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From tremors to tranquility: Deep brain stimulation transforms life of Parkinson’s patient

Published: August 10, 2016
John and Darlene Clemens are high school sweethearts from Illinois who have been married nearly 50 years. These days, the couple lives in Ormond Beach, Florida, where they record music as part of their Southern gospel group called Hope Street. View Larger Image
UF Health Jacksonville neurologist Odinachi Oguh, MD, left, and neurosurgeon Daryoush Tavanaiepour, MD, treated John's Parkinson's disease using deep brain stimulation. John returns to UF Health Jacksonville for routine checkups with both physicians. View Larger Image
Thanks to DBS treatment, John has been able to resume hobbies such as playing the guitar and woodworking. View Larger Image
Darlene said she is glad to have John back in good health. She describes Parkinson’s as a “vicious disease” that causes a great deal of strain and despair for everyone involved. View Larger Image

The guitar was silenced and placed in its case. The microphone was turned off and unplugged. John Clemens could no longer play music. This wasn’t due to a lack of interest, but because of Parkinson’s disease symptoms that were only getting worse.

Clemens, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2002, couldn’t stop his hands from trembling. Medication initially helped quell the shaking, but years later his symptoms worsened, his voice changed and breathing became difficult.

Something needed to change, but what could help?

After much research and many doctor’s appointments, John and his wife, Darlene, discovered deep brain stimulation. The couple would eventually be referred to UF Health Jacksonville, where John underwent the multiphase surgical operation that has mitigated the Parkinson’s symptoms, allowing him to resume music and so much more.

Uncontrollable shaking, remarkable treatment  

John and Darlene are high school sweethearts from Illinois who have been married nearly 50 years. These days, the couple lives in Ormond Beach, Florida, where they record music as part of their Southern gospel group called Hope Street. They also have backgrounds in education. John was still teaching high school math when he began to notice the tremors.

“I had trouble writing on the board, and I had to do something with my hands because I couldn’t stop them from shaking,” John said. “Even the students noticed it.”

John and Darlene retired from teaching in 2007, freeing up time to devote to their music, but his Parkinson’s disease persisted. John began having trouble walking, speaking, breathing and even concentrating. Because of the complications, Hope Street retired in 2013 after nearly 25 years of performing.

One day a church pastor called John and Darlene to let them know about a fellow clergyman who had undergone a surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation. They looked into the procedure and were soon in touch with UF Health Jacksonville neurologist Odinachi Oguh, MD, who — following a number of exams and assessments — determined John was a great candidate for DBS.

Daryoush Tavanaiepour, MD, a neurosurgeon at UF Health Jacksonville, performed the operation in which an electrode (a thin wire) was implanted in John’s brain to deliver electrical stimulation to targeted areas. That blocks abnormal nerve signals that cause the Parkinson’s symptoms.

A neurostimulator was implanted under John’s skin near the collarbone. Oguh uses the neurostimulator to adjust the amount of electrical stimulation with a remote control. The electrode and neurostimulator are connected via an insulated extension wire that was implanted under the skin of John’s head, neck and shoulder.

Tavanaiepour said the procedure went well and that the calming effects were seen immediately. John returns to UF Health Jacksonville for routine checkups with Oguh and Tavanaiepour.

“We are pleased that we have been able to help Mr. Clemens,” Tavanaiepour said. “DBS has had tremendous advances over the past 20 years and there are a lot of patients out there who would benefit from it. We just hope to bring some awareness to this technology.”

Resuming passions, sharing love  

Parkinson’s used to interrupt John’s sleep, but now he rests peacefully through the night. His hands no longer shake and he has resumed taking walks with his wife and pursuing hobbies such as woodworking. 

“My life after the surgeries is just entirely different,” John said. “I can’t stress enough what it means because I don’t shake.”

And then there’s the music. With John’s regained vocal strength and his tremors under control, he and Darlene decided to revive Hope Street. Their singing group is named after the road they live on bearing the same name — quite fitting when you consider what they’ve overcome.

“It’s great listening to John play the guitar again. God has been so good to us,” Darlene said. “We’re very excited about resuming our performance schedule to where we can hopefully do more than three concerts a month.”

Aside from the music, Darlene is simply glad to have her husband back in good health. She describes Parkinson’s as a “vicious disease” that causes a great deal of strain and despair for everyone involved.

“As you see the one you love with your whole heart slipping away, it’s a terrible experience. But after the surgeries, you see them coming back, it’s just phenomenal,” Darlene said.

She encourages anyone who is no longer able to control their Parkinson’s with medication to look into the possibility of DBS.

“Seriously consider this procedure,” Darlene said. “The overall result is just amazing, successful and very encouraging.”

John and Darlene Clemens are high school sweethearts from Illinois who have been married nearly 50 years. These days, the couple lives in Ormond Beach, Florida, where they record music as part of their Southern gospel group called Hope Street.
UF Health Jacksonville neurologist Odinachi Oguh, MD, left, and neurosurgeon Daryoush Tavanaiepour, MD, treated John's Parkinson's disease using deep brain stimulation. John returns to UF Health Jacksonville for routine checkups with both physicians.
Thanks to DBS treatment, John has been able to resume hobbies such as playing the guitar and woodworking.
Darlene said she is glad to have John back in good health. She describes Parkinson’s as a “vicious disease” that causes a great deal of strain and despair for everyone involved.
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Parkinson’s patient goes from tremors to tranquility


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