‘Life changing’ brain operation seen as an East Valley first

Don Penfield, with his family, no longer suffers from tremors following delicate brain procedure.

By Carmelle Malkovich

A 68-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease has undergone deep brain stimulation, known medically as DBS, at Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center, marking the East Valley’s first such operation since Barrow Neurological Institute expanded to Chandler Regional.

Patient Don Penfield underwent the delicate procedure that involves placing electrodes deep inside the brain. When doctors activated the electrodes about a month after they were implanted in October, the tremors that had plagued Penfield for the last five years disappeared immediately, according to a Barrow spokeswoman.

“This is my new way of living with Parkinson’s,” said Penfield, a retired city of Scottsdale project manager. “I can tell you that Parkinson’s is a life-changing thing. DBS is also a life- changer.”

Barrow, main campus of which is located at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in central Phoenix, performs the most DBS operations in the country. Penfield’s procedure was its first in the East Valley.

As residents age, medical experts say, some will experience movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, which afflicts an estimated 1 million Americans.

“DBS is one of the most exciting and promising developments in modern medicine,” said Dr. Tsinsue Chen, the Chandler-based neurosurgeon who performed Penfield’s operation.

But despite its success, it remains a mystery to many patients and some personal care physicians, according to reports.

“People travel from all over the world to undergo DBS at Barrow,” noted Chen. “But for many patients, the trip from the East Valley to central Phoenix can be a major challenge. With six Barrow neurosurgeons now based in Chandler, we’re excited to offer the same expertise to the growing East Valley population.”

Under DBS, electrodes are connected to a neurostimulator placed under the skin—a “pacemaker” for the brain. The neurostimulator can be programmed to deliver an electrical current to selected brain regions, providing therapeutic benefits for otherwise treatment- resistant movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor.

DBS may be performed two ways, traditionally with the patient awake and conversing with the surgeon or while the patient is “asleep” under general anesthesia. Weeks following the procedure, Penfield said he couldn’t feel the device. But he has noticed a dramatic difference in his quality of life.

“At Thanksgiving dinner, my grandsons looked across the table and said, ‘Grandpa, you’re not shaking any more,’” Penfield says. “I looked down at my hands and said, ‘You’re right. I’m eating and not throwing food on myself.’”

Penfield’s wife, Lana, along with his daughter and a longtime friend, were in the hospital room when his device was activated. At the doctor’s command, Penfield walked out of the room and down a hallway. His tremors were gone.

“It’s given him a new lease on life,” Lana Penfield says. “It’s given him hope.”

In addition to DBS surgery, Barrow surgeons based at Chandler Regional also treat patients with various forms of complex neurological disorders as well as spine conditions, including advanced treatment for scoliosis, spinal stenosis and disc herniation.

Said Chandler Regional president and CEO Mark Slyter:

“We are thrilled to bring the world- class Barrow Neurological Institute to Chandler. Patients travel from all over the world to receive Barrow’s expert care. Now, patients in the East Valley can get it without leaving their neighborhood.”


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