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Treating Uncontrollable Spasms

A treatment for Parkinson's Disease can help patients with dystonia.
What if your muscles took on a mind of their own and simple tasks brought on enormous pain? That's exactly what happened to one boy.  But, fortunately, a new treatment  changed everything. 

He could not sit on a chair. He had to lie down in a bed or on the floor. He could not write his name on a piece of paper. The poor boy was basically wheelchair bound.

For Michael Sharp, it happened suddenly.  "It escalated to where my arm was kind of stuck like this for a few months," he said.  And it gradually got worse.   He says, "I was bent forward, my neck would be tilting backwards."
 
A movement disorder called "dystonia" took over the 11-year-old's body. Medications work for one in four sufferers, Michael was not one of them. He left school and traveled the world to try experimental treatments, but in the end his dystonia always came back. 

After four years of pain, doctors suggested deep brain stimulation, a surgical procedure often used to treat Parkinson's Disease.  Electrodes are placed inside the brain, and wires connect them to batteries implanted in the chest. The device sends electrical pulses to affected parts of the brain, resetting the brain function, making spasms disappear. 

Dr. Michele Tagliati  is the Director of Movement Disorders in the Department of Neurology at  Cedars-Sinai Medical Center  He says, "in very few cases, they make them go away right in front of you, but that is the exception. Most of the time, the spasms take weeks to months."

Michael showed improvement  three months with the device.   Despite memory loss, he graduated top of his high school class and is now in law school. 

Two-hundred-fifty-thousand people in the United States are living with dystonia. Experts aren't sure what causes it but say it could be genetIc. Doctors say since they started treating patients with DBS, successful cases like Michael's are becoming much more common.
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