Golf and Grandchildren—Deep Brain Stimulation Helps Dr. McKhann’s Patient Martha Live the Life She Loves

Parkinson disease is a progressive disorder. That means it’s a disease that usually begins with mild symptoms—a slight tremor, or a little trouble with balance—but can progress over time to more serious problems with motion, walking and even speech impairment.

This is what happened with Martha Strange. Her symptoms began with a shaky knee. Over time she developed more tremors and had trouble walking.

Martha Strange playing golf

Medication kept the worst of her symptoms at bay for a while, but eventually they worsened. She got very shaky, and she began to fall down often. By the time she was 69 years old, the activities she loved most, like playing with her granddaughter or enjoying a round of golf, were out of the question.

Martha’s doctor suggested that she talk to neurosurgeon Dr. Guy McKhann, Director of Epilepsy and Movement Disorder Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. He specializes in treatments for advanced Parkinson disease that won’t respond to medication. After evaluating Martha, he thought she might benefit from a procedure called deep brain stimulation.

Deep brain stimulation is a technique that uses electrical impulses to override the part of the brain that is causing the troublesome symptoms. These electrical impulses are delivered by tiny electrodes implanted directly into the brain. It’s not a cure for Parkinson, but Dr. McKhann thought deep brain stimulation might control Martha’s symptoms enough that she could have her quality of life back.

Although she was nervous about the idea of brain surgery, Martha says she instantly felt comfortable with Dr. McKhann. “He has such a way about him. He’s so nice and down to earth,” she says. “He’s adamant about doing things right. He’s very precise, very reassuring. I had no doubt that the deep brain stimulation was going to be fine.”

Dr. McKhann implanted two electrodes, one on each side of Martha’s brain. He connected each of these to a wire that ran under Martha’s skin, to small power units he implanted in her chest. It was a major surgery for Martha, but she came through it with flying colors.

Today Martha says her tremor is gone, and she has no trouble walking. In fact, she’s back out on the golf course, and she’s been able to pick up all the activities she used to enjoy. Martha says she’s mostly looking forward to more grandchildren and being able to play with them, thanks to Dr. McKhann.

“Dr. McKhann is the best!” she says.