New procedure helps stroke patients get back on track

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Matias Abril
Published: Updated:

Every year, almost 800,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke. It’s the leading cause of serious long-term disability.

Although recovery can take a lifetime, patients seem to see the most improvement within the first year.

But now, a new groundbreaking procedure is helping to bring back movement years after patients suffer a stroke.

Stan Shipkosky’s life revolves around music.

Singer and guitarist in the Burnt River band, he traveled around the country doing what he loved, until six years ago.

“I asked the doctor if I died. He goes, ‘No.’ He says, ‘You’re OK. You had a real bad stroke,'” Shipkosky said.

Left leg, left arm, left hand: nothing worked. He lived with limited mobility for years until Shipkosky became part of the nation’s first human clinical trial testing deep brain stimulation – or DBS – for stroke recovery. DBS has already been used to stop tremors in Parkinson’s patients, but this is modified, not to stop movement, but to start it.

“In Parkinson’s disease, typically, we go from the top of the brain. For a stroke, the work was done, actually, from the back of the brain, in a part of the brain called the cerebellum,” said Andre Machado, Chairman Neurosurgeon of the Neurological Institute Cleveland Clinic.

The electrodes are connected to a pacemaker device and deliver small electrical pulses to the brain. In the study, patients received DBS for up to eight months.

“We saw significant benefits between four to eight months after turning on the DBS. They continue to improve,” Machado said.

After turning off the DBS?

“Well, I can open and close my hand and lift my arm up,” Shipkosky said.

Shiposky hopes that DBS will be available again soon, so he can regain more of what he lost.

While the procedure offers potential benefits, it also comes with risks, including hemorrhage, infection and neurological complications.

The researchers are now enrolling for a larger randomized control trial at the Cleveland Clinic, hoping to prove the benefits of DBS in stroke patients.

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