Surgical option to treat severe tremor is life-changing, says patient

A New Brunswick man is trying to raise awareness after discovering he could be treated for his debilitating condition just one province away.

RenĂ© Girouard of Sainte-Marie-de-Kent has coped with essential tremor for 16 years. It’s a neurological condition that is often confused with Parkinsons Disease.

Essential tremor causes shakes in the body, most often in the hands, that are so severe patients can’t feed themselves.

Girouard, a retired teacher, was unable to do basic tasks. He once painted in his free time, but last year he couldn’t even write his name.

“More and more, I had problems with my balance,” he said. “Years ago I used to cook quite a bit, but I couldn’t measure anything.”

Girouard visited several specialists in New Brunswick and joined a support group. He had given up hope that his condition would change, when a family member saw a story on the news about a surgery offered in Halifax.

Last year, he investigated and found out he was a candidate for deep brain stimulation.

Dr. Lutz Weise says deep brain stimulation isn’t a cure for essential tremor, but patients can see a significant reduction in their shakes. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

The full-day surgery implants a device similar to a pacemaker that sends electrical pulses to the brain to block the tremors.

“What we usually tell our patients is that they have an 80 per cent chance of having at least a 50 per cent reduction of their tremor,” said Dr. Lutz Weise, the neurosurgeon who performs the procedure.

Weise said about four per cent of adults over 40 are diagnosed with the condition. Often, they start isolating themselves from society because they don’t want to be watched as they struggle to do things like drink from a glass.

Weise agrees with his patient that not enough people with essential tremor know about the surgical option.

“What is quite impressive in essential tremor especially, as compared to other diseases where we perform deep brain stimulation, is the instant effect,” said Weise.

“When you turn on the stimulator, the tremor seizes almost within seconds.”

Yvette and RenĂ© Girouard were shocked by the results of the surgery. They say it took years before they discovered it was an option for his essential tremor. (Radio-Canada)

That was the case for Girouard, who said he instantly felt like a new man. His wife, Yvette, said the change was shocking.

“He was feeding the birds and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s straight!’ Because he was walking like an old man,” she said.

Girouard said he once thought his condition would only get worse, but for the first time, he has hope. And he’s thinking of picking up his paint brush once again.

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