Woman Is First To Have Deep Brain Stimulation To Treat Stroke

When Judy Slater, now 60, suffered an ischemic stroke in 2015, she lost function on the left side of her body and needed assistance to accomplish everyday tasks.

“I couldn’t do anything,” said Judy. “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.”

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Judy’s treatment included working with therapists at Cleveland Clinic to enhance the impact of deep brain stimulation. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

Three years later, she’s gained independence and made significant improvements after undergoing deep brain stimulation (DBS), paired with physical therapy, to help treat the stroke.

And the results surpassed her expectations, as Judy explained: “I noticed a change almost from the beginning. Now, I can move my arm up and down and out to the side. I can reach behind me and turn my wrist.”

The procedure is part of a decade-long Cleveland Clinic study led by neurosurgeon Andre Machado, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Neurological Institute. Judy is the first patient to have DBS to enhance motor function that was impaired by a stroke.

Judy first underwent surgery to implant tiny electrodes in the section of her brain impacted by her stroke. After a few weeks of recovery, followed by four months of physical therapy, Judy was at last ready for the treatment to begin. Dr. Machado and his team activated the device, sending electrical pulses into Judy’s cerebellum. Slowly, over a period of a few weeks, the intensity of the signals were increased.

“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.”

Throwing out the first pitch

Judy showed off her improved strength with an impressive windup and first pitch at Progressive Field where the Cleveland Indians play their home games. With her granddaughter next to her on the mound and her family and Cleveland Clinic care team cheering her on from the sidelines, Judy may have been shy of pitching a strike, but she still left the field with a big win.

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Judy throwing the first pitch at the Cleveland Indians game, with her granddaughter, Peyton, by her side. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

Now, she can play catch with her grand kids – an activity she loved but had to forego after her stroke.

Thankful to tackle everyday tasks

After her stroke, Judy was mostly an observer in the kitchen and wasn’t able to do much to help her relatives and friends as they prepared their traditional Thanksgiving meal. But after DBS, it was different.

Judy made – and her family members eagerly gobbled up – her signature strawberry pretzel salad and tempting cheesy potatoes. With the use of her hand and arm greatly restored, Judy had a very enjoyable holiday.

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Cleveland Clinic patient Judy Slater with her family on Thanksgiving 2017.

“I could mix everything together, pick up the bowl of ingredients, and pour it into a pan,” she explains, proudly. “I was so happy that I can do the stuff I love again.”

The clinical trial

Cleveland Clinic was awarded over $5 million to develop deep brain stimulation for stroke recovery patients by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This was used to develop the first in human clinical trial for patients who suffered a stroke. Cleveland Clinic has enrolled 12 participants in the study.

“The NIH Brain Initiative has enabled a team of investigators at Cleveland Clinic to apply more than 10 years of research to patients disabled by stroke for the first time,” said Dr. Machado.

RELATED: National Institute of Health Awards Cleveland Clinic Nearly $5 Million To Fund DBS For Stroke 

Stroke is the number one cause of disability in the United States and the industrialized world. Rehabilitation from paralysis after stroke is limited mostly to physical therapy, which is very effective. However, hundreds of thousands of patients are still left disabled by stroke.

“Many questions remain, but we are encouraged by the positive results so far in our trial with Judy,” Dr. Machado stated. “We look forward to learning much more as this study continues.”

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