Brain Stimulation Helps Woman Recover from Stroke (Feature Story)

After losing the use of her left arm and hand due to a stroke, a Pennsylvania woman undergoes an innovative brain surgery that is helping her regain her independence. Andre Machado, MD, PhD comments on the research.

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CLEVELAND – Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States.

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Significant strides have been made in treating strokes shortly after they happen, but there has not been much, other than physical therapy, that could help people recover from a stroke’s lasting, devastating physical disability – until now.

Cleveland Clinic has enrolled 12 participants in a study to look at whether deep brain stimulation may help people recover from the physical disability often caused by a stroke.

Judy Slater, 59, of Pulaski, Pennsylvania, is the first to undergo the procedure.

Two years ago, Slater suffered a stroke and lost the use of her left arm and hand – as well as her independence.

“I couldn’t do anything,” said Slater. “I had to count on everybody to help me get dressed, get showered; just getting to the bathroom and just even to get outside they had to help me.”

Slater’s deep brain stimulation device was surgically implanted in late 2016.

“Deep brain stimulation is like a brain pacemaker,” said Andre Machado, M.D., PhD, of Cleveland Clinic. “There is an electrode, a wire, that’s implanted into a specific area of the brain that’s expected to produce a specific effect.”

A few weeks after the surgery, the device was programmed and turned on. It didn’t take long for researchers to see that Slater was making progress.

“She could move her arm within a few weeks in a way she had not been able to move since the stroke,” said Dr. Machado. “Judy has made steady progress after the surgery, week after week, month after month, her function continues to improve.”

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Before surgery, Slater’s hand was essentially frozen, but after the procedure, and a few months of physical therapy, she can now open her hand and is doing things she couldn’t just weeks earlier.

“I can wash my own hair now and dry it and comb it,” said Slater.

Slater will continue physical therapy as long as she continues to make progress and said her goal is to be able to function as she did before the stroke.

Dr. Machado said the next step in the research is to see if Slater’s results can be reproduced in the other 11 people enrolled in the study.

“I believe what we see in Judy is a sign of hope, that help is on the way,” said Dr. Machado.

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