Sixty-eight-year-old Richard Gipstein demonstrated how he can tie a knot in a rope to secure his boat to the dock. "A year ago, I wouldn't have been able to do that," he explained.
In 1996, Rick was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Over the next 10 years, his symptoms progressed – motor skills declined, sense of smell waned, voice became weaker, fatigue increased and he developed mask face, an expressionless face with little or no sense of animation, a common condition related to Parkinson's disease.
By 2015, Rick retired from his job as an architect when he could no longer draw or use his computer mouse.
"As my symptoms worsened, I tried not to let it affect my lifestyle," said Rick. "But the symptoms became so severe that I just couldn't ignore them, or even function normally any longer."
Rick was originally treated for his Parkinson's at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, part of Yale New Haven Health System. "The medications I was taking helped somewhat with my symptoms, but made me feel lousy."
In early 2016, Rick's physician suggested he might be a candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), a neurosurgical procedure involving the implantation of a medical device called a neurostimulator, which sends electrical impulses to the brain to treat movement disorders. He referred Rick to the DBS team at Yale New Haven Hospital. After undergoing more than nine months of testing led by neurologist Amar Patel, MD, Rick underwent the first stage of DBS surgery in September 2016.
Rick was partially awake during the eight-hour procedure where surgeons, led by Jason Gerrard, MD, PhD, chief of functional neurosurgery, implanted electrodes on both sides of his brain at the exact origin of the Parkinson's disease. The leads ran from his brain, through his neck to his chest.
"The goal of the DBS is to mask the motor symptoms of the patients," explained Dr. Gerrard. "It doesn't address the memory function or the fatigue that is also associated with Parkinson's disease."
After one night in the hospital for observation, Rick went home and returned to the hospital a week later to have a "battery" implanted under the skin in his chest. Two weeks later, doctors "turned the battery on" and the symptoms affecting Rick's motor skills immediately disappeared.
"It was miraculous!" said Rick's wife, Myra. "We went to dinner with friends that evening at a Chinese restaurant and Rick was even able to use chopsticks!"
Since the DBS, Rick has been able to get back to many of the tasks he took for granted. "I can bicycle again, take care of my boat, get dressed and tie my shoes – I'm even able to work on some architecture projects again," Rick said.
Rick, currently not on any medications, visits the hospital every three months to have his DBS device checked and adjusted.
"My wife and I were really impressed with the teamwork of the surgical team at Yale New Haven,” said Rick. “I can’t thank the team at Yale New Haven enough for helping me get back to a sense of normalcy while I continue to fight the challenges of my Parkinson’s.”
"I was recently able to enjoy my son's wedding. I've resumed my photography hobby and I can draw again. My wife and I are planning a trip to Antarctica," Rick said. "Life is good."