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Brain pacemaker hope in Parkinson’s

Zafar Ahmed, 50, travels 7km by himself to the school where he teaches. A routine task for an adult? Not if he is an Advanced Parkinson’s Disease patient who a year ago needed the help of four people just to walk.

In April 2012, on the verge of opting for voluntary retirement because of his health, the science teacher from Munger, Bihar, underwent Deep Brain Stimulation surgery in Calcutta.

The surgeon installed a pacemaker in his brain. Ahmed regained control of his limbs and was able to return to the classroom within a month of the surgery.

He is among the 20-odd patients who have undergone the Deep Brain Stimulation surgery in the city since 2010, all of which have been “successful”. Calcutta is the only city in eastern India that offers this treatment. The surgery is performed at four other cities in the country: New Delhi, Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram and Bangalore.

“I had been neglecting the disease, popping about 10 pills a day for temporary relief,” said Ahmed, who had Parkinson’s Disease since 2007. His “on state” or the duration for which he could move his limbs after taking medicine was reducing by the day.

Sujoy Sanyal, a neurosurgeon attached with Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences specialising in deep brain surgery, had operated on the teacher. “I met Ahmed in early-2012. His symptoms — slowness of movement, tremor and progressive rigidity in limbs — indicated he was a fit case for the surgery,” said Sanyal.

According to an estimate, 50 out of every 1 lakh Calcuttans are suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. While Delhi and Mumbai have two or more hospitals each offering specialised surgery, Calcutta has only one.

“In 2010, we would perform one operation every four months. Now, it is one every month,” said Sanyal, who gets four to five fit cases for surgery every month.

During the surgery, electrodes are implanted in the brain. They are then connected to a pacemaker placed just below the left collarbone. Ninety-five per cent of the brain pacemakers implanted in Calcutta have rechargeable batteries. While pacemakers with non-rechargeable batteries do not last beyond 4-5 years, those with rechargeable ones can function up to 20 years.

Ahmed no longer has to take medicines. His “on time” is up from two hours to over 20 hours on an average.

“While some patients like Ahmed do not need to take medicines at all, most have reduced their dependency on medicine by 60 to 80 per cent,” said Sanyal.