The Results Are In With Dr. Sanjay Gupta | Deep Brain Stimulation for Stroke Survivors
This is a guest post by WWSG exclusive thought leader, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
One day, when Stan Nichols was 66 years old, he began to feel lightheaded.
Fourteen hours later, a friend found him lying on the floor and took him to the hospital.
When he woke up, he couldn’t walk or move his left arm or hand. It turns out that Stan was one of the nearly 800,000 people in the United States who have a stroke every year.
“I thought that I was going to be disabled for life,” he told us.
In cases like Stan’s, physical therapy can help people regain some movement, but it’s not always enough.
Stan could walk some and move his shoulder and elbow, but was still struggling to close and open his left hand or lift his arm on that side.
“The expectation was poor,” said Dr. Andre Machado when he first saw Stan. “Despite the early improvements, he was stable; he wasn’t improving anymore. So the likelihood that he would improve on his own was small.”
Luckily for Stan, Machado had an idea: deep brain stimulation.
Deep brain stimulation involves implanting electrodes directly into areas of the brain that produce electrical impulses to regulated abnormal impulses.
It’s not a new technology. We’ve seen signs that it could help people with depression, addiction and Parkinson’s, but Machado, a neurosurgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, was running the first in-human trial for a deep brain stimulation device to help people recover from a stroke.
To be clear, this does actually involve brain surgery. In 2020, Stan underwent an eight-hour operation in which the tiny electrode — about as wide as a grain of sand — was inserted into the cerebellum part of his brain.
That’s the part of the brain that helps with balance and is involved with walking and hand movements.
A few months after the treatment, Stan said he could notice it working.
He started regaining movement in his left hand and arm, and has found it easier to do things around the house again. He says he can even walk more easily now.
“It’s helped me out with my cooking … and eating, things around the house, yard work and household chores,” Stan said.
The trial is still in early stages, but Stan’s case could offer some hope for other stroke survivors. He says what he has been able to accomplish is “the greatest feeling in the world.”