Phyllis Walker’s hands used to shake so badly she had to stop eating at the dinner table with her family.
“As a normal thing, I pretty much ate over the sink, so that I wouldn’t spill things,” the 77-year-old grandmother from Ivor, Va., said. “I could not use a fork and knife, couldn’t — just didn’t want to sit at the table and be embarrassed.”
Just four hours away in Burtonsville, Md., 56-year-old Dot Highberg was also losing control of her hands. She tried medication after medication, each working for awhile, but eventually, the shaking would return with a vengeance.
“The tremors were just getting worse and worse. It wasn’t getting better and it wasn’t going to get better,” Highberg said. “It looked like I was gonna be on medication for the rest of my life.”
Diagnosed with essential tremors, a neurological disorder that causes patients to lose control of their hands, heads and voices, both women were desperate for help. They were each forced to stop doing the things they loved.
Walker, who has two grandsons serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, was no longer able to write letters to give them a grandmother’s advice, or receive communion at church. The shaking was so bad that it started affecting her everyday life.
“I couldn’t cook, because I couldn’t measure ingredients without spilling them. I couldn’t take things out of the oven. I was afraid I would spill those or burn myself,” she said. “I couldn’t brush my teeth like I wanted to, because I would injure my mouth.”
For the women and an estimated 10 million other Americans who suffer from the disorder, life was a struggle.
“It was… a matter of not being able to have control. It’s like the tremor had control of you — you didn’t have control of it,” said Highberg.
Until one day they both got the chance to take back control of their lives. Dr. Jeff Elias, associate professor of neurology at the University of Virginia, and his team were beginning a clinical trial for patients suffering from essential tremors — using a technique stripped right from a scene in a science fiction movie. Elias was planning to use ultrasound waves, focused to a specific point located by using an MRI machine, to treat the part of the brain that was causing the shaking. Click here to read the rest of the article.
The University of Virginia is one of the Davis Phinney Foundation’s partners in hosting The Victory Summit symposium for people with Parkinson’s disease in Richmond, VA on May 19, 2012.