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What is Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery?

Cook Children's performs 100 DBS surgery

On Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, Cook Children’s marked an important milestone in its quest to improve the quality of life for children struggling with debilitating movement disorders. Doctors performed the hundredth deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery in Cook Children’s history on an 8-year-old boy, suffering from dystonia.

What is Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery?

Deep brain stimulation surgery involves two parts: implanting electrodes into the brain and a pacemaker under the skin of the chest. The two devices are connected by the surgeons and electrical impulses are sent from the pacemaker to the brain to correct the abnormal impulses of the movement disorder. The two surgeries take place about a week apart from each other. Following both procedures, the child usually goes home the next day.

The Path to Asleep DBS

When neurosurgeons at Cook Children’s first began performing DBS, patients had to be awake. Now, thanks to enhanced technology, patients can be under anesthesia and asleep. This change in the treatment’s technique came with the addition of an iMRI, which is essentially a giant magnet, at Cook Children’s. The iMRI allows neurosurgeons to have pinpoint accuracy while performing a delicate brain surgery.

“With all the technology we have, I know I am in the exact spot I want to be," said John Honeycutt, M.D., medical director of Neurosurgery at Cook Children’s “My accuracy for DBS is 0.5 millimeters."

Dr. Honeycutt is one of the world’s leaders when it comes to using DBS on patients with dystonia and will perform the hundredth surgery. It will be the fifteenth asleep surgery for Cook Children’s.

Building a DBS Program

Prior to 2003, DBS was done almost exclusively for Parkinson’s disease and tremors. Then, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed for DBS to be done on patients with dystonia, beginning at age 7. At that point, most hospitals weren’t doing the surgery on children.

Warren Marks, M.D., a neurologist and medical director of the Movement Disorders and Rehabilitations Programs at Cook Children’s, says Cook Children’s DBS program grew as part of an evolution of the movement program at the medical center.

Dr. Marks said it took two years of hard work to develop the DBS program at Cook Children’s. It involved assembling and organizing two entire teams – one to do the evaluations and postoperative management and another to do the surgery.

Cook Children’s performed its first DBS surgery in 2007.

“We have slowly and methodically grown the program so we try and do it in the best way we can and try to provide for the most kids we can,” Dr. Marks said. “The program is somewhat unique in that we are really focused on children. When we started our program there was no adult program to work off of. Virtually all DBS programs where surgeries are performed on children are in conjunction with adult programs. We didn’t have an adult program to work off of. We really did start from ground zero.”

The Road Ahead

Both Dr. Honeycutt and Dr. Marks take the hundredth procedure in stride. The milestone reinforces their success, but they say they never looked at this program as a race. They have been very careful in their approach to the surgeries and the patients they are treating.

What excites them is the fact that the last 15 cases were performed while the children were asleep.

Dr. Honeycutt says it can be a traumatic event for the kids to go through surgery awake, even after the efforts to keep them pain free while awake in previous surgeries. So with the advent of iMRI guided system, he saw the opportunity to perform the surgery on children who were asleep.

There will still be some surgeries where the patient has certain disorders that will require him or her to be awake. But for the most part, the surgeries will be done with the patients asleep.

*Illustrations/Graphics courtesy of Clearpoint.

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