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Asleep DBS Offers Steady Hand for Alaska Professor

A 70-year-old Alaska college professor and artist says a new medical procedure has steadied his hands and allowed him to resume drawing.

Richard Burmeister has essential tremor, which causes rhythmic shaking. But he says the symptoms subsided when his neurosurgeon, Francisco Ponce, MD, at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix switched on the electrodes he had placed in Burmeister’s brain during a procedure called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) in March at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix.

I went, ‘Holy mackerel.’ I couldn’t write my name before. I can write now. I can answer e-mails from my students. I’m actually able to get back to doing some drawing for the first time in 10 years.

-Barrow Patient Richard Burmeister

“When the doctor came in, he turned it on and right away I wasn’t shaking,” says Burmeister, who teaches at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “I went, ‘Holy mackerel.’ I couldn’t write my name before. I can write now. I can answer e-mails from my students. I’m actually able to get back to doing some drawing for the first time in 10 years.”

DBS is a delicate procedure that involves placing electrodes deep inside the brain. The 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 select brain regions, providing remarkable therapeutic benefits for otherwise treatment-resistant movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor.

photo of phoenix neurosurgeon Francisco Ponce

Barrow Neurosurgeon Francisco Ponce, MD

“This procedure is an effective way to drastically improve patients’ quality of life,” says Dr. Francisco Ponce, director of Barrow’s Center for Neuromodulation and DBS program. “Having a high volume of DBS cases at Barrow, our success rate is well beyond 95 percent. We work closely with the Muhammad Ali Movement Disorder Center’s neurologists to determine the most appropriate candidates.”

The procedure may be performed two ways – traditionally, with the patient awake and conversing with the surgeon, or while the patient is “asleep” under general anesthesia. Burmeister underwent asleep DBS to treat his essential tremor.

“It was so simple and so easy and so fast,” Burmeister says. “I had no pain afterwards. I thought, ‘Wow, what more could I ask for?’”

Burmeister first began to experience essential tremor when he was in his early 30s. His grandfather and father also suffered from the condition. After learning about DBS while researching online, Burmeister decided to have the procedure done at Barrow where more DBS procedures are conducted than anywhere in the country, approximately 55 percent of which are now done under general anesthesia. His only regret is that he didn’t act sooner.

“I wondered why I waited so long,” Burmeister says. “I should have done it a lot earlier. But then, in the last 10 years this procedure has really improved. I think it’s fantastic.”

About Barrow Neurological Institute

Since our doors opened as a regional specialty center in 1962, we have grown into one of the premier destinations in the world for neurology and neurosurgery. Our experienced, highly skilled, and comprehensive team of neurological specialists can provide you with a complete spectrum of care–from diagnosis through outpatient neurorehabilitation–under one roof. Barrow Neurological Institute: Discover. Educate. Heal.