Doctors in Toronto treat man with Parkinson’s disease at his home in NL This is how they did it

Nearly 16 years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, George Martin says he has his life back – thanks to a technology that’s the first of its kind.

The 68-year-old lives in Mount Pearl, NL, but the NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic allows his doctors to treat him remotely from Toronto.

It has reduced the tremors caused by his condition and allowed him to live his life again, Martin told CBC Toronto.

“I can drive again, which I couldn’t. I can go to restaurants, where I was too nervous to go, too afraid of falling. I can dance again,” said Martin. “I have my life back.”

Martin underwent surgery last November to begin deep brain stimulation (DBS). The treatment is based on a device, described as a brain pacemaker, that sends electrodes to the parts of the brain that cause Martin’s tremors. DBS is not new, but prior to its approval by the NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic in Canada, patients should make personal appointments with their physicians to make substantial adjustments to the device.

Toronto Western Hospital’s Krembil Brain Institute is the first clinic to implement the new technology in Canada, and Martin is the first patient in the country to receive treatment.

Pandemic has boosted remote technology development

Before the technology was used by the Krembil Brain Institute, in-person DBS clinics were limited to the more populous regions of Canada.

Some provinces have no treatment centers at all, says Dr. Alfonso Fasano, a clinical researcher at the institute.

He told CBC Toronto that the COVID-19 pandemic was the impetus to roll out a full remote treatment option.

“Finally, there was a push to implement something that would allow us to program patients remotely,” Fasano said. “It’s like any telemedicine platform, but it’s embedded in the program we use to… [adjust the device’s settings].”

It’s like using any other tablet, he said. “We see the patient, we talk to the patient and we can adjust their DBS settings in real time and it’s extremely safe.”

The software is designed to withstand cyber-attacks and connectivity failures, he added.

dr. Alfonso Fasano, a clinical researcher at the Krembil Brain Institute at Toronto Western Hospital, says the new technology will allow him to treat patients with neurological disorders across the country. (University Health Network)

Fasano is enthusiastic about the possibilities this new technology offers. He hopes that soon patients across Canada will be able to receive treatment without having to travel far, as long as they have an internet connection.

The NeuroSphere technology can also help patients with various neurological disorders. DBS is also approved to treat essential tremor disorder, dystonia and epilepsy, Fasono said.

In the future, it may also be approved to treat other conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.

An added bonus, Fasano said, is that patients can be examined at home in their day-to-day settings. This allows clinicians to program the technology to best meet the patient’s daily needs.

Martin said he is grateful to be able to get the treatment he needs from the comfort of his home.

The NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic allows physicians to remotely administer deep brain stimulation to treat patients with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor disorder and epilepsy. (Abbott labs)

After years of unsuccessful treatments for Parkinson’s, he said he was almost ready to give up.

“My specialist here in Newfoundland… looked at me one day and said, ‘There’s nothing more I can do for you,'” Martin said.

Fortunately, that specialist suggested that he investigate a DBS treatment.

With the help of his sister who lives in Toronto, Martin made the long journey for an assessment.

Within a week, he was called back for surgery. He was released the same day and thankfully hasn’t had to travel back since.

He just logs into Zoom to meet his doctor.

Now, in his spare time, he camps in his travel trailer on the weekends and enjoys hiking with his four beagles, activities he couldn’t do before the remote DBS treatment.

“I recommend it to anyone considering having the surgery,” Martin said. “It’s been great for me. And thank you [the doctors] a lot.”

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