Andrew Johnson, or Cyber-AJ, is one of 10 million people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease (PD) worldwide. The disease is progressive, and it is devastating.
Diagnosed four years ago, Johnson recently described himself as a “39 year old trapped in an 89-year-old body.” But earlier this year, his life was transformed by a technique increasingly prescribed to a subset of PD patients called deep brain stimulation (DBS).
In February, Johnson underwent the second of two surgeries to implant a neurostimulator in his brain. The neurostimulator is about the size of a stopwatch, is internally wired to a pacemaker in his chest, and once switched on by a handheld remote, the device's electrical current jams the misbehaving neurons responsible for PD’s physical symptoms.
Since the surgery, Johnson’s life has been better. A lot better. In a recent video posted on his blog, youngandshaky.com, Johnson demonstrates the power of his new device by running an experiment on camera—he turns off the juice.
It’s really a remarkable video. Johnson struggles to speak and is on the verge of dropping the remote when he switches the current back on. Almost instantaneously, his tremors subside. It’s difficult not to share that deepest of deep breaths he draws into his lungs. Discomfort eased, his relief is palpable.
But the surgery was no walk in the park. Afterward, Johnson says he was in “obscene amounts of pain” where the “slightest whisper was like a dagger to the skull.”
After a few days, his medical team began adjusting the device and dialing in the optimal level of current. A strange sensation, he says, but pleasurable, as his body came “alive again after being cased in concrete for so long.”
As Johnson warns on his blog, “This is not a miracle cure, it is a proven treatment which happened to work for me quite spectacularly, but that was because a subset of my symptoms were ones most likely to respond to the surgery.”
Those wondering whether DBS might work for them should consult their doctor. But when diagnosed and targeted accurately, in combination with medication, DBS can radically reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life for patients and their families.
Even with an as yet incomplete understanding of what goes on between our ears, modern neuroscience is delivering life-changing improvements for some patients.
As research continues, such treatments may become more commonly prescribed and increasingly effective. Cyber-AJ and his "battery operated brain" exemplify the inspiring combination of man, machine, and modern science.