Cathie Osborne’s everyday life had become an unwanted normal. She was using her non-dominant left hand for regular activities, brushed her teeth with both hands, and she splattered ingredients on the kitchen wall when she cooked.
Osborne, 74, is living with essential tremor, a progressive, neurological disorder which causes involuntary rhythmic contractions and relaxations.
However, a new virtual option through Swedish Medical Center and Abbott Laboratories has her checkups online and technical adjustments to treat the tremors remotely.
Now, the Sequim woman is the first patient with Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) treatment to be calibrated remotely in Washington state using Abbott’s Virtual Clinic (Neurosphere), according to Jay Lee, a company territory manager for Washington and Alaska.
“It’s a real revolution,” Lee said. “It was sped forward due to COVID, but a lot of Parkinson’s and (essential tremor) patients don’t think of DBS as a solution because of the commute.
“With this new innovation, it’s definitely a new possibility,” he said.
Two years ago, Osborne was able to make the shaking in her right hand stop with help from Swedish’s doctors in Seattle and DBS.
As she describes it, Osborne said a neurostimulator was installed in her skull with a wire to a generator/battery about the size her palm placed inside her chest just below her left collarbone. It could send signals to her hand telling it not to shake with low-intensity electrical impulses to nerve structures.
Those everyday tasks became less of a chore.
“I could sign my name again,” Osborne said. “It’s just neater, and I hadn’t written a letter in years, and it also helped at work where I had to write numbers.”
She’s also been able to continue her stamp-collecting hobby, which was “something I couldn’t do with my non-dominant hand very well.”
“I’m thrilled,” Osborne said.
Each Seattle visit for DBS checkups meant 12-hour days, Osborne said. Her husband Rick would drive to Bainbridge Island, she’d take the ferry due to traffic concerns, and then a taxi to the hospital.
Once at the clinic, her DBS treatment would be adjusted based on if her tremors had progressed.
Now her 12-hour days are one-hour appointments conducted over the computer via Zoom once every few months.
“Essential tremor does get worse, but (doctors and nurses) can adjust the system to cover the worst of it,” Osborne said.
While on a Zoom call, Osborne said doctors can increase the system output from afar with Osborne needing a pre-programmed cell phone and a special magnet.
Virtual Clinics recently went to a full market release with help from physicians nationwide, Lee said, with more than 3,000 virtual programming sessions so far and appointments initiated in all 50 states. One appointment was conducted from Seattle in Juneau, Alaska, and a handful are signed up for the treatment in the coming months in Washington, he said.
“(Patients) are able to receive programming from the comfort of their own home,” Lee said.
“For the citizens of Sequim, they may not have the time or resources to drive to Seattle for quarterly checkups.”
Swedish’s staff has worked to get word to its patient population, and the “response has been fantastic,” Lee said.
“We want to educate them about our product and, with (other) competitors out there, we want to make sure whether or not our product is the best one for them,” he said.
Lee said patients must respond positively to the medications carbidopa and levodopa before the DBS treatment is an option.
For patients with Parkinson’s disease, doctors or neurosurgeons can install implants, similar to Osborne’s on both sides of the brain with one or both sides turned on to help with tremors as the disease progresses, Lee said.
“It depends on the physician and/or neurosurgeon when/if to active a second side later on,” Lee said.
For Osborne, DBS was installed on the left side of her brain and chest to help tremors on her right side.
“Using a spatula was a nightmare, and so was trimming my nails and wrapping presents,” she said of her essential tremor.
“You don’t realize how many things are affected, and knowing we don’t have to make those trips is such a relief.”
The Food Drug Administration approved DBS for Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor, Lee said.
Along with Swedish, Olympic Medical Center has the ability to perform DBS via its neurology service, said Bobby Beeman, the director of marketing and communications.
For more information on Abbott’s Virtual Clinic, visit neurosphere.abbott/virtual-clinic.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected]