Tommy Dubuque, 65, calls himself the poster child for deep brain stimulation surgery for Parkinson’s disease (PD). “I know of seven other people who have had the procedure after visiting with me about it,” he says. “Without a doubt, it is the smartest medical move that I have ever made.”
Dubuque was diagnosed with PD in October 2004. PD is a chronic and progressive movement disorder, meaning that symptoms continue and worsen over time. Nearly 1 million people in the U.S. are living with PD. The cause is unknown, and although there is presently no cure, there are treatment options to manage its symptoms.
Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain called neurons. PD primarily affects neurons in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As PD progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.
The specific group of symptoms that an individual experiences varies from person to person. Primary motor signs include tremor of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face; slowness of movement; rigidity or stiffness of limbs and trunk; and postural instability or impaired balance and coordination.
Dubuque says that he was having tremors all the time. His sleep was poor, at best, as he awoke about every 10 minutes during a four-hour period. He started a support group in New Braunfels in 2007, and Arnold Vardiman, MD, neurosurgeon, was one of the speakers. Dr. Vardiman performed the first deep brain stimulation procedure in San Antonio at Methodist Hospital more than a decade ago.
As the disease progressed, Dubuque says he was constantly shaking and could not even hold a coffee cup. His walking pattern changed to a shuffle. “My neurologist mentioned deep brain stimulation, and it only took me nine years to decide,” he says with a laugh. “Between Dr. Vardiman and God, I think I am a miracle.”
He had the procedure on May 2012. He woke up at 5 a.m. the next day and couldn’t remember anything about the procedure. He was released to go home at 8 a.m.
“I think we perform the DBS procedure better in San Antonio than it’s performed anywhere else,” Dr. Vardiman says. “Methodist Hospital has made a huge commitment to the therapy. As the technology, equipment, software and other tools for the procedure have evolved, Methodist Hospital keeps up-to-date on an ongoing basis.”
Dubuque, who describes Dr. Vardiman as “my hero,” is enjoying his retirement much more now without any of the previous symptoms and less medication.