see his symptoms reduced for decades.
In June 2019 Todd underwent the surgery and in this podcast producer James Bullen talks to Todd 6 months post surgery
Doctors used new technology for the first time
Neurologist Rob Wilcox likened DBS to a “pacemaker” for the brain.
DBS is not a cure, but a treatment in which electrodes are placed in the brain and a computer chip is implanted in the chest.
The medical team used new technology for the first time that features directional wires, rather than the ring system used in recent years.
This was due to Mr Murfitt’s young age, which means Dr Wilcox will need to monitor and change the electrical fields over a much longer period of time.
The steerable leads allow for more precise control of the shape, range, position and direction of electrical stimulation to different parts of the brain.