Cathie Osborne’s daily life had become an unwanted normality. She used her non-dominant left hand for regular activities, brushed her teeth with both hands, and splashed ingredients on the kitchen wall when she was cooking.
Osborne, 74, suffers from essential tremors, a progressive neurological disorder that causes involuntary rhythmic contractions and relaxations.
However, a new virtual option via Swedish Medical Center and Abbott Laboratories offers online exams and technical adjustments to treat tremors from a distance.
Now, the Sequim woman is the first patient with deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy to be remotely calibrated in Washington state using Abbott’s virtual (neurosphere) clinic, according to Jay Lee, manager. of corporate territory for Washington and Alaska.
âIt’s a real revolution,â Lee said. âIt was accelerated due to COVID, but many patients with Parkinson’s disease and (essential tremors) don’t see DBS as a solution because of the commute.
âWith this new innovation, it’s definitely a new possibility,â he said.
Two years ago, Osborne was able to stop the tremors in his right hand with the help of Swedish doctors in Seattle and DBS.
As she describes, Osborne said that a neurostimulator had been installed in her skull with a wire connected to a generator / battery the size of her palm placed inside her chest just below her left collarbone. He could send signals to his hand telling him not to shake with low intensity electrical impulses to nerve structures.
These daily chores have become less of a chore.
âI could sign my name again,â Osborne said. “It’s just cleaner, and I haven’t written a letter in years, and it also helped me at work where I had to write numbers.”
She was also able to continue her hobby of collecting stamps, which was “something I couldn’t do very well with my non-dominant hand.”
âI am thrilled,â Osborne said.
Each visit to Seattle for the DBS exams meant 12-hour days, Osborne said. Her husband Rick would be heading to Bainbridge Island, she would take the ferry due to traffic problems, then a taxi to the hospital.
Once at the clinic, her DBS treatment would be adjusted based on the progression of her tremors.
Now her 12-hour days are hour-long appointments made on the computer through Zoom once every few months.
âEssential tremors are getting worse, but (doctors and nurses) can adjust the system to cover the worst,â Osborne said.
During a Zoom call, Osborne said medics can boost the system’s output remotely, as Osborne needs a pre-programmed cell phone and a special magnet.
Virtual clinics were recently brought to market with help from doctors nationwide, Lee said, with more than 3,000 virtual programming sessions to date and appointments made in all 50 states. An appointment has been made from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska, and a handful are signed up for treatment in the coming months in Washington, he said.
â(Patients) can receive programs from the comfort of their own homes,â Lee said.
“For the citizens of Sequim, they may not have the time or the resources to travel to Seattle for quarterly reviews.”
Swedish staff have been working to educate their patient population, and the “response has been fantastic,” Lee said.
âWe want to educate them about our product and together with (other) competitors we want to make sure that our product is or is not the best for them,â he said.
Lee said patients must respond positively to the carbidopa and levodopa drugs before DBS treatment is an option.
For patients with Parkinson’s disease, doctors or neurosurgeons may place implants, similar to Osborne’s on both sides of the brain, with one or both sides activated to relieve tremors as the disease progresses. Lee said.
âIt depends on the doctor and / or neurosurgeon when / if to activate a second side later,â Lee said.
For Osborne, DBS was installed on the left side of his brain and chest to help with tremors on the right side.
âUsing a spatula was a nightmare, as was cutting my nails and wrapping gifts,â she said of her essential tremor.
“You don’t realize how many things are affected, and knowing that we don’t have to take those trips is such a relief.”
The Food Drug Administration has approved DBS for Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor, Lee said.
Along with Swedish, Olympic Medical Center has the ability to perform DBS through its neurology department, said Bobby Beeman, director of marketing and communications.
For more information on Abbott’s Virtual Clinic, visit neurosphere.abbott/virtual-clinic.
Matthew Nash is a reporter for the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is made up of the newspapers of Sound Publishing, Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach it at [emailÂ protected]